Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- Doubtless thousands of other women's ears perked up when Sen. Charles Schumer, introducing Sonia Sotomayor at Monday's confirmation hearing, mentioned the Latina jurist's girlhood affection for Nancy Drew books.

The smart, plucky girl-detective was a role model for many women who recognized themselves in Nancy -- including Hillary Clinton, Oprah, Sandra Day O'Connor and Laura Bush, to name a few.

Add yours truly to the list.

My father introduced to me to Nancy Drew when I was in the fifth grade. He and I sat side by side on the living room couch to read the first book together, taking turns to read aloud. Thus began my long love affair with reading, encouraged by the fact that television viewing wasn't allowed on weekdays and that book reading was the only exemption from hard labor, aka "chores."

By the end of the school year, I had completed the entire collection, a victory of art over temperament. I often became so excited by plot twists I couldn't sit still and would run laps through the downstairs rooms until I regained enough calm to focus on another paragraph.

Nancy Drew was a natural fit for me. She and I both were raised primarily by our lawyer-fathers. Both of our mothers had died when we were 3. Favorite titles corresponded to my own experience (the early rumblings of empathy?) and home, names such as "The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion," "The Hidden Staircase," "The Secret in the Old Attic."

We didn't live in a mansion, but our house was old and spooky -- a Spanish colonial revival-style stucco situated among moss-draped oaks, with a tile roof and a curious cupola perched over the living room, a broad front porch with a stone balustrade, and a secret staircase adjacent to my room that led to a cavernous cedar closet in which dwelled an evil spirit. Or so I was convinced.

How clever were the writers of these books, who understood the secret yearnings of little girls in love with mystery and hidden things. Other words sprinkled among the titles were baited fields to the ripe imagination -- phantom, ghost, witch, haunted, mysterious, charm. It didn't hurt that Nancy Drew had a spiffy roadster and could throw on a summer frock faster than you could say "hiya."

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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