all of the selves we Have ever been
“We seldom leave places we understand.”
I came across that quote during my morning time of prayer and reflection. It is from the early works of the psychologist Jordan Peterson before he fell off the deep end.
Those words sink in; they explain a lot. No wonder I am a wanderer. I never know what the hell is going on.
On the outside, I am a focused, tea-drinking, worker-bee. I miss the scoop to be had at the coffeemaker, the closed-door gossip sessions, and the after-work drinks at the bar. I have a quiet, orderly, and rich interior life; the outside world can be so loud, chaotic, and mean. With the added layer of social media, I sometimes feel that words have become a spray of bullets from an automatic weapon. I try not to travel extensively in that world. And so, it all remains a mystery to me.
Perhaps that is why, as a school-age girl, I was so taken by Nancy Drew, and why I love her to this day. She loved a mystery, and there was nothing holding her back.
In 2020, the year of the pandemic, Nancy Drew turned 90. Since the world was preoccupied with a mysterious new virus, Nancy’s birthday did not get the attention it deserved. If only someone had put Nancy Drew on the case…If only her father had won the White House, we’d know where and how this pandemic got started.
For nine decades, Nancy Drew has remained a teenager. Detective work aside, one would think that many years of adolescence would exhaust anyone, even a super-sleuth. I suffered four quick years of high school. That was enough. Why anyone would do it for longer remains yet another mystery to me.
I try to imagine Nancy Drew, the idol of my youth, growing older, getting old. Would she have survived to the age of 90? Survived the pandemic? Would she still be driving? If so, would she still favor a sporty blue convertible? Would she color her hair or proudly flaunt the gray? Would Bess and George still be her best friends? Would any of them be married? Divorced? Have endured breast cancer or other health crises? Would they have become parents or grandparents? Would they still be rocking sweater sets and pearls?
And what of Nancy’s boyfriend, Ned Nickerson? Did he graduate from Emerson College, or did he get drafted and shipped off to Vietnam? If so, did he survive the war? Did Nancy and Ned’s relationship survive the Women’s Movement? Did they ever marry?
Did Nancy’s mind remain active, clear, and clever? How did she cope with the changes of aging? Was she ever lonely or sick? Did she have regrets? What was it like for her when her father retired? After he died? Did Nancy remain faithful to the housekeeper, Hannah Gruen, as Hannah got older?
What happened to River Heights, Nancy’s hometown? Would Nancy have solved mysteries at Wal-Mart? Shopped at Bed, Bath & Beyond? Would she have cursed the increasing traffic on those old, familiar streets? Did any creepy mansions remain with secrets left to expose?
Did Nancy remain able to live on her own into her eighth and ninth decades of life? Or did she move into an assisted living facility or require a skilled nursing home? What mysteries might she have found in those places? Did she still find the answers to everything?
It is difficult to imagine Nancy Drew grown old because I am young when I think of her. As a child, Nancy Drew allowed me to forget about my own life and enter hers. While I remember many of the book titles, I don’t remember too much about the actual mysteries. What stayed with me? Her spirit and her lifestyle. She was free to gravitate to what interested her. She was not weighed down by life and chores and homework. She was not limited by age. Adults sought her help and advice. Nancy’s lawyer- father trusted her, and Nancy was the one to look after his safety. Nancy had company in her adventures; she had resources and encouragement.
Nancy Drew fed my hunger for an interesting, active life. I am not alone—Hilary Rodham Clinton and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are among the many gals who took Nancy Drew as a role model for smart women. But Nancy wasn’t just smart, she was self-assured, the quality most lacking in children, teens, and women of my generation. Nancy was free of all bondage and baggage. She didn’t just try to solve problems, she went looking for them.
Try as I might to imagine it, my mind resists the image of an aging Nancy Drew. I prefer her gumshoes to my orthopedic shoes. It was never in the program for her to become more like me. The real mystery was how to become like her. She was an early female superhero. Her superpower was helping young women to believe in themselves.
I really don’t want to see Nancy Drew in the nursing home—unless she is there to bust me out. We’ll go to a garden patio and eat dainty sandwiches and drink tea served from a silver tea set. We will discuss missing figureheads, missing grandsons, and missing violinists, spooky mansions, and our suspicions about the traveling circus. We will find the lost sheet music, the stolen statues, and the hidden wills. We will pour over the mysterious diaries and ominous notes. We will not be deterred by cryptic warnings of danger. We will live on—smart and self-assured with good friends, a swell car, the right clothes, and no homework. And always, always, always--we will fight for what is right.
Nancy Drew can see what the world cannot. It is no mystery to her that there is still a teenage girl in me.