A photograph of Annabella Wood and three of her friends hangs behind the desk of the McBride scholar. Seated on a roller coaster as it crests, one friend is terrified, the two others are nervous, but Annabella is clearly ecstatic. Her arms are raised, her face aglow as she is about to sweep down the roller coaster tracks. Annabella brings that same exhilaration to her roadtrip through life.
“The value of an experience has nothing to do with the experience itself,” Annabella told fellow McBride Helen Rehl ’96 in a recent interview. “It has everything to do with how we approach it, and greet it, and how we deal with it.”
There have been quite a few experiences in Annabella’s life, beginning at age 14, when she won the Women’s National Motocross race.
“It was a 30-minute endurance race, and I lapped every other adult female racer on the track,” she says. “So I didn’t only win—I smeared them.”
Annabella’s motocross days ended abruptly when a mistake on the bike confined her to a wheelchair for the next three years. There, she did “an awful lot of embroidery” and perfected her guitar playing. And there, she decided not to follow her brother and sisters to college after high school.
“We lived on the campus of a private school. My dad worked there. They all knew my mom. One day, a teacher who had had all my siblings in his classes said to me, ‘your mother is a saint, your father is a wizard, your brothers and sisters are intelligent ... what happened to you?’ ” Annabella was in eighth grade at the time. “That really got me thinking. It certainly hurt my feelings, but at the same time it was very thought-provoking.”
The provocations led her to apply to truck-driving school.
“I applied to my first truck driving school because they had this ad on T.V. that said ‘we can make anyone a truck driver’, ” she says. Though she was too young to drive, the operator at the 800 number agreed to send Annabella the paperwork, and by the time she was 18, she was in the school—even though she had been accepted at Bryn Mawr.
Her father, a Philadelphia-bred Quaker and head of the science department at Annabella’s high school, was mortified. “But my mom, a Bryn Mawr woman, said, ‘Honey you can do anything you want and I’ll support you.’ So off I went to learn how to drive a big rig.”
Though Bertie Dawes Wood ’52 preferred Annabella went to Bryn Mawr, she supported her daughter on whatever path she chose. Annabella tells how she had always been intrigued by the College because “whenever my mom stood up for herself, my dad would say ‘your Bryn Mawr is showing.’ I wanted some of that.”
But she took a circuitous route.
At 18, the driving school led Annabella to her first job, and her doing “very, very badly.” She was fired. Next stop? The Air Force.
“When I signed up, I said to myself I’m only going to be here until I’m old enough to drive a truck across country.”
Annabella was given an honorable discharge from the Air Force long before her time was up. “The military threw me out for being gay,” she says. “It was 1980, a great year for throwing people out.”
But Annabella does not look back upon that—or any of life’s other downturns—with bitterness. “Whenever I make plans, they all come with a giggle. I have this saying if you want to make God laugh, make a plan.” It turned out that her discharge came the month of her 21st birthday, the month she would be able to become an interstate truck driver. Annabella was able to resume the dream she had held as the teen-ager in a wheelchair. She traveled to all 48 states and ultimately transformed her experience into her own trucking business, which grew to the point where she made “magnificent sums of money” working only two to four months a year. The rest of the time she traveled, and learned, and bought real estate with her partner. “I drove that truck for 27 years. It was my womb.”
Annabella Wood plays at the Point in Bryn Mawr.
When—at the culmination of a self-guided program to re-examine her fundamental beliefs—Annabella approached her partner looking to make a change, her partner decided she wanted to break up. Annabella states that “the outside reflects the inside. If I want to change the outside, I have to change the inside. Then the outside takes care of itself.” The relationship ended amicably, with her partner retaining the trucking company, and Annabella keeping the real estate. At that point, her mom, as she’d done throughout Annabella’s life, said, “ ‘how about Bryn Mawr, Honey?’ I couldn’t come up with a reason why not this time. It was time to go. So here I am.”
Having come to Bryn Mawr nearly three decades after being accepted, and with a continent of experience behind her, she looks at the younger students and is grateful that she didn’t come sooner. “Knowledge is great, it’s wonderful. I can manipulate the world more effectively if I have more knowledge, and make my life more comfortable, but that’s not the same thing as peace,” which comes, she believes, through losing control, through leaving beliefs behind.
Annabella’s favorite fields of study are math and science. “I love the ordered. I love the stuff that makes sense. But at the same time, I have a deep appreciation for mystery.”
Now that Annabella is riding this newest turn in her life, she revels in the “incredibly exhilarating experience of Bryn Mawr.” In characteristic fashion, that enthusiasm for life’s twists and turns is expressed off campus as well as in her classes. She has recently had a poem published, is working on a book, and can be heard some Tuesday nights playing her songs at The Point Café (built next to the old ’70s Point on Lancaster Avenue). Though her music comes as much from her travails as from her joy, Annabella chooses to not use dissonance or discordance when composing a song. “My chords are mostly major, because for me, the purpose of music in the song is to put people at ease so they’ll be open to the words. I like to put radical ideas to music and make the music a pretty package.”
Perhaps the only McBride scholar to boast of visiting “every roller coaster in America,” Annabella was joined recently by her mother (see accompanying article) and the two shared Lantern Night. “I loved having my mother there when I received my lantern. The songs were beautiful. I was so happy to be in college at long last.”
Circuitous though the path may have been, Annabella says, “My mother brought me to Bryn Mawr, without a doubt. I am very proud to be following in her footsteps … finally.”
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