Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Small Norman Family Reunion

left to right---Libby, Charlie, Lucille, Dan and Alice

 Dateline February 10, 2019

Sunday, February 10, 2019, Libby and I were pleased that my mother, Lucille Norman, my aunt, Alice Walker, and my brother, Dan Norman, made the trek from Tampa to Daytona Beach to visit us at Tomoka C. I. It has been many years since all of us were together at the same time, and our mini-reunion was emotional. Dan drove his truck, and the big question was whether my mother would be able to climb into the big Dodge. With a little boost, she made it just fine.

It was a bittersweet reunion, sadly missing our lost loved ones, our brother, Tom, and Dan's wife, Sandy, who passed away in the past years. Dan and I told stories about Tom, a memorable family character, that brought thoughts to mind of our grandfather, Floyd "Bebaw" Walker, my mother's and Alice's father.

Growing up in Florida, the big family event was our annual vacation return to Texas, staying with Bebaw, our grandmother, Memaw, and youngest aunt, Cherry, who was more like my little sister, along with visiting our large extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. The low point came when it was time to return home to Florida.

Bebaw was the physically toughest person I knew. In his old age, he would still win any push-up challenge from younger relatives, and few were foolish enough to wrestle him. But for all his physical toughness, when it came to his loved ones, his emotions took over. He'd help load suitcases into the car, tears streaming down his cheeks, then when everybody hugged, embraced, and promised to return next year, Bebaw would be crying, telling each of us he loved us, worried that this visit would be the last one. My father greatly respected Bebaw, but he was uncomfortable when Bebaw's emotions spread to the rest of us, and we'd all be crying. Dan and Tom were too young to understand what was happening, but they'd join in and start crying, too.

Daddy always wanted to get an early start on the twenty-hour drive back to Tampa, and used to plan leaving at six a.m., but Bebaw would be waiting on the porch early for our tearful departure. The following year, Daddy quietly awakened us at four a.m., in a vain effort to slip away without waking Bebaw. It didn't work. Bebaw was waiting for us, tears streaming down his cheeks.

The next year, Daddy had us up at midnight, sneaking out like thieves to avoid the tearful farewells, which didn't please my mother, who was concerned Daddy would not have rested enough to drive straight through.

It didn't matter. No one was leaving that house without Bebaw hugging, crying, and telling everyone he loved them. Daddy gave up. He couldn't get around Bebaw. He was very tired, though, and that night we spent the night in a Dothan, Alabama, motel, resting up, and making a more leisurely return home the next day.

It wasn't like Bebaw's goodbyes when my mother, Alice, and Dan left Sunday, but I had to wipe away tears as I stood in the line for the shakedown room and inevitable strip search upon leaving the visiting park, thinking about my family, how we have all aged over the almost forty-one years of this imprisonment that my family and loved ones have served with me. I could better understand and relate to Bebaw's emotions, his fear that it would be his last visit with us. He was right. Eventually, he was gone, and our last goodbye was the last goodbye.

Writing these words, I acknowledge Bebaw's legacy to me with more tears, and am grateful for the love he bequeathed me. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, but we can at least enjoy this day, together, and remember. My brother said he wants to come back in a month. We have a lot of catching up to do.