#AtoZChallenge 2020: L Is for Love, Falling in


For my eighth Christmas, my grandmother gave me two Nancy Drew Mysteries: The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase.

And I fell in love.

Nancy Drew was so lucky. She was eighteen years old and had a housekeeper, a steady boyfriend, two best girlfriends, and a blue convertible.  The convertible seemed to have a perpetually full tank of gasoline.  She was also a blonde, which meant she had fun.*

Her father, prominent River Heights lawyer Carson Drew, was not the average parent. He rarely, if ever, asked where she’d been all day, and when he found out, he never said anything like, “Nancy, the next time you climb into a moving van driven by thugs and hide under a rug, you’ll be grounded till you’re thirty.” Or, for that matter, “Time to get serious, Nancy. Either enroll in Emerson College and start working on a degree, or find yourself a job. You can’t play detective for the rest of your life.”

Hannah Gruen cooked and cleaned, so Nancy did no chores. Boyfriend Ned Nickerson escorted her to dances when appropriate but otherwise stayed busy at Emerson College and didn’t get underfoot. Friends—tomboy George, whose pet phrase was, in 1959,  an anachronistic “Hypers! You slay me!”; and George’s “plump” cousin Bess—provided companionship as well as help with investigations.

What was there not to love?  Well, Nancy herself wasn’t perfect. She teased Bess about being plump; I didn’t like that.  And her unfailing self-confidence sometimes grated; I’d have been happier if she’d expressed self-doubt now and then.

But she was eighteen and could take off in her convertible, wind blowing through her hair, seeking and finding adventure, solving mysteries along the way. To an eight-year-old convinced she’ll never be old enough for a driver’s license, much less a car, Nancy’s freedom sounded like heaven.

But Nancy wasn’t a party girl; she took detective work seriously. She solved mysteries because she wanted to help people.

In The Clue of the Tapping Heels, for example, she helped restore a child’s trust fund. In The Secret of the Wooden Lady, she found the lost figurehead belonging to a historic clipper and helped the captain establish clear title to the ship. In The Clue of the Leaning Chimney, while looking for a valuable Chinese vase she stumbled upon a gang using immigrants as slave labor. In The Secret in the Jewel Box, she reunited Madame Alexandra with her long-lost grandson, a prince.

In addition to enjoying the stories, I picked up some interesting bits of information. From The Clue of the Black Keys, I learned about obsidian; from The Clue of the Leaning Chimney, about kaolin.

And Madame Alexandra, her long-lost grandson, and Mr. Faber, the jeweler who created the ornate jewel box, took on new meaning when I later read about the Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, Tsarevitch Alexei, and the Faberge eggs.

I said earlier that I fell in love with Nancy Drew mysteries, but I could just as well have said I was hooked. Two years after I read the first ones, I was penciling, in my neatest handwriting, letters to Joske’s Department Store:

Dear Sir:

Please send me the following books:

1 copy of The Secret in the Old Attic                   $2.00
1 copy of The Clue of the Tapping Heels             $2.00

Please charge my account.

My mother signed them. It was, after all, her account.

By my eleventh birthday, I’d moved along, fallen in love with Zane Grey’s westerns—society ladies from the East meeting up with cowboys down on the Mexican border, very romantic—and was writing to Joske’s about those.

But even though I no longer read Nancy Drews, I’m still hooked—on mysteries. Every time I pick up an Agatha Christie, a P. D. James, a Ruth Rendell, an Elizabeth George, a Martha Grimes, a Tana French, a Donna Leon, a . . . as I said, I’m hooked.

Nancy Drew made me a mystery reader. And Nancy is the reason I write mysteries.

From what my friends tell me, a lot of them are in the same boat.

That Nancy Drew has a lot to answer for.


How did we know blondes have more fun? Television told us so.


