I spent the summer of ’68 with her in Wheeling, WVA, working as a day camp counselor and getting to know the area around Bethany College, where I would be starting school in September. That summer I discovered I wasn’t as afraid of boys as I thought I was. My crushes included a fellow counselor, two lifeguards, James Taylor, and my cousin Norm. It was a summer of daydreams and sighs.
When camp was over, I flew home to Michigan to pack for college, but within two days I was weak and couldn’t swallow. Somehow, without even kissing a single boy, I had a severe case of mono. I was not so much disappointed that I would miss the start of my college career as I was by not having a true story to tell my friends about a summer romance.
I was well enough to fly back to Wheeling by the end of September, where I was to stay overnight with my Nana, who, the next morning, would drive the serpentine roads of the West Virginia hills to deliver me in decent health to my first semester of college. Bethany was where my parents met, sitting alphabetically in religion class. My beautiful mother Joan Boyd next to the dashing young soldier Robert Boyd. Mom loved her name: Joan Boyd Boyd. Maybe I would meet my dream man the same way. This is how carefully I chose my college career.
Nana was very serious about getting me to Bethany as early as possible so I wouldn’t miss another moment of my education. That morning as I sat at the breakfast table, enjoying her town-famous cinnamon, brown sugar and butter coffee cake, she sat down across from me, her black handbag on her arm and keys jangling in her hand. She stared at my unfinished breakfast and sighed. “Well,” she said, “I’ll just go warm up the car.” In a matter of seconds the engine of her ’64 navy blue Valiant roared; she revved it a few times to make sure I got the message, and a few seconds later there was the horn, that ear-shattering sound I’d come to dread throughout the summer.
Nana was plump, and at most 4’ 10” tall. Her head could barely be seen above the steering wheel. Her driving was already part of family lore, how she smoked her cigarette and set it in the car ashtray, picking it up every now and then for a quick puff; how she used her horn to communicate with the mechanics checking her oil, while they were checking the oil; how she passed 18 wheelers on the highway with her foot full throttle on the accelerator and her hand on the horn the entire way.
“Good Lord,” I prayed, wiping the crumbs from my face. I grabbed my belongings, scrambled to her car, threw open the back door, stashed the suitcase, slammed it shut. Without so much as a glance behind her, Nana gave the car some gas, and with a squeal of tires and blind determination, she and her Valiant took off without me.
A few minutes later I saw her car heading back to where I was pretending to hitchhike. As she got closer I could see she was laughing, tears running down her rosy cheeks. Forty-five years later I still smile when I think of her lovable, somewhat high-strung personality, and how I wish I could have seen her face when she looked in the back seat to ask me why I was so quiet.
Well, I did kiss a boy or two that first semester of college, which might have caused the relapse of mono forcing me to leave Bethany before finals. Somehow that valiant car and its driver made it up the steep West Virginia hills, and there was my Nana, revving its engine, making absolute sure I wouldn’t miss my plane home.
When Pam’s husband Jimmy passed away six years ago, she found comfort in writing about her grief. She took classes in memoir writing, found her voice, and writes memoir and poetry in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. She is also a Spiritual Director, trained through The Haden Institute in Hendersonville, NC.
Read Pam’s moving story about her mother here.
Read a family story honoring loving grandparents — Dianne Mason’s “Bobba and Grandy: Memories of My Grandparents.”