University of Pittsburgh


Runaway Grandma

Written by Sylvia Sachs

Bazzoui (aka Ann McCauley)

Bazzoui (aka Ann McCauley)

A few winters ago, an aspiring novelist walked into the quiet of a friend’s log cabin in rural Pennsylvania. She spied an oil portrait on the wall and was spellbound by the image. In the painting, a handsome, elderly woman stared out from the canvas with a bare hint of emotion.

The visitor asked her friend about the portrait and discovered that the elderly woman had become a mystery of sorts among the locals. People in town said she had lived alone in the cabin for 12 years before she passed away. They knew she had been a good friend to a local father. They knew she had come from “somewhere out West” before settling in the forests of McKean County. That’s all they knew; the woman had seemed to leave an earlier past behind her.

The visitor, Cheryl Bazzoui, sensed this true story had all the intrigue of a good book, and she used her imagination to spin these secrets into her second novel, Runaway Grandma (Madison Ave. Publishers), written under the pen name Ann McCauley.

Bazzoui (UPB ’83, ’90) studied nursing and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. While working as a nurse and a mom, Bazzoui also made time to write. In fact, she has been writing since girlhood. She recalls: “After reading one of my stories, my father said, ‘I’ll be damned if you’re not a writer,’ and I believed from that day forward that I was born to be a writer.” Her stories flow from the heart of a woman who is the oldest of seven children and who grew up writing dramatic stories about her siblings and penning letters to the editor.

Published in 2007, Runaway Grandma has inspired discussions in book clubs and community groups. Bazzoui—who also earned a geriatrics certificate at Pitt—has worked with many elderly patients, making her familiar with the challenges of aging. It was not tough for her to imagine that a spunky older woman might decide to take off and look for a better way of life.

That’s what her character, 70-year-old Olivia Hampton, does. A retired teacher and a longtime widow, Olivia has a too-busy daughter with two self-absorbed children and a businessman son who wants to manage Olivia’s finances. She decides she can have a better life without this unappreciative family. Olivia becomes “Dorothy Meyers” and takes on a new life in a small Western Pennsylvania town called Harmonyville. This is a quiet town, but some exciting events take place—including criminal activity and the mysterious contamination of the water supply—which bring in the media and FBI.

Bazzoui’s first novel, Mother Love, was published in 2003 and received a national Readers’ Choice Award in 2005. She has recently finished a third novel, and a fourth is in progress. Even now, during quiet times when she’s settled into writing, her imagination roams free, much as it did on a winter day at a cabin in the woods.