Image of clock by stux from Pixabay

Image by opsa from Pixabay

The Trees, the Birds, and the Patio

Have I mentioned that I can open a locked 1977 Chevy Malibu with a large paperclip in under a minute? And a locked 1977 Buick LeSabre with a metal coat hanger in under thirty seconds? That’s if the metal hanger is coated with plastic and if you discount the time it takes to go into Wal-Mart to buy it.

I was musing on cars and paperclips this afternoon during a pause in my drive home from Writers Who Write. I’d arrived at the coffee shop where we meet feeling rather jiggly in both mind and body, possibly because I’d been awake for only thirty minutes, most of which I’d spent en route. The banana and iced mocha I counted as breakfast didn’t help, so three hours later I left feeling just as jiggly as when I’d come in.

On the way home, I pulled into Trader Joe’s. The voice inside my head–the same one that told me to slow down only seconds before I hit the Black Angus cow back in 1996–had already warned me to go straight home. But guilt over ceding grocery shopping to David for most of the past four years overcame intuition, also known as good sense, and I stopped anyway.

There I faced a dilemma: what to do with the laptop lying on the passenger seat. I knew I should take it in with me, so I reached into the back seat, brought forth several large grocery sacks, and piled them on top of it.

That’s one advantage of Austin’s disposable plastic bag ban–I forget mine so often that I have to buy a reusable from the HEB cashier nearly every time I shop. There are enough of those things in my car to hide several laptops and a baby elephant besides.

Now. Here’s where the pause I mentioned earlier started. Satisfied no one could see the laptop, maybe, I shouldered my purse, picked up one of the grocery bags, and headed for Trader Joe’s. No more than a dozen steps later, I did a U-turn, headed back to the car, and peered through the window. Just as I’d expected, the ring of keys still hung from the ignition. Laying my hand on the hood, I felt a vibration. The car was running.

(Said car is ten years old. Because it’s been sitting in the sun, the red paint has begun to oxidize, so the outside looks totally disreputable, but it runs beautifully, knock wood. If the A/C hadn’t been on, I might not have felt a vibration at all.)

Well. My first impulse was to dump my purse onto the hood and follow it with my forehead. So I did. My second impulse was to hide a couple of cars away and wait for a burglar to break in for the laptop. Then I had a better idea. I stood up straight, head up, shoulders back, and asked myself, “What would Nancy Drew do (if she’d left her cell phone at home?)”

I’m certain she would do something more dramatic than finding a real phone and calling Ned Nickerson. But I’m not Nancy. I marched into Trader Joe’s, asked (in the most pitiful voice I could manage) to use the phone, and called David. He said he would run right over. I headed for the produce.

Back at the car, I set my own HEB insulated reusable shopping bag, with groceries, on the trunk. The putative temperature was 68 degrees, but sunshine had warmed the metal to at least 400, and I figured with any luck the salmon I’d bought might be cooked by the time I got home. Later I decided acting on whimsy might not be wise and took both the groceries and myself to a small, sandy promontory in the shade of a live oak tree at the other end of the car. Leaning against the tree’s trunk, I remembered other trees I’ve known:

The first high school I taught in was built around an open patio. Two young live oak trees grew on one side of it, outside the library. They were about the size of the tree I stood under while I waited for David.

The patio was a lovely spot. Students sat on the steps and at picnic tables during lunch, and the honors banquet was held there on spring evenings, and one pep rally that’s best forgotten (and that I’ll write about sometime) took place there. It was, as I said, lovely. Everyone who visited the school commented on its loveliness.

And time passed, and the live oaks flourished.

Then the birds arrived. And things began to go downhill.

The birds took up residence in the trees. Others joined them, and more and more, until the trees were thick with birds.

Birds, like cats, have no idea of the rules. They chattered and shrieked. They flew into glass doors and into windows overlooking the patio, unsettling students and teachers holding class on the insides of the windows. Unlike cats, they displayed no concern for personal hygiene. The patio did not smell nice. People stopped gathering there. They would have stopped walking by it at all if they’d been able to get to class any other way.

