CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- She oozes old-country charm. She's cheerful, outgoing and quick to laugh, especially at herself. Nabila Najar feels comfortably at home here, far removed from the cautious, wide-eyed bride who arrived from Lebanon in 1951 unable to speak a word of English.
Thrust into everyday life in the bustling coalfield town of Mullens, she used spunk and resourcefulness to make her way as she juggled motherhood and helping her husband at their curb service restaurant.
In 1953, a new opportunity brought them to St. Albans, where they ran a drive-in on U.S. 60 known first as the Drive Under and later as Najar's. It operated until 1977.
She grew to love the country that so intimidated her as a newlywed. Still robust and chatty at 80, she glows with gratitude for her Americanization.
"I was born in Bzebdine, Lebanon. My father was a farmer and businessman. We were the only ones in town with our own water. My father dug a well under the mountain. We raised everything we ate. Mom was a hard-working person. I watched her and learned how to cook.
"We went to school at age 5, from 8 to 4 every day. I walked every day to a Catholic school. I stayed in school until the sixth grade. Then I said I'd had enough. We couldn't afford it.
"We were a family of nine. Every morning, one of us would take over the kitchen. Breakfast had to be ready by 9 when they came back from the farm. My father was up at 3:30 in the morning to go to the farm. He had to go like from here to Beckley. He had a mule or a donkey or he walked. There were no cars.
"I wanted to be a doctor. My father, after he dug the well, he had dynamite sticks, and the dynamite exploded and three of his fingers flew out the window. The doctor came. No one would stand with him because it was so gruesome. They called me in, and I stood there, and he said, 'That girl has to be a doctor.' But there was no money.
"My husband, Eddie, was in World War II with Eisenhower. I met him after the war, in 1950. He was looking for a bride. The custom is, men would visit the homes where there were young ladies. We had 14 men come to our house. There were two of us, my sister and me.
"His mother said he was not going back to America without getting married. He was born in Spokane, Wash. His family lived in Mullens. My father-in-law went to Lebanon and got married and came back and had a boy and a girl in Spokane, and they moved to Mullens. His brother was there.
"When his wife died, my father-in-law went back to Lebanon. My Eddie was raised in Lebanon. At 13, his father died. At 19, he enlisted at the embassy. He went to Egypt to Africa to Germany. He served his term and went back to Mullens where four of his cousins had a sandwich shop.
"A guy bought their business. They made a lot of money. Eddie had a '49 Buick. His cousin had a '49 Ford. They put them on a boat and came to Lebanon. The idea was to see their family and get married.
"My aunt's grandson heard them talking: 'Have you been to Bzebdine? My uncle has two beautiful daughters, the most beautiful in all of Lebanon.'
"On June 15, my birthday, I was standing at the door wearing a beautiful crepe dress and high heels, no makeup, my hair down to my shoulders. I ran inside. 'Momma, someone's looking for a bride!' I received them to come into the living room. The custom was, you served lemonade, coffee and then chocolate. We did all that. Eddie was watching me.
"He had his uncle, mother and aunt and another guy with him. The women said to come sit with them. They had to look at you close up. We got engaged in a week and were married in four weeks. That was 1951. We were on the boat 18 days coming over.
"We went to Mullens. My sister met me. She was here five years ahead of me. About three months after we got here, the chief of police said he had a place, Joe's Drive-in, and wanted to sell it. He said 4,000 men came through there every day from the Itmann mine.