My grandmother used to drive eight hours from her home in Wichita Falls, Texas, to my home in Shawnee, Kansas, watch me play soccer, spend the night, and then turn around and drive eight hours back. She cheered, loudly and proudly, “Go, Ree-becca!”
When my Boston University teammates and I made the NCAA playoffs, Nana got into her car and headed east. For a while, none of us could reach her on her cellphone (she mostly kept it off to save the battery). Then she finally picked up a call from my father.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m almost to Neosho, Missouri.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to the BU ballgame.”
She was 79 and had macular degeneration in both eyes. When she reached her 76-year-old best friend in Ohio, who grew up in the same orphanage and had agreed to finish the trip with her, my dad booked them tickets to travel the rest of the way in a plane piloted by people who could 100 percent see.
Nana was famous among my friends and teammates. They knew she charged up my Terrier Card every semester, allowing us to splurge on pizza, and they crowded around when her care packages arrived — especially at Christmas, when I unveiled sweaters that lit up or had actual jingle bells on them. They delighted in her polite request to switch lunch spots the one time I made the mistake of picking a restaurant that didn’t serve beer.
The year after I graduated, I got to repay Nana for her years of superfandom. She wasn’t playing soccer, of course. Instead, with the permission of BU coach Nancy Feldman, she and dozens of other members of the Wichita Falls First Baptist Church Glory Choir performed at a soccer game. The choir is open only to singers over the age of 55. “Some of them are older than me,” Nana says, “but I’m sure I’m on the long end.” Thankfully, they flew to Boston.
Coach Feldman always had a soft spot for Nana. There were never many grandparents at our games — much less grandparents who had traveled halfway across the country to be there — and I think the coach respected her independence and spirit. She also knew my family was going through a difficult time: My parents had recently divorced, and Nana and I sometimes disagreed about what new shape our family could or should take.
I was in my first year of graduate school in New York, but I wouldn’t have dreamed of missing Nana’s Nickerson Field debut. My grandmother had always shown up for me. The least I could do was return the favor.
At halftime, the singers took their places on the track around the field, wearing sequined American flag-patterned vests. After a warm-up song, the choir director recognized Nana and her connection to BU, and she waved to the crowd while Rhett the Terrier danced. In the stands, a few of my former teammates and I cupped our hands around our mouths and yelled, “We love Nana!”
There were probably lots of other Nanas in the choir, but there was only one who belonged to us.
My grandmother is 94 now. She no longer makes trips by herself — and couldn’t, even if she was feeling sneaky, since she has what she calls an “old-lady ID” instead of a driver’s license.
In July, my wife, my brother, and I met her and my father in Ohio for the annual reunion at the orphanage where she grew up. With my 2-year-old niece, Nana’s great-granddaughter, we drove around the campus in a golf cart while Nana pointed out landmarks. We saw her dorm, the parade grounds where she walked with her “beaus,” and finally the chapel. That was where she married my grandfather and, long before that memorable day at Nickerson Field, sang in the choir.Rebecca Beyer is a freelance writer and editor in New York. Send comments to connections @globe.com. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.