Friday, September 18, 2020

Lucille Walker Norman, Life Celebration


September 18, 2020

Knowing how fragile and ephemeral life is, I wanted to make sure my mother's life would be properly documented.  Several years ago, I realized how little I actually knew about Mama, her hopes and dreams, the details of her inner life, so I undertook the mission to remedy that lack, for myself and those who come after. I am Charles Patrick Norman, the eldest child of Lucille Walker Norman, 91, who passed away peacefully at home Thursday September 17, 2020, surrounded by members of her loving family.

Lucille was born in Roxton, Texas, on August 23, 1929, the eldest daughter of Floyd Franklin Walker and Velva Marie (Edwards) Walker. She grew up on the  family farm in the bottomland of the  Red River near Fulton, Arkansas, during the Great Depression. Although there was a levee holding back the river, the family was often flooded out and had to live in Red Cross tents, returning home after the flooded river subsided. My mother's earliest memories were hoeing her father's cotton rows as a little girl. She hated it. Her father also raised watermelons, and at least once won the prize for biggest watermelon at the annual contest in Hope, Arkansas, with a melon so big it required two men to hold it up.

Lucille remembered her brother’s birth, Floyd Franklin Walker, Jr., in June of 1934 also in Fulton, during an epidemic of whooping cough. Lucille’s paternal grandparents, James Richard and Mary Frances (Tefteller) Walker, came to Fulton and took the newborn, Junior, a week old, back to Redwater, Texas, with them for about a month, to protect him, until the whooping cough had gone.

The family eventually settled in Redwater. Lorene Lowry was Lucille’s best friend in high school. They would have sleep-overs at each other’s houses. Lucille said, “All the teenagers went to the Red Springs Baptist Church. James Chapman had the only car in our group, and about fifteen of us would pack into it, hanging on, all over it, and he would drive us all to church and back home. I don’t know now how we did it! Lorene and I would giggle all the time. We had so much fun. She moved away, and wrote me when she got married, but we lost touch.”

After high school at Redwater, Texas, at age 18, Lucille and her friend Louise Child signed up to work at the Lykes Pasco Citrus Packing Plant in Dade City, Florida. After their exciting cross-country bus ride from Texarkana, Texas, to Dade City, Lucille and her friend joined a number of young women from across America in working at the packing plant and staying in a dormitory ruled by a house mother.

Eugene Norman, a native of Moultrie, Georgia, a U. S. Army veteran who served in the Philippines, drove a taxi cab and operated a fork lift at Lykes Pasco in Dade City when he met Lucille, convincing her to go on a double date with her friend, Louise, and his friend Ralph Pettis, for hamburgers at Eddie's Drive-In. Eventually he convinced her to be his wife, in December, 1948.

In 1949, very pregnant with her first son, her doctor advised her of health complications that threatened the lives of her and her unborn child. Afraid of dying far from her mother and family, she and Eugene packed up their belongings in his oil-leaking and smoking 1938 Chevrolet and began a thousand-mile journey to Texas with 36 quarts of motor oil in the trunk. Every thirty miles or so Eugene had to pull over and add another quart of oil. This was before the interstate highways, and not having money for motel rooms, they pulled off to the side of the country road at night and slept in their car. It took them three days to reach Texas.

After rejoining her family in Redwater, Texas, three weeks later, on September 4, 1949, both Lucille and her son miraculously survived caesarian surgery at St. Michael's Hospital, Texarkana, Arkansas, contrary to the dire warnings by doctors that one or both of them were likely to die.

Lucille always wanted to be a nurse. She said, “When I graduated from high school, I wanted to go to nursing school, but we didn’t have the means. After Charlie was born, I applied to the school there in Texarkana, but a doctor there at the school giving physicals, told me I should have another baby while I was young and healthy, and then go to nursing school later. But I still wanted to be a nurse, and was determined to do it. Then I got sick, and discovered I was pregnant again, with Dan. Then, two years later, I was pregnant with Tom, and suddenly I had three children under seven years old. I never did go to nursing school.”

