By Donna (and Chelsey) Drysdale
My Summer of Love came one year early. It was June 1968. One month short of 19, I was transferring to UCLA with my high school sweetheart, after spending my freshman year with him at a far-away college. Our four-year relationship was at the age-appropriate tail end and needed no excuse to be over.
Back in California, I had to find somewhere to live for the summer. My mom had just moved to a small town in Colorado, and I definitely didn’t want to go there. I stayed for two weeks at my boyfriend’s family home in Upland. His mother worried about me living there and encouraged me to place an ad in the local paper for a room to rent.
On the other side of town, a 43-year-old woman—who hasn’t touched a newspaper before or since—opened the paper and saw my ad. She was looking to “stir things up” in her Victorian-style home, where her middle son, Bill, also nearing 19, hung out with his friends, played pool, and was too shy to talk to girls. She thought if she rented a room to me, I’d bring my friends around for him to date, since he’d never had a girlfriend before. I know now that this decision was completely out of character for her.
She gave me a tour of the house while Bill worked at his father’s gas station across the street. She showed me her son’s car: a red 1963 Austin Healey Mark II 3000. I fell in love with the car and promptly moved my stuff into an upstairs room the next day, right across the hall from his bedroom. After I unpacked, I heard him talking with his friend downstairs in the kitchen. I decided to investigate.
As I walked in, past the wood-burning stove, an average-looking guy sat at the table, and another very cute boy lay on a settee.
Really? I thought. Please let Bill be the cute one.
“Are you Bill?” were the first words that tumbled out of my mouth.
“Yes. Are you Donna?” He jumped up in surprise.
When his mom told him she’d rented a room to a girl, he was expecting the worst. And while I never thought I was a raving beauty, he evidently thought I was pretty alright. He was gorgeous. It was love at first sight.
We knew many of the same people. We went to elementary schools that were only three blocks apart and would have attended the same high school had his family not moved a few miles away during middle school. I knew his childhood friends, and they knew both of us before we knew each other. We were sure our paths had crossed at basketball games, football games, and the movie theater.
We spent the first night and every night for the next two months talking until the wee hours. We had our first kiss at the top of the stairs as we parted ways to go to our respective bedrooms. His mom left us money one day and told us to get dinner; our unofficial first date was at Grinder Haven. I mean, we had to eat somewhere. At least that’s what I told my boyfriend. Then we drove to the beach, which also seemed innocuous. Our real first date was at Disneyland, and it was then I had to do the dirty deed and break up with my high school boyfriend for good. He screamed at me and called me names, and I never looked back.
Bill and I kissed again on the Monsanto ride, and I was never the same. We sang the Beatles song If I Fell to each other, and he told me he loved me in German because he was too shy to say it in English. We were inseparable, locked together by some invisible force field. Eventually, his mom got tired of us hanging around kissing and hugging and staring at each other. She picked a fight with me, and I moved out. Bill’s sweet dad gave me all the money in his wallet, and I left in August with everything I owned in my mom’s ’65 Chevy Impala.
Bill and I lay on the grass at the park, scared and unsure of the future, feeling like it was us against the world. A year later, during the real Summer of Love, we ran away to live “in sin” at the beach in Dana Point. Boys under the age of 21 needed parental consent to get married then, and his parents said we were too young. It didn’t matter that they had gotten married at 18 and 20. His mother said I was going to break his heart someday. By October of ‘69, we’d talked them into it, and we were married at the age of 20.
I never made it to UCLA. I couldn’t bear to be away from Bill, and it seemed worlds away. I visit the campus sometimes and wonder how my life might have changed if I’d gone forward with those college plans, but we’ve been married for 43 years now and have two incredible daughters and a darling seven-month-old grandson. Bill’s 87-year-old mom now laughs and takes credit for our longevity, but, even through the most turbulent times, our bond was always unbreakable, with or without her help.
Donna Drysdale is a photographer in San Juan Capistrano, CA (www.drysdaleimagery.com). Her co-writer, daughter Chelsey Drysdale, is an editor (and writer of this blog).