Sunday, September 14, 2008

Flamingoes, Nancy Drew, and Miss Betsy Sanders

Knowing how much pink flamingoes amuse me, Nancy Pickard eMailed a picture of  this old Nancy Drew book cover to Linda Grant, who cleverly photoshopped it and sent it to me as an anonymous birthday greeting.  (They also joined with other friends to send me twenty more anonymous flamingo pictures during the month of August, but that's another story.)   If you were as addicted to the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys series when you were a kid as I was, it probably makes you smile, too. 

As a child growing up in the tobacco fields of eastern North Carolina, the bookmobile was my lifeline to the larger world and my first role model was Miss Betsy Sanders, who drove that lumbering old box of books on wheels.  I thought she must lead the perfect life:  driving around back-country roads all day, reading all night.  (I had no knowledge of the cataloging, shelving, etc. that went on behind the scenes.)  It was Miss Betsy who put the first Nancy Drew book in my hands.

When my colleagues and I compare our memories of Nancy, I’m amused that so many of them pictured themselves as that spunky motherless girl detective, dashing around the countryside in her blue roadster.

Not me.  My mother was too real, my father too un-indulgent for me to put myself in Nancy Drew’s stylish shoes and floor the gas-pedal.

Tomboyish George Fayne was quite another matter though.  Clearly answerable to a vigilant mother and unable to go adventuring every time Nancy beckoned, she was also less concerned with feminine dress and conventional feminine propriety than either her cousin Bess or Nancy.  Whenever I imagined myself into their world, it was as George.  (In a day when all pretty girls were supposed to have curly hair, it didn’t seem to bother her one little bit that her hair was as straight as mine.)

Bess was a wimp and Nancy played both side so that she could be admired for both her courage and her femininity; but not only did George not seek approval and admiration, there were times when she actively thumbed her nose at it.  I respected Nancy’s accomplishments as much as George seemed to, but oh how I used to wish there were more of the less-than-perfect George in each book.

Nancy Drew was a fine role model for young girls and I wouldn’t take anything for the hours of pleasure she gave me, but my image of her is inextricably bound up in the memory of the sturdy pragmatic woman who brought me her adventures every month.

Miss Betsy Sanders did not have curly blonde hair and she drove a cranky old worn-out bookmobile, not a sleek blue roadster.  She had to earn her own living, not exist as the indulged daughter of a well-to-do attorney.  She wore tailored gabardine slacks at a time when most women wore flowery print dresses.  If the bookmobile got a flat tire on some isolated back road, Miss Betsy changed it.  When the radiator boiled over or the starter balked, she climbed under the hood and fixed it.

I wanted to be just like her.

Miss Betsy wasn’t Nancy Drew all grown up.  But I bet she was George.  (And I bet she liked flamingoes!)  

(To enter Hachette's contest and win copies of my books, see last week's post.)

(Click here to read a sample chapter of Death's Half Acre.)

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