A little more than a year ago, I met some wonderful folks quite by chance. The family was passing through town, one stop on what turned out to be a 13,000-mile journey.
I met Miss Norma Bauerschmidt, who was 90 years young at the time, and her son Tim, daughter-in-law Ramie Liddle, and their dog Ringo, a wise-looking standard poodle, at a luncheon just before the Hilton Head Island St Patrick’s Day Parade in March 2016. They had inquired about a good spot for viewing the parade from Miss Norma’s wheelchair, and the parade committee instead invited her to ride in the parade as a guest dignitary.
She was, in fact, well on her way to becoming a celebrity. Her Facebook page, Driving Miss Norma, had more than 300,000 followers at the time. She was becoming famous. (The page now has more than half a million followers.)
The short version of her story is that she had recently made an unusual decision for someone of her age. The previous August, just days after her husband, Leo, died, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. When her doctor started discussing treatment – radiation and chemo – she stopped him and said “I’m 90 years old. I’m hitting the road.”
Tim and Ramie, who had years before chosen a nomadic lifestyle, traveling around the country in their RV, had invited her to join them, seeking new adventures rather than being stuck in a nursing home. She chose the adventure.
So off they went. While they were in the Lowcountry, a small group gathered in Bluffton’s Dubois Park so they could plant a tree in memory of Leo, whose birthday was coming up. Mayor Lisa Sulka made it official, and a plaque was placed at the base of the Eastern Redbud, a flowering tree that Miss Norma loved.
They traveled on to Atlanta, Virginia, Maine and then west to Wyoming and Washington state.
It wasn’t just the places they visited that intrigued followers across the country. It was the amazing way the three bonded in a trying time, saying things in the face of loss that so many can’t say, creating memories in each and every moment, and sharing their joy.
Sadly, Miss Norma passed on to her next adventure last September. Tim and Ramie and Ringo carried on their journey without her, though it was quite obvious in their Facebook postings that she was still front and center in their hearts and minds. Along the way, they said, many people had encouraged them to write a book about their experience.
And so, they have. “Driving Miss Norma” was published today, May 2, by HarperOne. The 239-page hardback is available at major bookstores and online at www.HarperOne.com and www.Amazon.com.
So, here’s the fun thing. On May 18, Tim and Ramie (and maybe Ringo) will be back on Hilton Head for an informal book signing at Reilley’s South on Greenwood Drive, St. Patrick’s Day Parade headquarters, where they first met some locals. From 5 to 7 p.m. on the patio, they will gladly sign any books that have been previously purchased. They might even have a beer with us.
Two days later, on May 20, from 3 to 5 p.m., they will be at Dubois Park in Bluffton, near Leo’s tree, again to sign books that have been previously purchased and meet their fans.
If you’re so inclined, grab a book and come join us at either place. They would love to meet you.