Article 25

There and Back

In Uncategorized on 01/22/2013 at 4:10 pm

 

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To Alaska with Nancy Drew

By Anne Skove

 

It was 1976. My mom, my aunt, a German Shepherd named Bernard, a cast iron woodstove named Kaiser Wilhelm and I packed into my aunt’s red pickup truck and headed for Alaska.

My parents were amazed: “Ooooohh, Aaaahhh, look at the mountains! Look at the pine trees!” The drive was two weeks up, two weeks back.

“If I see another mountain or pine tree, I am going to vomit,” I said.

I was only impressed for about the first few days of the month-long adventure.

I was interested, but in something different. Most of the way there and back, my face was in a book. After an early Bobbsey Twins obsession, I had just found Nancy Drew. My mom explained it this way: “In the Bobbsey Twins, they tell you what everybody ate. In Nancy Drew, they tell you what everybody wore.” So it was a little bit of growing up, moving from food to fashion (“Nancy showered, put on a pretty lime-green dress with a matching sweater and left the house”), from toys like Freddie Bobbsey’s fire engine with the working hose to boyfriends like Nancy’s special college lad, Ned Nickerson. To paraphrase Zorba the Greek, “Until now, you have been content with the Bobbsey Twins. Now I am going to lead you into the Nancy Drew.”

My first volume was Password to Larkspur Lane. This was in the age of Password on television, and secret messages were all the rage with me and my 7-year-old friends. We debated whether it was better to have a secret code where every squiggly “letter” merely corresponded with a real letter, or whether we should create an entirely new language, assigning sounds for each made-up letter. Password to Larkspur Lane fit right into this phase. “Blue bells will be singing horses.” Ooooh mysterious!

My aunt drove through Montana, through the great Northwest, up into Canada, where our friends lived on an island off Vancouver. By the time we got to Alaska, I never wanted to eat peanut butter again. We met a few hikers on the way. They offered me “gorp,” which I had never heard of. I asked what was in it. They said, “Raisins, sunflower seeds, chocolate chips and peanuts.” Peanuts? I declined.

Beavers building dams, camping without a tent, the Continental Divide – who could possibly care about any of these things when the fortune of a sweet elderly woman was at stake? Nancy helped her attorney father in ways most paralegals only dream of – chasing after dark men in dark sedans, finding the perfect clues and adding it all up in her strawberry-blonde hair kind of way.

These days we care a lot whether children can identify with the characters in their books. When I read the Bobbsey Twins, I identified with Bert. I didn’t have any siblings (certainly not a twin) until I was 9, I was a girl, and I did not have a traditional family like the Bobbseys did. We didn’t have servants who spoke in dialect, either. Did I really have anything in common with Bert, except that he was the ringleader? I was the ringleader of a roomful of stuffed animals and of any friends who could stand being led.

Nancy was an only child of a single parent. I imagined her living in my friend’s “normal” house a block away from ours – white paint, no historic repairs going on inside, predictability and rules all around. River Heights was obviously Cincinnati, in the way that Lakeport, the hometown of the Bobbseys, was Cleveland to me. No, I wasn’t an “attractive titian-haired girl of 18.” I never found a homing pigeon carrying a mysterious note (though I had visited the grave of Martha, the last surviving passenger pigeon, at the Cincinnati Zoo).

Moreover, I didn’t have a lawyer father, much less a lawyer anything, or a father anything. But if I had, I’m sure it would have been like this: “Carson Drew had always been close to his daughter and often discussed his cases with her, because she grasped the issues so clearly and quickly.” Of course, the main legal issues presented in these, my earliest casebooks, included deciphering passwords, tracking down evidence against embezzling disbarred lawyers and locating lost heirloom jewelry for rightful and deserving heirs. You can imagine how surprised I was a few decades later, when I encountered the excruciating boredom of law school.

Growing up in River Heights, I had a tomboy friend with short hair (she of the “normal” white house), and a short peppy friend who could eat half a pie. They weren’t cousins like George and Bess, but the three of us were close, growing up in the same neighborhood, and I was the ring leader as often as they’d allow.

Now for the real mystery – why were we driving a cast-iron stove named Kaiser Wilhelm on our vacation? A friend of the family had purchased it from an antiques dealer while he was in town. He had no way of getting it back to his island home off Vancouver, B.C., so we drove the stove.

Mystery is everywhere. As Ned remarks at the end of Password to Larkspur Lane: “If I were to give Nancy the reward she’d like best, I’d hand her another mystery to solve.”

“And I’ll be ready for it,” Nancy said with a twinkle in her eyes. “But make it very, very complicated and original.”

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