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Nancy Drew books staple of summer days

Melissa Kowalski, owner of the Serendipity Book Store in Winnsboro, shows off some of her Nancy Drew collection.
Melissa Kowalski, owner of the Serendipity Book Store in Winnsboro, shows off some of her Nancy Drew collection.

Looking back, did the summers seem cooler when we were young? I know our bathing suits were not as daring. Surely you remember the ones with the little gathered skirts. Today, they could be worn as dresses.

I can still see glasses of lemonade sweating in the afternoon heat and watching the yellow slice drifting through the ice to rest on the bottom of the glass, soaking up the sugar that sent our triglycerides soaring. Do you remember the lemonade that your mama made? Did you ever spend an afternoon reading about that clever, sophisticated and brave Nancy Drew?

If you can identify with those things, we are close to the same age. The lemonade my mother made was sweet and gentle on the throat, and I drank gallons of it through the years. My Aunt Cora made it, too, but it never could touch Mama's. She wasn't much for the regular food that folks needed to live, but, oh boy, could she make lemonade, the likes of which I have never tasted again.

In the afternoon, I would lounge out on the front porch with a Nancy Drew book. There were not many of them at that time. We all read the same ones and then read and reread to find cleverly hidden facts that we had missed before.

I love to talk to women who had the same fascination with that worldly, ever-smart Nancy. Her hair was always perfect, and she, under the most trying circumstances, kept her cool. The magic of her carefully explained logic rescued her from the most difficult situations.

Fearless heroine

Remember the "Mystery of the Haunted House" or "The Secret of the Old Clock"? My good friend Nancy Drew was never afraid. She just sashayed along wearing her terribly smart clothes and living in a beautiful house in the elegant suburbs of a well-known city.

The first book was published in 1930. My friend Nancy Drew is almost as old as I am. However, she has remained young and socially self-assured as she bustles about in her little roadster that went from blue to maroon in 1932.

That wonderful writer Carolyn Keene (it took five authors to make that nom de plume known throughout the reading world), my, what a grand lady she must be, for you know, she is still penning these remarkable stories. I never thought of them as "tales." I knew in my heart that Nancy was a living, breathing good friend who found me in that little village of Hot Springs, Va.

I got her first book, "The Secret of the Old Clock," as a birthday gift, and from then on, I was a collector.

Then came Bonita Granville, in 1938 and 1939, starring in four Nancy Drew movies. I thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen with her lovely curly hair. Mine was so straight that it pained me to look at Miss Granville.

For a short time in my life, Nancy Drew set the standards by which I wished to be judged. I tried to look like I imagined she looked, walk as I thought she walked, and I managed to turn everything in my life into a mystery.

I composed tantalizing cliffhangers in my head every day. I was, in my mind, a real and treacherous threat to that wonderful writer Carolyn Keene, whom I believed to be a lady of high education who lived in an apartment in New York.

I kept a notebook with my almost illegible writing, one story after another: "The Mystery of the Old Brown Barn"; "The Mystery of the Swinging Gate," and the one I considered best, "The Mystery of the Missing Cousin."

Playing detective

That came about when my cousin, Dinky, visited us for one whole summer. In my story, she was kidnapped, and I set out to solve the mystery Nancy Drew style, dressed carefully in loafers, plaid pleated skirt and a little Peter Pan-collared blouse. It was the first failure in my short writing career.

Margaret Isabel, the character based on Dinky, could not be found, and the mystery was never finished because I couldn't decide between having her pushed off the Warm Springs Mountain or thrown into Jackson's River.

That cousin who outweighed me by 20 pounds or more made my life miserable with her profound perfection mentioned in various ways every night at dinner. "Dinky made her bed beautifully this morning," my mother would say, while my bed arranging was never mentioned because one side of the counterpane dragged on the floor.

My writing ended when Mama found my Blue Horse notebook and read the story. "No more of that," she said. "Your thinking frightens me."

Now, there is a new movie, and Nancy is played by Julia Roberts' niece, Emma Roberts. I just cannot go. I am so afraid that Nancy has changed and probably speaks a language that I will not even understand, and she will have a cell phone upon which she text messages her friends every day and ends every spoken sentence with "you know." It is too much for me to bear.

I will live with those 1930 to 1940s memories and the Nancy that I knew and loved, conjured up by that famous writer, Carolyn Keene of New York City.

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