My two boys are inveterate readers. Around my house Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Lemony Snicket are consumables for these two boys, ages 10 and 8, to be read, re-read, and often re-read again until they toss the particular tome aside and ask if there isn’t something else to read.
On several such occasions I have answered the question by pointing out a frayed copy of a Nancy Drew mystery story — "The Hidden Window Mystery" by Carolyn Keene, published in 1956 and purchased within the past year at a Methodist Church rummage sale. Why not try Nancy Drew, I suggest. As the eight or nine-year-old brother of two older sisters back in the 1950s, I read dozens of Nancy Drew mysteries that were originally brought into the house for the girls. While my buddies were reading the Hardy Boys I was reading Nancy Drew and I was no worse for it.
But today the Nancy Drew book — with the neatly coiffed heroine on the cover in her bathrobe training a flashlight on a mysterious peacock while a furtive man dashes away in the background — lies idly among the household clutter.
What are the boys today missing? I posed that question to a friend of mine who is also a child of the 1950s and who also had read Nancy Drew. She immediately produced a three-inch square book, complete with a tiny magnifying glass on a string to use as a bookmark, entitled "Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life."
Lots of women of a certain age, and some men, as well, must have some similarly fond memories of Nancy Drew, the amateur sleuth. As I read the profiles in this annual Women in Business issue of U.S. 1, I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of the lessons of life gleaned from the adventures of our all American young heroine from the 1950s.
On survival strategies: "When your ride is mired in mud, placing heavy burlap in front of the rear wheels and rocking the car back and forth can get you back on the road." — From "The Secret of Red Gate Farm."
"When bound and gagged, you can still tap out HELP in Morse Code to attract attention." — From "The Clue of the Tapping Heels."
"Don’t let a stranger’s lame attempt to appear ill lull you into letting down your defenses if you are alone. Keep your car door locked!" — From "The Mystery of the 99 Steps."
"When pinned down by a large canine, instruct friends, family, and even random passersby to direct a hose on the beast." — From "The Mysterious Mannequin."
On the delicate art of etiquette: "Even with an active lifestyle, being prompt is important." — From "The Secret of Red Gate Farm."
"A sincere and straightforward demeanor will get most anyone to open up and volunteer information. It doesn’t hurt to be an attractive young woman, either." — From "The Clue in the Old Album."
"Aggressiveness will not earn you an invitation to sit at the popular table." — From "The Clue in the Old Stagecoach."
On dating: "A young lady with some judo skills can take care of unwanted advances in short order." — From "The Whispering Statue."
"When choosing between two men, take into consideration the different paths your life would take should you go with either of them." — From "The Sky Phantom."
And here is one that I never would have appreciated in 1956 as I do today: "Clumsy, fat men who are looking at middle age through a rear-view mirror should not attempt to keep pace with a lithe young woman." — From "The Whispering Statue."
Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life brought back all those warm feelings toward Nancy, the self reliant but accommodating and uncomplaining young woman with an equal measure of charm and moxie.
In the nearly half century since I read Nancy, the world has been visited by women’s liberation, affirmative action, Title IX, women’s studies, the pill, child care, flex time for working parents, alimony and equitable distribution awarded to partners in failed marriages, and legions of lawyers specializing in winning all those rights for women. For all of that we now have enough real-life Nancy Drews to fill this issue of U.S. 1 newspaper — an 80-page .
I can only hope that one or more of them will become the model for my impressionable young sons, who at this point in their lives would sooner go to the dentist than read the original Nancy Drew.
In the meantime I take comfort from Nancy’s guide:
"Don’t let your troubles get in the way of enjoying a leisurely and delightful lunch." — From "The Secret of the Old Clock."