A variety of individuals walk in and out of our lives. Most simply pass through, but some are rare jewels who become a part of our lives for a lifetime. That, dear readers, describes my Aunt Norma who stepped from this world into the next in the wee hours of March 7th at the grand age of 94.
Aunt Norma devoted her life to her husband, her children, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Born in Clam Point, Cape Sable Island to Thomas and Almeda (née Brown) Nickerson, Aunt Norma was one of nine children — Alden, Claude, Elliott, Havelock, Norma, Edsel, Sarah (Mom), Ernest, and Layton.
American relatives with no children of their own, offered to take one of the Nickerson children to live with them in East Boston, Massachusetts and Aunt Norma was selected because she was the only daughter at the time. She lived with them until the death of her Aunt and then came home to Clam Point. My mom, Sarah, had grown up as the only daughter in a house full of boys and had become quite a strong-willed, feisty, little hooligan. Sweet Aunt Norma made it her mission to teach Mom how to behave like a young lady.
At the end of WWII Aunt Norma married her handsome beau, Warren Brown, at the Baptist parsonage in Lockeport. They stayed at the home of her brother, Alden and his wife Alice (née Morash) on Allen’s Lane (currently the home of great-nephew Norman III and his family.) Bravely, Aunt Norma and Uncle Warren then took the train to Toronto to begin a new adventure.
My earliest memories are the visits Aunt Norma, Uncle Warren, Patricia and David made in summer. When I graduated from high school, I received a card from Aunt Norma that read something like:
Wasn’t that great advice? Remain faithful to your roots.
I got to know Aunt Norma in a more personal way, when I moved to Ontario in 1978. We were astonished that we held so many opinions in common, our likes and dislikes matched — kindred spirits for sure. We spent hours and hours talking about what it was like to grow up on a tiny island in rural NS during the 30s and 40s. I heard lots of tales about my mother and her brothers. She told me a story of how a brother tried to cut the polka dots out of Mom’s dress.
I spent many weekends at Aunt Norma and Uncle Warren’s, and what do I remember? The house had a good feeling. Everything was neat and tidy. The bedsheets smelled like Fleecy. The huge bath sheets (which I had never heard of) were extra soft and smelled like Fleecy. A collection of the Shelburne Coast Guard and the latest edition of the magazines Ladies Home Journal, Women’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Chatelaine, Readers’ Digest, Better Homes and Gardens, United Church Observer, the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun sat on the coffee table.
Aunt Norma and Uncle Warren introduced me to a couple of their favourite restaurants —The Pickle Barrel on Leslie Street, still one of my favourites and La Sem, an Italian eatery which used to be on Finch Ave. We frequently visited Swiss Chalet. Those were special times.
We shared much laughter. Only a few days ago, I wrote a blog post about a funny experience in 1978: I Promise to Think Before I Speak…Someday
Glenn and I spent many weekends with Aunt Norma and Uncle Warren. We shared stories around the dinner table. One evening, the conversation turned to the word “buggery” because of an incident that had occurred in Toronto. I knew that as children we were taught “bugger” was a bad word, but with no explanation. I blurted out, “What is buggery anyway?”
The conversation died on the spot. Aunt Norma, Uncle Warren and Glenn looked at each other until Aunt Norma replied, “I think Father (Uncle Warren) should answer that question.” I turned fifty shades of red, but at least I got my answer. Now I understand why bugger was on the bad word list.
At another dinner, I asked, “Can someone tell me the difference between a steer and a bull?” It evoked the same response as buggery.
I benefitted from Aunt Norma’s wisdom about life. She taught me that as parents we do our best with the information we have at the time. She taught me that the people who are quick to criticize have the most to hide. She taught me that I cannot control what other people think about me.
Glenn and I continued to visit with Aunt Norma and Uncle Warren after the birth of our children. They were Grandma and Grandpa and Nana and Papa to generations of children. Visiting children gravitated to a treasure box filled with stickers, crayons, markers, construction paper, toys, cars and treats of all sorts. Each child left with a loot bag of treats. For many years, Aunt Norma and Uncle Warren travelled to the States in late April or early May. Aunt Norma spent much of her time roaming through department stores searching for new treats to share with children who visited her home.
Our adult children remember the fun they had with Aunt Norma’s toys. Each time we visited, Jeremy spent his time tossing plastic soldiers into the artificial fireplace. Allison loved the activities and stickers. Aunt Norma sent them home with Travel Bingo cards and all these years later, we talk about playing Bingo on the daily drive to school.
While Aunt Norma may have been tiny in stature, she was a strong, compassionate, loving, generous, intelligent, determined, wise woman. Quitting was not in her vocabulary. Following a stroke that affected one side of her body, she kept on going when others would have given up. She credited the neighbour’s cat, Nicky, with her rehabilitation. This may sound like I made it up, but following Aunt Norma’s stroke, Nicky seemed to know Aunt Norma needed her and moved in. Aunt Norma gained strength and mastered the stairs of her split-level home by letting Nicky in and out.
Glenn, Jeremy, Allison and I have many memories of Aunt Norma and Uncle Warren tucked away in a special corner of our hearts. We know she stayed with us as long as she could. It is comforting to know Aunt Norma has escaped the limitations of this life and has been reunited with the love of her life somewhere beyond the sunset.