The Secret Panel

The Secret Panel

In 1971 while most American’s were watching the horrors of the riots at Attica Prison in New York, and worried about Richard Nixon removing gold and silver backing from the dollar, two young lads from small town Americana were having none of that.  These two bright eyed village talents had books to read and mysteries to solve, worlds to create and under the cover of darkness, with flashlights in hand, puzzles to find the pieces to.  In the end as in the end there always must be, one would look at the other, and in that late sleep over hour of half past three the secret panel would be found.  It was then that Frank and Joe Hardy alias to Jason Waite and Danny Swearingen could find slumber to rise another day to hunt the saboteur of the next case at hand.

The small rural community of Kirtland, New Mexico was a long ways from the Vietnam War, and China being admitted to the United Nations in 1971.  A quiet Mormon farming community surrounded by a natural gas plateau, and the Navajo Indian reservation was well over a hundred miles away from the nearest interstate.  The consolidated school district was well administered with kind values and pride.  It was an uncomplicated time and held the golden years of my childhood.

Jason Waite was a smart kid.  I look at his picture occasionally on Facebook and he still has that Hardy Boy hey let’s go solve a mystery look to him.  He was my best friend.  He might tell the story different now, but I believe we first met over a pile of Hardy Boy books in the Grace B. Wilson Elementary School library.  The school library had a nice set of fourteen to eighteen of the original Franklin W. Dixon Hardy Boy books from the twenties and thirties.  Jason and I had already made our way through most the school’s collection by the time we met.

Our friendship soon took us above the realm of book club fanaticism with heavy emphasis on how we too could become mystery solvers in our small community.  The Hardy Boy Detective Handbook provided us with a guide on where to look for crime and how to solve it.  The winks and nods, and perhaps secret handshakes assured us who could be suspect and where the clues might be to prove that justice might prevail.  One of us found a guide to dusting for fingerprints.  I had powder from my Sears Golden Science chemistry set and with great ingenuity we set about making our own fingerprinting dusting set.  I still marvel that one or both of us didn’t lose a limb, but it does seem we might have lifted a print or two off of a coffee table somewhere.

The best  were the sleepovers.  With the weekend ahead, a Friday night with Jason arriving at my house or I at his held great possibilities for the best of adventures.  One way or another the one to arrive always held clutched tightly the latest acquisition of a Hardy Boy book bought with hard earned allowance monies.  What was soon to follow well into the evening were deep discussions on the villains in “The Yellow Feather Mystery” or Aunt Gertrude’s role in “Footprints Under the Window” or who was prettier  of the Hardy Boy’s girlfriends Callie Shaw, or Iola Morton.

Discussion can only last so long for two energetic mystery filled lads.  Filled to the brim with homemade root beer that Jason’s mom had dutifully produced we would dawn our detective gear, and with our flashlights in hand we would seek the cold darkness.  Our search of a broken burglarized window somewhere or a muddied footprint that we could follow would have been in vain, but our imaginations never failed us.  The Secret Panel was always found.

One morning in early October one of us I don’t remember which, arrived in breathless rapture waving the sports page from the Farmington Daily Times.  In it was the most wondrous miracle.  Connie Mack baseball season was at hand in nearby Farmington, and one of the teams coming in from the East coast produced a young man by the name of Frank Hardy.  Jason and I dared to wonder if it could be true.  Were the Hardy Boys real!  We discussed the marvel at hand for days, and then it was that the second miracle was fashioned.  We were given the opportunity to go to the game with Jason’s brother and his girlfriend.  I think I might have broken down and cried that day.  It was truly a time of revelation.  The secret panel was about to be opened.

The night of the big game Jason and I arrived each clutching our favorite Hardy Boy book.  Our strategy was well thought out, even if not put to paper.  We hoped to catch the young Mr. Hardy after the game if not before and relieve him of his autograph, as well as have him answer a few mystery laden questions.  The plan to find Frank Hardy before the game didn’t pan out but we were not to be deterred.  Anxious and excited we found our place in the filled stands and looked out over the heads of many looking to find but just a glimpse of Frank Hardy.  Our anticipation grew.  We discussed the possibility that Joe Hardy himself might be among us, watching his brother perform his sportsman obligation.  The possibility was that the whole Hardy family might be present.  We had ourselves whipped into a fine frothed fury when the young lady sitting to my immediate left spoke to us.

I don’t remember what Young Mr. Hardy’s sister’s name was.  I’m sure Jason doesn’t either.  I doubt we cared.  The introduction and identification of the young lady sitting to my immediate left slowed the world down for us.  It brought the cold hard slap of reality to our young minds.  The fact of no sisters being involved in the Hardy saga was a detail we could not deny.  Our sadness was inconsolable.  The secret panel was to be a secret no more.  We were growing up.

I haven’t seen Jason Waite in 37 years.  We connected on Facebook a few years back and now and then we chat back and forth with a text or two.  We still talk about Hardy Boy books and growing up in Kirtland and what a simple golden time it was.  One or the other of us still will bring up the Connie Mack Frank Hardy.  It’s good for an inside wink or secret handshake among old friends who were once known to each other as Frank and Joe Hardy.  – דָּנִיֵּאל –  11/14/2013

9 thoughts on “The Secret Panel

  1. Pingback: The Rest | Daniel Swearingen

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