laura packardI loved Nancy Drew growing up.

     Adored her, actually.

      Why, you may ask? Well, who wouldn’t look up to a blue convertible-driving sixteen year old, recent high school grad and amateur sleuth who could single-handedly solve the greater mysteries of the universe with only a flashlight, intense studies in psychological behaviors, and a magnifying glass to guide her? Simply put, she was my hero.

         To me, heroes seemed hard to find in abundance in the early eighties. As little girls, we were subjected on a regular basis to the tummy-baring unitards of Cher and the model singing the lyrics of the Enjoli perfume commercial that told us we could, in fact, bring home the bacon and then fry it up in a pan while never letting our husband forget he’s a man. And I know, Cyndi, I know; “Girls just wanna have fun,” but we were left wondering if there was more waiting for us out there in this big, wide world of opportunity than shoulder pads, Dallas reruns, and nightcaps on the Love Boat’s promenade deck?

          Luckily, a “plucky,” intelligent, independent, capable, and, yes, stylish, heroine to look up to had already been created by a man named Edward Stratemeyer in 1930. Stratemeyer was acting on a hunch following the success of his characters The Hardy Boys, when he created Nancy Drew, a character who remains timeless to this day. For me, it was love at first sight when my mom brought home the whole set of the Mystery Stories with their smart covers and canary yellow bindings in 1981. Not only did I quickly devour the books as a nine year-old female reader, I actually wanted to be Nancy Drew. It seemed to me, if you put your mind and talents to the task at hand, like Nancy did, you could figure out pretty much anything.

            I imagined an exciting and glamorous life filled with phantom horses, hidden treasures, stolen diamonds, secret staircases, old attics, and coded messages arriving via homing pigeons. Who wouldn’t find this fast-paced life tackling tough questions and dangerous enemies intoxicating? Alas, an amateur sleuth I did not turn out to be. But in my own hectic, crazy life, I still look to Nancy for inspiration and help in unraveling the vast mysteries that surround me every day.

         Here are a few examples:

         The Mystery of the Odd Odor in the Pantry

Where is that smell coming from? How did it get there and why can’t I find its source after taking everything out and putting it all back in again? Was it the missing Yukon Gold potato that I haven’t seen since it was on the conveyor belt at Bi-Lo? Did it not make it home, or if it did, simply rot somewhere in the pantry, sprout legs and then run away?

         The Secret of the Broken Step on the Front Porch

Why, when my husband says he has put a nail in it, do I still trip on the step, stubbing my pinkie toe and spilling my grocery bag and mail every other day? Does someone sneak up to the porch every night and pry it out? Do I need 24-hour surveillance or eight hours of sleep? Could the nail be a “phantom” nail that my husband has substituted for a real one so I will stop nagging him and he can blow up stuff on his Play Station 3?   

         The Clue in the Bag of Mini Snickers

How do these mini candy bars keep disappearing even though I alternate hiding spots two or three times a day and seal the bag back up with Elmer’s glue, invisible double-sided Scotch tape, and modeling clay? Am I being followed? Has someone planted a GPS tracking device somewhere in the bag? And why do they leave all the little empty wrappers inside the bag instead of throwing them away in the trash can like civilized human beingsdo? 

         The Case of the Missing Hair Brush

Where does it go every night after I place it right by the sink? Does it have a hot date with my husband’s comb or perhaps the blender where I sometimes find it? Do I sleepwalk every night for the sole purpose of hiding it from my girls, making us all late, and then ruining my morning? Why do my children promise me that they use it and then put it back in its rightful place when their hair looks like birds could nest in it?

           So now you can see how indispensible Nancy’s skills are even today, almost 80 years later. Though, I might even venture to say, in today’s world, the mysteries seem more complex and are that much harder to crack. I doubt even our French-speaking, hotrod-driving, pearl choker and pencil skirt-wearing heroine can figure out who keeps locking my keys in the car when I’m not looking and why I do laundry twice a day and no one ever has anything to wear.

         And I’m pretty sure that I am not the only one who owes theirmom a lot for introducingthem to Nancy Drew and all that she embodies. Mine saved all the books for my girls and I found immense joy in watching them curled up on the couch with Nancy unraveling all of her baffling cases right along with her. I hope they learned that yes, sometimes problems seem pretty impossible to work out, but to never give up. Like my favorite amateur sleuth, you just have to use your wits and keep on looking for clues.

         Sleuth on, y’all.