The Walkers were a musical family. Most everyone played an instrument and sang. Lucille played the piano as a little girl, but when she married and began raising her family, a piano was an expensive luxury they could not afford. After their sons grew up and moved out, Eugene told her he would buy her a piano if she would play for him, which she did for years. He loved to listen to her play. After Eugene passed away, she never played again.

Lucille loved music and loved to sing. Redwater schoolmates Mary and Johnny Henshaw recalled several years back that when Lucille and her younger sister, Ruthie Jean, got on the bus every morning, they were skipping down the aisle and singing. I remember when I was a child, Mama sang along with the radio for hours as she cleaned house and cooked. My favorite song she sang was ''Mockingbird Hill.''

Redwater, Texas, was about 70 miles northwest of Shreveport, Louisiana, home of the ''Louisiana Hayride,'' and in the early 1950's she and Eugene made many Saturday night trips to see the contemporary country music stars perform. Lucille said, “We saw just about everyone in country music when they were first starting out, before they became famous. Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Goldie Hill (she married Carl Smith), Jim Reeves, Elvis, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Slim Whitman, Hank Snow, and Hank Williams. I remember she had an autographed photo of Slim Whitman and several of his records, but she surprised me when she said her favorite country singer was George Jones. She said her favorite at the Hayride was the Maddox Brothers and Rose. “They were like a Mexican group, with real pretty costumes. I don’t think they ever got famous, but I really enjoyed their music,” she said. “The Hayride concerts started around eight p.m. on Saturday nights, and we wouldn’t get home until after midnight. We enjoyed every minute of it.”

In May, 1958, Lucille and family returned to Florida, first briefly to Plant City, then to Thonotosassa, east of Tampa, having lived in the same home on Grovewood Avenue since 1969. Over the years, after her sons were older, Lucille worked at Shuron Continental and then General Cable in Tampa. She later worked at East Lake Square Mall and Brandon Town Center before going to work at Walmart, eventually retiring at age 85.

Lucille was an excellent cook. Her Sunday dinners were highly-anticipated by family and friends, and everyone raved about her buttermilk biscuits, cornbread, hushpuppies, and Christmas fruit cakes.

On May 2, 1985, Lucille was widowed when her husband, Eugene Norman, passed away at University Community Hospital after a long illness. She never remarried, saying that no man could take the place of her Gene in her heart. She was also predeceased by her youngest son, Thomas Eugene Norman, daughter-in-law, Sandy Norman, two brothers, Floyd Franklin Walker, Jr., and Jim David Walker, and two sisters, Ruthie Jean Odom and Cherry Maxine Hogquist.

Lucille Norman is survived by two sons, Charles Patrick (Elizabeth), of Jacksonville, and Danny Franklin, of Thonotosassa, Diane Norman (daughter-in-law) five grandchildren, Timmy and Tammy Norman, children of Dan and Sandy, and Thomas, John and Joseph Norman, children of Lucille's late son, Thomas, and Diane, of Tampa, Florida.

She is also survived by ten great—grandchildren, Tammy's daughter, Darian Weaver, and Timmy's four children, Ashton, Delany, Bryson, and Rylie Norman, Grandson Tommy's (Carla) three boys, Thomas, Justin and Jacob Norman, and Grandson Joseph's two boys, Jax and Elisha Norman. Lucille leaves behind two sisters, Patsy Ann Crumpton, of Texarkana, Texas, and Alice Faye Walker (George), of Tampa, Florida. She also leaves behind a number of nieces and nephews, along with a handful of elderly cousins in Texas.

A lifetime member of the Baptist church, Lucille Norman prayed daily for the health, happiness, and safety of her family. Her love of life, her
laughter, and her joy at being surrounded by family will be sorely missed. We cherish the glimpses of her life packed with adventure, hard work, dedication, and selflessness, good lessons on how to love your family, that will live on in our hearts. Thank you, Lucille. Rest in peace.

Graveside Services will be held Friday, September 25, 2020, at 10 a.m. Interment will be next to her dear husband in Sunset Memory Gardens, 11005 N. U.S. Highway 301, Thonotosassa. Arrangements in charge of Swilley Funeral Home, 1602 W. Waters Avenue, Tampa.

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