The year of Our Lord, 1937 holds very special significance for me. It isn’t because John Steinbeck published Of Mice and Men or because Ford introduced the De Luxe Ford line. It isn’t even because JRR Tolkien released The Hobbit. No, it was an event that was to eventually give me life and determine who and what I would become.
Picture it. Maxwellborn, Alabama, a tiny speck of a community about halfway between Piedmont and Jacksonville; the thirtieth day of September. At the top of a rather high bluff, overlooking the road was a red house sporting a largish porch and a peaked tin roof. Tall oak and hickory trees provided shade. Concrete steps led from the house down to the road, beside which was a spring that provided cold buckets of water for the houses in the area. After a string of three boys, Roy and Ethel (Rhinehart) Stephens presented the world with their first girl child who would be called Norma Grace. Eighteen years later, Norma Grace Wright presented the world to me!
When Christmas was approaching that year, Mother would’ve reached three months old and her Daddy wanted her to have a dolly for Christmas. As a farmer, Granddaddy didn’t have much money; certainly not for something as frivolous as a dolly. But, he’d made up his mind and nothing would deter him. So, he and his two sons, Emmett and Kenneth walked over to the mountain to cut some pine kindling that he would take into town to sell. With the proceeds from the kindling he was able to buy Norma Grace a dolly and had enough left over to pick up a few necessaries for the household.
After some time, Granddaddy managed to land a job at the Standard Coosa Thatcher cotton mill in Piedmont so the family moved into the house with Mother’s grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Rhinehart. In those days it was common for a factory to build housing to rent to their employees. Generally, around cotton mills the area was known affectionately (or not?) as the “Mill Village”. That’s where the Rhineharts lived. After a short while, Mother and the family moved to another house not far away, on Allison Hill in Piedmont.
Mother’s tells me that her first memory is from the time she was six years old, when the family lived on Allison Hill. There was a lumber yard near the house where the boys played when the men weren’t working. One day Buford, Mothers older brother, ran into the house yelling. He and the Graham boy had climbed to the top of a stack of boards and they began to slide. Buford jumped free, but the other boy fell short and the lumber fell on him. The noise woke his Dad who worked night shift at the cotton mill. Granddaddy sent one of the boys to call the police while he and several others ran out to get the Graham boy out from under the lumber. It was later learned that he had died and from that time the boys were forbidden to play there.
Shortly after that incident, Mother turned six and started to school at Coosa School. By this time, her Dad had an old car and he or one of the older boys would take her to school and back every day. Aunt Nobie was married to Granddaddy’s brother Ollie. They lived across the train tracks from the school. Mother ate lunch there every day with her cousins Joyce and Charles.
In November of that year (1943), her baby brother, David, was born. Dr GC Hamilton came round to the house to deliver him. Mother’s brother Kenneth was about 18 by that time, and helped look after Mother and her sister, Sonya. A day or two after the delivery, Dr Hamilton came round to check on his patient. When Mother and Sonya saw him coming, Mother asked Kenneth what his little black bag was for. Well, he told them that Dr Hamilton had brought David in that bag. When the doctor came out of the house, still carrying his bag, they began to cry. They thought David was back in the bag and Hamilton was taking him away! After some time, Kenneth was able to get her calmed down and then he gave her a little bite of his chewing tobacco. Naturally, Mother turned green around the gills and was violently sick. When their mother found out about it she gave Kenneth seventeen kinds of hell!
Mother and the family moved in 1948 and she started the 5th grade at Roy Webb School. It was there that she met my Dad, Aaron Wright. She told me once, “I wasn’t crazy about him at that time. In fact, I really didn’t like him very much. I thought he was a pest!”. After a time, he left Roy Webb and she “forgot all about him”.
After some time had passed she began to notice him driving past her house on the way to visit his sister, Mary. He always waved at her. Meanwhile, both of them were dating other people. In 1954 Mother and the family went to Camp Meeting. You can read about that annual event here and here. She met Dad again and they started talking and he asked permission to drive her home. Of course, Mother told him he’d have to get her Dad’s permission. Secretly, she hoped her Dad would say “yes”. Permission was granted and in Mother’s words, “…that started it”. For the next few months they went to church together, to the movies and restaurants around town.
Long after that, dad confessed to Mother that he had already told his Mother that he intended to ask her to marry him. And, as Mother’s birthday approached, Dad popped the question and in February they were married.
As with any marriage, there were good times and bad times but through it all they managed to stay together. Dad passed away about five months after their fifty-ninth anniversary. That’s staying power, isn’t it?
I asked Mother if any of her birthdays stood out from the rest. She allowed that they were all good, but she did have one birthday memory that involved me. Apparently, I was an adult by that time and I asked her how old she was.
Me: How old are you, Mother?
Mother: I’m 39!
Me: What are you going to say when I’m 39?
Mother: That’s your problem! You can get old if you want to, but I’m not…
Then, in a more serious tone, she told me, “Really, I thank God for every one of my birthdays. It’s only through His mercy I’ve made it this far in as good a shape as I’m in. I have no major health problems. He’s been very good to me, especially with my family history. I’m in better health than some of my children, and most of my friends.
As Dad’s health began to deteriorate, Mother became his primary care-giver. After the dementia set in, he came to be completely dependent on her and couldn’t bear to have her out of his sight. They both became prisoners of his health. I can’t even begin to imagine the toll it has taken on her.
Now, with his passing so fresh, Mother finds it difficult to adjust to living alone. Imagine if you will, that she spent the first seventeen years of her life in her father’s house and the last fifty-nine living with Dad. In all those years, she’s never had a minute to herself. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, she has been taking care of her husband, babies, children, adult children, and various relatives and friends. Now, she’s looking at a future with no one to look after but herself and it must be quite bewildering. In time she will adjust, of course but these early days of sorrow and heartbreak are a huge load to carry. I hope that’s a burden I’ll be spared.
A varied and colorful life has molded a beautiful woman with a quick wit, a ready smile, and a sparkle in her amazingly blue eyes. She has seen much joy, sorrow, and heartbreak but like a green twig she has bent with them and emerged strong and resilient. I am so very proud to call Norma Grace Stephens Wright my Mother and I wish her a very happy birthday and many, many happy returns of the day! I love you so much, Mother!
Here are “a few more” pictures of my Mother. Enjoy!