Her name was Noma, although people kept trying to call her Norma. After her husband’s brother married an actual Norma, Noma would just say, “No. Norma is my sister-in-law.” One time, both ladies ended up in the same hospital at the same time – but they both survived the experience.
Her parents, Edward and Georgia, moved as newlyweds from Alabama to Oklahoma when fields were fertile and opportunity seemed unlimited for farmers. They had little more than the clothes on their back, a pot for soup, and hope. Then the drought hit, and the Grapes of Wrath Dust Bowl became a reality.
Noma was born in 1927 near Konowa in southeastern Oklahoma. She was the sixth child of the family. She had three older brothers, two older sisters, and one younger sister. Black Friday and the Great Depression would not hammer the rest of the country for another two and a half years, but the drought was already devastating family farms. No rain meant no crops, which meant no money, which meant no way for farmers to pay their mortgages. Banks couldn’t afford to carry those debts unpaid year after year, so lots of farmers lost their land.
Edward tried to buy farms two different times, but lost both of them. At one time things were so bad, Edward and his boys dug into the side of a hill, roofed the dugout with tree limbs and sod, hung a blanket across the front, and that was home. Back then you relied on yourself, did the best you could with what you had, and made it work.
Noma’s family was poor, but they were no worse off than a lot of other people of the day. Unlike today’s children, they didn’t need cell phones or video game for entertainment. Children were never bored. There was always work to do to help the family survive. When they played, they used their imaginations to create games with what they had. And they didn’t need organized sports leagues. When they wanted to play, the kids organized the games themselves and made up their own rules as needed. It was an early lesson in problem solving, negotiating, and getting along with people. The family not only survived, they thrived. And they did it without welfare or food stamps or Medicaid. When they had extra, they shared with those who didn’t have enough. They knew the difference between freeloaders and those truly in need of a helping hand.
Noma picked cotton in summer. She sewed her own clothes. She could turn a famine of ingredients into a feast of a meal. She won poetry contests and wrote short stories. She graduated as salutatorian of her high school class. She stepped up to do what needed to be done at home while her brothers served in the military during World War II.
After high school, she moved to Oklahoma City to work. In 1946, her boss embarrassed her when he tricked a returning service man into taking her out to dinner. She got over it. She and Richard celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary three days before she died at the age of 87. When a wartime ailment caught up with Richard and put him in the hospital for three months followed by more months of rehabilitation, she went out and got a job that she worked for 28 years. When Richard was finally able to return to work they worked hard to pay off their mortgage early and put their children through college without any debt. They weren’t rich; they were wise with money.
In addition to formal education, they taught their children life lessons. Work hard. Love God. Take care of family. Be good to your friends. Neither they nor their children were perfect, but they tried to live life as Jesus taught us to live it. Noma was appalled by the “snowflake” mentality of today. She had no respect for anyone who thought they had a “right” to something for nothing. She would rare up and declare, “The only right to stuff they have is the right to work for it. Those lazy bums need to get off their lazy bums and get a job. And get fired if they don’t do it well enough to earn the pay they get for it.”
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., recently said that the Republican Party is working to repeal the 20th century. Noma, who grew up as a Democrat but became a Republican when the Democrats lost their senses, would say we need to repeal the second half of the 20th century and go back to the morals and ethics that helped the nation survive the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and two world wars. She would tell you that we had real men back then, and most of what we have now are snowflakes who can’t stand the heat. Yes. Noma was a feisty woman. She loved her children, her ten grandchildren, and her 25 great-grandchildren. And she taught them by example what it means to be an American.
I can’t visit Noma’s grave in Oklahoma this Memorial Day, but I can write this column to say “Thanks, Mom.”