The Powers That Were made a number of humane attempts to get the birds to leave. They hung tin pans in the trees. They draped rubber snakes in the trees. They swatted at the birds with tennis rackets. Swatting might strike some as inhumane, but it was nothing compared to the alternative. This was, after all, a community dedicated to guns and hunting. Anyway, the same students who’d been traumatized when birds hit their windows got quite a kick watching the swatters flit about the patio, swiping at thin air.

At this point I must digress. I have admitted elsewhere that I sometimes exaggerate. Hyperbole is my favorite literary device. What I’ve written about the birds, however, is true. If anyone doubts my veracity, I can call on at least a hundred other eyewitnesses to back me up.

But back to my story. I was leaning against that live oak in front of Trader Joe’s, reminiscing, when I spotted my rescuer about three lanes over. I waved. He pulled his car into a space across from me.

“Did you call from a pay phone?” he said. Then he kissed me hello and unlocked the car.

That’s when I remembered, one more time, how lovely it is to have a husband who is as kind as my father was. My father never complained about retrieving my keys from locked cars, either.

Of course, that was before 1977, when I learned to use a paperclip.


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Day 2

A wonderful thing has occurred. CP said she would proofread the infamous newsletter.

I accepted her offer before she could retract it. She looked at the draft yesterday. This morning she pointed out errors and I corrected them.

I did my own proofing for the first three issues. That was risky.

I’ve always been compulsive about grammar and mechanics. When I discovered one of the Nancy Drew mysteries my grandmother gave me for my eighth birthday was short a set of quotation marks comma, I immediately reported it to my mother. I can spot a recieve at 5,000 yards. David and I amuse ourselves when driving by pointing out misplaced apostrophes on Dairy Queen signs.

But my own work is another thing, especially after I’ve been shuffling the same words around hour after hour. The characters begin to run together. Hence the risk. I proofed those first three issues within an inch of their lives and mine.

CP’s help makes that intensive effort unnecessary. In fact, as I admitted to her earlier today, I was downright slipshod with this issue. I read and reread and made some changes, but finally I said to myself, “Phooey. Somebody else can deal with this.” And she did.

And now the task is completed, the newsletter is online, and all I have to worry about proofing is this post. I’m already wondering whether I should do anything to the Nancy Drew up there. Italics? Not quotation marks. Bold? A small heading font?

It’s easy, especially for an OCD like me, to obsess about mechanics and forget what’s really important. A recieve now and then, or a misplaced comma, doesn’t constitute sin. Comma “rules” are changing even as I write. Those are small things. It’s meaning that counts.

But small things matter, too. A recieve at the wrong time and place may suggest the writer is careless or inept. Absence of a serial comma can alter the meaning of a contract.

…the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

So, as much as I’d like to throw commas to the wind, I shall continue to run spell- and grammar check (but not believe all it says) and watch for omitted words and remember that as a paid-up member of P.O.E.M. (the Professional Organization of English Majors), I have a duty to preserve the written language to the best of my ability.

Having written this serious and incredibly pedestrian paean to punctuation, I will share my favorite spelling rule:

I before E except after C, and E before N in chicken.

I learned that from the Andy Griffith Show when I was about ten. Later, I tried to share it with my high school students, but they looked at me funny. So I finally gave up.

Which is also what I’m doing now. Giving up. No more commas, no more apostrophes, no more poultry. I’m going to post this before midnight and then proceed to get my days and nights untangled.

By the way, you can disregard most everything above the apostrophe.  I strive for correctness, but the serial comma is the only punctuation mark I’d consider going to battle over. And, having discovered a late-blooming case of dyslexia–which I’m told has always been here, but who knew?–I’m much more tolerant of creative spelling than I used to be. And the O on this keyboard is wonky and I’m too tired to care.

S any errors you find in this pst are fair gaim. Feel free to point them out in a smment. Because I’m nt profing anything tnight.

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