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Thursday, 14 April 2011

Touching Norma

By Madonna Dries Christensen of On Worlud Pond

My sister Norma Ann (Toots) died on October 20, 1943, at age 15. She had suffered from nephritis (kidney disease) for several years. When she died I had just turned eight.

I remember Ma waking us kids one morning and telling us we didn't have to go to school, that Toots had died. I have only a few ethereal memories of her. But recently, my sister touched me in a surprising way.

My older sister, Dolores, had saved a packet of materials from the year or so before Norma died. Ten years ago, after Dolores died, her daughter gave the package to me. One afternoon I sorted through the envelope.

There are cards and letters written to my parents when Norma died, memorial cards for masses and a list of food and other items people brought to the house.

There's a crocheted doily that Norma made, and a picture she drew. She was obviously good at drawing because I recognized the face as movie star Van Johnson. There are letters, get well cards, jokes, valentines and Easter cards from schoolmates, received while Norma was absent from school.

In one letter, from a cousin, I'm mentioned, but not by name. Dated November 22, 1940, cousin Shirley opened her letter with this comment:

Dear Norma:

Camilla and I sweep Sister Bonaventure's room every noon. We help the children dress and undress. Your little sister always stands outside the school door. I guess nobody will play with her.

Okay, all together now—Awwwww.

There are Norma's school assignments: math/algebra, science and English. This excerpt from a letter is intriguing for its mystery (the first page is missing). It sounds as if Norma stayed out late and had an encounter with Ma who might have been waiting, sleeping on the couch, perhaps. That would explain the first complete sentence.

N.A.D. page 2

mother. She had to make sure she caught me. With a very angry face, she queried, "What time does it happen to be?" I tried to explain but all she said before turning over was, "Remember, no more movies for you the the rest of the month."

But she must have overlooked a certain fact that is that it was the 29th of the month already. So tell me, don't you think I got off pretty easy?

Norma Ann Dries
English 9
Sept 17, 1943

This was a month before Norma died so Ma would have been worried about her being out. Ma and Poppy had learned a few months earlier that nothing could be done about Norma's kidney disease. In addition, Poppy was bedridden, recovering from a heart attack.

On another English paper, a letter to a friend, Norma earned a B. It was written in study hall, September 22, 1943, a month before her death. Here is the closing:

Did your brother go overseas yet? My brother Vince will be going to sea any day now. The Navy is repairing the ship he is supposed to go on and I hope they repair it good.

What did you do on your summer vacation? I didn't do much but visit my sisters in Sioux City and a short while with other relatives. It seemed to go much too quickly.

Well, just so the school year goes as fast.

Your pen pal, Norma Dries

This excerpt is from an English assignment, a kind of outline:

Sept 23, 1943. English 8-2. Norma Dries
Enteresting subject matter for letters:
  1. Plans for a summer vacation
  2. Doings at school
  3. About the football team
  4. The Hi-School party
  5. Our Bond selling drive
(B) I would like to have a talk by letter with my sister-in-law Phoebe. She enjoys a more humorous letter and I would naturally include a few jokes. I would also ask her about the baby Sonya Kaye and about her sister Marilyn. Then I would tell her about school, home, and town.

Norma was hospitalized on October 4. Toward the end she wanted Vince to come home. He'd previously given her a blood transfusion and she thought if he could do that again she'd get well.

Included in this memorabilia is something I'd seen before but it had been a while so it startled me when I came across it. Or, it might be fair to say, my unexpected reaction startled me.

A small white box holds a lock of Norma's hair, saved in a cellophane envelope.

Oh, that hair; it captivates me when I look at photos. Long, thick, black curls. Her peers must have envied those luxurious tresses.

I carefully slipped the curl from the brittle wrapper. At first touch, I felt a chill and my eyes filled with tears.

How can touching something after 67 years bring emotion?

Who clipped the hair? Ma, or Dolores?

When was it clipped? Before she died, or after?

If it was Dolores, did she do it secretly?

When my generation is gone, who will remember Norma Ann?

Who will want this still tangible part of her?

Might someone, 50 years from now, come across this lock of hair from an unknown relative and be touched?

Norma Madonna

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


This was a beautiful reminiscence. I was touched by the depth of emotion. Thank you.

Just beautiful Madonna! I am glad you have that lock of your sister Norma's hair.

Letters can hold such simple memories. Too bad that emails will not suffice in the days to come. It's becoming a lost art, letter writing.

Ronni, thanks for displaying this so nicely. I like the boxes around the letter excerpts.

How beautifully you have written this story. I was so touched by the plans your sister had, just a month before passing away. It proves we all need to be aware that our future plans may be cut short, and we should live life to the fullest, as Norma seems to have done. She does indeed live on through you, her sister.

A moving tribute to a sister whose life was cut much too short, but obviously lived to the fullest.

"How can touching something after 67 years bring emotion?"

Madonna, I had never heard of Norma until I read your beautiful story about her, but I was filled with emotion when I read about you touching a lock of her hair.

Such wonderful memories you have of someone who was so dear to you.

And I also agree with you that Ronni takes a great deal of care when preparing our stories for publication. Thanks from me too,Ronni.

Madonna, folks won't have to wonder because you've written about it.

Thank you for sharing, all the previous "Commentors" say it all, what a wonderful gift to have that lock of hair in your hand..She had a wonderful life, evidently, even though cut so short..what a sadness for your entire family..it is said we never die if there are people left on earth who loved us..I feel like I met her in some way..how wonderful to read her notes...Bless you for sharing this..May we all follow her example in some way...Thanks..

Beautiful story, Madonna. I love how you brought us all so delicately closer to knowing your sister with each item in the envelope. I will hold the image of you tenderly meditating on Norma's lock of hair all day. Thank you for sharing.

Thank you for sharing this story, Madonna. I love how you you took us through each item in the envelope with you. I will keep the image of your tenderly meditating on Norma's lock of hair all day today.

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