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Nancy Drew Was Never This Snotty

Valerie Brown Kuchare née Augustine

I was about 10 years old one spring day when my mother pulled up in front of the house where the most popular girl in school lived.  At first, I had no idea why she would stop here; then, I noticed the yard sale going on in the driveway. 

“Oh no.  I’m not going to this garage sale.  Mom!  This is so embarrassing.  Are you trying to ruin my life? I refuse to get out of the car,” I said in my snidest voice. 

“Come on!” my mom said cheerfully. “She’s a little bigger than you; we might find some cute outgrown clothes!”

“I am NOT wearing anything she wore!” I sputtered. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard! No. Just, no!”

“Why on earth not? She has adorable clothes. Let’s go look.”  My mom jumped out and started walking over to the colorful displays and many tables piled with dishes and gadgets as I sunk deep, deep into the car seat.

A few minutes later, my mom came back to the car carrying a large box. I cringed when I thought of how embarrassing it was going to be wearing hand-me-down clothes from the most popular girl in school.

What does all of this have to do with the 2019 Spring Read? What was in that box just happened to be about 25 Nancy Drew mystery stories. Though I was immensely relieved that I’d be able to avoid the preteen wardrobe drama, I wasn’t about to show interest in any purchases from that yard sale.  Mom positively glowed as she went on and on about how Nancy Drew was one of her favorite characters when she was a kid and what a good deal she got on the used books.

In my haughtiest voice, I said, “Good.  You can re-read them then.” 

Despite my apparent indifference, I couldn’t help but notice one of the covers as my mom plopped the box on the car seat between us.  It featured a red-haired young woman looking up a dark set of ancient stone steps.  The glow of her flashlight was the same yellow as that on the spines of all the books. The title of that top one was The Hidden Staircase.

The second book down was partially obscured by the top one.  I could only read, The Secret of the Old something!  The secret of the old what? Well, I certainly wasn’t going to dig around in the box to shift the books.

When we got home, my mom placed the box in the storage room.  The only reason I paid a bit of attention to the location of the box was very mild curiosity as to the rest of that one title. So, when my mother was busy elsewhere, as she always was, I went in to take a quick peek. I quickly pushed the top book over to reveal the full title, The Secret of the Old Clock. 'Well, that’s out of the way', I thought, 'but while I’m here, I might as well find out just what the secret of the old clock was.  I’ll just skim through the first couple of chapters to get the gist.'

There’s no mystery about what happened next. I snuck those books out of the storage room one by one, always careful to arrange the top books to look as if none were missing.  I think I was probably just as intuitive and clever with my subterfuge as Nancy herself, don’t you?

It wasn’t until much later that I learned that Carolyn Keene was a pen name for a number of writers, one of whom happened to be Mildred Augustine. That was a real revelation for me, as Augustine was my own beautiful maiden name!  For a while, I was convinced that I was probably a long-lost cousin to my teenage idol.  But alas, I couldn’t find a link to Mildred Augustine, so perhaps I wasn’t as intelligent as Nancy after all. 

Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson wrote the first 23 Nancy Drew mysteries, for which she received a flat fee of between $125 and $250 each. She gave up all rights to her work under her contract. The real mystery is how she managed to keep quiet from 1930, when The Secret of the Old Clock was published, until 1980, when she was able to reveal her role in the Nancy Drew best-selling mystery series. That and how mom put up with me throughout my teens.

This is Valerie Brown-Kuchera, née Augustine.  Thanks for letting me share my story on the 2019 Spring Read.

Host of Little Spouse on the Prairie, a regional comedy feature that airs Sundays at 8:35 a.m. during Weekend Edition.