Saturday, July 13, 2019

Norman Cousins Reunite After Over Sixty Years Apart

Dateline: Saturday, July 6, 2019

This has been the year for reuniting with long-lost relatives. After 41 years apart, my cousin, Linda Thornhill Willett, in Texarkana, my home town, talks with me every week now, fifteen minutes of laughter, usually about the foibles of our mutual Walker relatives. After almost two decades apart, my brother, Dan Norman, has visited us twice this year, driving my mother, Lucille Norman, Aunt Alice Walker, and niece Tammy Norman to Daytona Beach, Tomoka C.I., for a few hours together.

The record was set this past Saturday when my cousin, Sue Jones, from North Carolina, visited with Libby and me. It has been at least sixty years since Sue's sisters, Betty and Jane, spent time with our family one summer when we first moved to Florida from Texas. We had a great time together hitting it off and becoming acquainted. Sue came to Florida to visit her sisters, and the last-minute visitation approval scramble almost didn't coalesce.

Sue's mother, formerly Frankie Lee Norman, was my father Eugene Norman's eldest sister. She married Ed Hatchell, and they raised three daughters and a son, William, in North Carolina. They made many trips to Dade City, Florida, over the years, to visit with my grandmother, Berta Lee (West) Norman, my uncle, Rufus Norman, and other Norman relatives.

I never knew that Grandma Norman spent so much time staying with the Hatchells and Aunt Eloise Norman. I told Sue about the time Grandma spent a couple of weeks with us when I was fifteen, and she taught me how to play the card game, Canasta. "She taught us, too," Sue said. It was like we lived parallel lives, hundreds of miles apart, connected by our Grandmother Norman.

Sue told us stories about her family and our mutual aunts, uncles and cousins that I'd never known, and her two children and grandchildren that I've never met. We share a mutual love of chickens and dogs, we both majored in accounting in college (although she went much farther than I did), love photography, and love camping (something I haven't been able to partake of in prison). Libby shares the same interests, and sitting across the table from them, observing them smiling and laughing, I was struck by the almost instant connections the two of them shared.

I told Sue that my clearest memory of her father, my Uncle Ed, was the ever present fishing cap he always wore, and the time he and Uncle Rufus took me fishing with them to a local lake, where he showed me how to cast a spinning rod and reel. When I shared that with Sue, she smiled wistfully and said, "He taught us, too."

She'd never heard the story Grandma told me about the prisoner of war camp in South Georgia during World War II, or the German prisoner who worked on Grandpa Robert Franklin Norman's farm. The Army allowed local farmers to sign out German P.O.W.'s to work during the war, and their prisoner became like a member of the family. He was a skilled mechanic, and after he repaired all Grandpa Norman's broken farm equipment, neighbors lined up to get him to fix theirs. When the war ended and the German prisoners were repatriated, their German didn't want to leave, not only because Germany had been bombed into ruins, but for fear of Hitler's punishment for having been captured by the enemy. Hitler wanted all loyal Germans to fight to the death, and captured soldiers were considered traitors to Germany. Fortunately for the P.O.W.'s, Hitler committed suicide.

Sue told me I should write down that story, so here it is, Sue.

Sue told us stories I'd never heard, especially about Normans in Moultrie and Norman Park, Georgia, Norman Junior College, and the Norman Museum. Those places and Grandpa Norman's grave are on our list to one day visit. She also filled in her own family history, which was sad for me, since I had missed out on so much, being in prison most of my life, unable to maintain the family relationships she shared with relatives I only knew by names. Sue, you asked about Uncle Buddy's eldest daughter--I asked my mother on the phone--of course she remembers the names of all our generation's cousins-- Ann Norman.

We shared details of our aunts and uncles, Aunt Frankie Lee's and my father's brothers and sisters--I knew Uncle Buddy fought in WWII, but was surprised to learn that their oldest brother, Theus Norman, had been in the Army, too.

I reunited with Aunt Frankie Lee and Aunt Eloise in May, 1985, at Zephyrhills C.I., when they came for my father's funeral. When they entered the visiting area and saw me, they both began crying. We embraced, and I teared up, too. Aunt Frankie Lee told me, "When I saw you, you looked like our father as a young man." I'd never met my Norman grandfather. He'd died years before I was born. My father was sixteen, and convinced my grandmother to sign enlistment papers that he was seventeen, allowing him to go off to war in the Philippines, carrying a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and guarding Japanese Imperial Marine prisoners. He never drew his $70 a month pay, sending his allotment to Grandma, instead hustling other soldiers as the checkers champion for his own cash needs. When I told Sue my father met my mother while driving a cab after the war, she told me that her father had driven a cab, too. No wonder we got along so well. The similarities were almost spooky.

There is more, but it is late, and I must return to the requirements of life in prison. I don't know how our visit affected my cousin Sue Jones, but it had a tremendously positive impact on me. I felt that a lost treasure had been found. Thanks, Sue.

Charlie Norman

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