My Mother was Nancy Drew… well almost!
Mama (left) with best friend Willie Mae Sisson
My mother, Helen Rebecca Bryan (McKinley) was a big fan of Nancy Drew, being born the same month (April) and year (1930) as Nancy Drew was first published! Before 1940, mama was reading every copy of Nancy Drew she managed to lay her hands on… often daydreaming about living Nancy’s life… wanting to be a detective just like Nancy… but of a different type of detective from Nancy… wanting to be a private eye chasing cheating husbands!
Mama grew up on a Southern farm in Siloam, Georgia… a small town just South East of Atlanta. Even though she never personally owned not one Nancy Drew book, she managed to read several through the generosity of her friend June Boswell, who lived in town. June’s grandmother bought her every new book and she never hesitated in loaning them to mama. When I asked her about what she remembered of the colorful dust jackets, she said… “I never even knew there were dust jackets as I only took the tweed book to borrow. Often I’d read it overnight, staying up late… I just couldn’t put it down until I finished… that meant I could return it the next day to borrow another. I loved following Nancy’s escapades and pretending I was right there alongside her.”
I’m sure mama wished she was old enough to have a roadster and flit about on the back country dirt roads chasing villains! Actually, her father had an old T-Model sitting under the car shed when she was the young girl reading Nancy Drew… maybe she even pretended to drive and chase those cheating husbands!
Through the stories mama read, she patterned herself after Nancy… a girl who did more like what boys did and wanted nothing to do with girl duties in the home. Nancy never swept the floors or washed dishes, and she definitely didn’t have to lug in buckets of water… which was my mother’s chore on the farm; she so hated filling those water buckets every day… lining them up on the porch, just outside the kitchen.
Those books gave mama a glimpse of what all a girl could do, but what she mostly remembers today from those books, was how much they made her want to be a detective! She and Willie Mae both wanted to be girl detectives… and I bet they would have put their sleuthing skills to good use!
Mama climbed trees, followed her father to the fields, and hunted with her brother. She was a tomboy… fighting with the boys as well as girls. She wanted nothing to do with housework and never wanted to stay in the house with her mother… lest she’d be put to work sweeping the floors or churning butter… another chore she hated!
When mama and best friend, Willie Mae, were young… they were a force to be reckoned with and always had each other’s back… just like Bess and George would have had for Nancy! While mama never walked away from a fight, Nancy never walked away from a mystery! Mama wanted to solve mysteries like Nancy, but there weren’t many mysteries to solve on the farm except maybe the oddities like who was going to collect the eggs or why hadn’t her brother milked the cows yet? But she often day-dreamed about solving a mystery!
Probably the biggest mystery to solve between her and Willie Mae was… “who was going to wear which dress?” That could easily turn into quite a tussle on the ground! It was always either a dress or a boy that had them wrestling to decide the outcome! They both were the same “skinny” size and often both always wanted to wear the same dress… at the same time. Sometimes it took a few roll-around’s on the ground to make that decision! Then it was get up and continue the friendship… just like nothing happened.
Those two girls had been “besties” from the very first day of kindergarten… where they both had looked at each other, saying… “I don’t think I’m going to like it here.” They’ve stuck together through thick and thin through the years, and when serious dating came on the scene, they ended up with boyfriends who also were best friends… they married and continued being close while both raising only daughters.
Mama didn’t live the easy life that Nancy Drew led… she grew up on a small farm… the daughter of a hard-working farmer, sweating daily under the hot sun to make a living. Nancy Drew, on the other hand, was the daughter of a very prominent lawyer, and their household had a housekeeper… Nancy never had to lug any water buckets. Two different households and lifestyles, but two girls who could somehow relate to each other!
Even though they both led such different lives, mama was just as fearless as Nancy Drew. Her father liked the strong girl in her… she followed him as he plowed, helped him string barb-wire fencing, was able to shoot, and quite the expert in climbing trees and champion of “riding the pines.” I bet Nancy Drew never climbed a pine seedling, zipping her coat around the tree trunk for a ride! That was entertainment on a farm!
Sometimes today when mama reminisces about her and Willie Mae’s escapades, they remind me of Thelma and Louise, or should that be Nancy, Bess and George! I’ve never forgotten the story of how one night after work, they decided, on the spur of the moment, to go to Florida… this would have been at midnight! They went home, packed a bag, and definitely a bathing suit… just like Nancy, never going anywhere without it! The funny part I’ve remembered all these years is of the return trip… after loading their suitcases, Willie Mae locked her purse in the trunk. Just like Nancy Drew would have said, or done… mama quickly opened her purse and said, “I bet one of my keys will open it.” She fished out her keys and within a minute or two, she had that trunk open! It left Willie Mae’s uncle standing there flabbergasted and shaking his head, saying, “a girl after my own heart, and a girl who knows how to handle her keys.”
While both of those “Nancy Drew wannabees married best friends, they both also later divorced those best friends; even now living a couple of hours away, they never lost touch. After I graduated from high school, mama moved back to the farm to care for her father… she and Willie Mae were once back together again… working, gallivanting, and living life together… always having each other’s back! Willie Mae was Bess and George wrapped up into one!
The one thing Nancy and my mother didn’t share was the style of clothing they wore… while Nancy wore more girly clothes with accessories, mama was more conservative. The first time she saw an airman wearing a one-piece flight jumpsuit… she most definitely wanted one! There were no such patterns for a woman at that time, but that didn’t stop mama… as she had sewed her clothes all her life. Daddy’s Navy whites were long gone soon after leaving the Navy… as mama wanted white slacks! She often re-designed a pattern to suit her style, and it wasn’t the silly frilly frocks that Bess might have worn… but I bet George would have definitely liked one of those jumpsuits! She eventually made herself a jumpsuit by taking two patterns and piecing them together to make a one-piece suit. The very first time she wore it… every woman wanted one and wanted to know where she’d bought it. If she had a business head back then, she might have patterned it, making a fortune. We often laugh about that now! Today she could have gone on Shark Tank to make a deal… they would have loved her!
At age 88, some of mama’s spunk has gotten away from her, especially after a recent fall in early April when she broke two ribs, but she’s entertaining physical therapy with a few stories and often tells me she can still take me down! I don’t think I’ll challenge her… I just might lose!
No matter what, she’s my Nancy Drew!
© 2018, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved
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