Ruby and Clarence Norman, married for
44 years, met as children in their Huntingdon
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble
and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their
strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will
run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. -
Such is the fortune of Clarence Norman, who walks around
his hometown of Huntingdon as if walking on air, his big
smile inviting the question, "What are you so happy
His smile grows even wider as he opens his arms as if to
embrace the whole world, proclaiming, "The Lord performed
a miracle; he answered my prayers!"
His wife's illness started innocently enough; she had "a
little hacking cough" and wasn't feeling well. She went to
the doctor on Monday and was to return on Thursday for
tests. Back home after the Monday visit, she called her
co-workers to let them know she was taking off the entire
"I knew she was sick then!" her husband exclaims, "Then
she just started going down, down, down; all she did was
sleep and go to the bathroom, sleep and go to the
The initial test on Thursday was enough to land Ruby in
the ICU with a blood sugar level of 1058. It was touch and
go until her blood sugar was stabilized and Ruby was
restored to health.
"I was scared, I was so scared," Clarence says, "We've
been married 44 years and I thought I was losing her. It
was a miracle performed by the Lord."
Ruby was even able to stop the blood pressure medication
she had taken for years and learned the reason a cut on
her finger had refused to heal was a consequence of the
diabetes of which she had been unaware.
Last week, Ruby went for her three-month check up that
showed "her blood work was perfect," beams Clarence, who
credits Dr. Lee Carter with his and Ruby's understanding
of the disease.
"He explained what was going on; I feel like I'm already a
pro at it because he sat us down and for 15 minutes talked
to us himself," says Clarence, who has adopted Ruby's new
way of eating as well, declaring, "Whatever comes into
this house we eat together."
Togetherness is something the Norman's have shared since
childhood with both Clarence and Ruby growing up in
Huntingdon. Born in Memphis to his 17-year old unmarried
mother, Clarence was brought to Huntingdon at the age of
four months to the home of his great-grandmother Sally
Norman, who took over his raising aided by a loving
"She took over and just spoiled me to death," he says
His mother, Rosebud, came to live with the family when he
was four years old. No nickname, Rosebud was named by her
father who declared, upon her birth, "I've got me a
rosebud and I'm going to name her Rosebud."
Sally was "a very modern lady" with an eighth grade
education while her husband, Jim Norman, was born a slave
in Huntingdon in 1850. The Norman name was derived from
his former owner, who Clarence says was "Josephine Ware's
father's brother-in-law", who was a Norman.
Josephine lived in the brick house on the corner of Jones
and Paris streets. Her water well furnished the water
Clarence toted back to the modest weathered-gray home
built by Jim Norman's own hands before a hydrant was
installed in the house that formerly had no plumbing.
"I never thought I'd be proud of that old house," Clarence
says today, showing a picture of the little shanty-home
that nevertheless featured a porch where the family could
relax on long summer evenings.
His great grandfather knew how to repair shoes, and
made a shoe brush from horsehair that today is on display
at the Huntingdon Historical Museum where one can see the
nails and screws he used to join the wood pieces together.
Clarence Norman displays the
hand-made horsehair shoe brush made by his great
grandfather, Jim Norman, who was born a slave in
Clarence was six years old when he stood at the foot of
his great grandfather's bed as he died at the age of 90.
Freed as a youth by virtue of the emancipation
proclamation on January 1, 1863, Clarence says he never
heard his grandfather mention the word slave.
He does recall the words that made him pay attention. "You
better hear me now!" his great grandfather would say when
the line was drawn. Discipline was the harder edge of love
bestowed upon him by his great grandparents.
"I wasn't afraid of my great grandmother," he says, "But I
respected that switch."
In those days, he explained, if he got a whipping at
school he was likely to have another one waiting once he
got home. But his great grandmother was fair and listened
to his sobbing story when he explained he had been wrongly
"Most of the time when I got a whipping in school it
wasn't my fault," he alleges convincingly enough, it
seems, for his great grandmother, who would visit the
school the next day demanding, "Why didn't you get the
results of this before you whipped my boy?"
"I didn't get many whippings; they didn't want Mama coming
down there!" he declares.
Other mornings he would advise his great grandmother,
"Mama, I don't like what they're having for lunch today."
"Five minutes before lunch time," he says, rubbing his
belly as if he could still savor her cooking over half a
century later, "here comes Mama over the hill with a plate
in her hand bringing her boy a plate of food!"
Good cooking was a great incentive for Clarence who always
had his bicycle ready to head to town when Ms. Cindy
Edgeington called upon him for one chore or another.
Arriving back at Ms. Edgeington's door with a fetched item
was sure to earn a slice of her famous, mouth-watering
corn light bread, a commodity that was sought after
throughout the town.
"Aunt Cindy", as she was known to all, was the town baker
of corn light bread, sold in three sizes: 25 cents, fifty
cents, and $1.00. The big, airy woven basket she used to
deliver the bread door to door now rests in the Huntingdon
"She would start on Wednesday and let the bread spoil or
whatever," recalls Clarence, describing what must have
been a sourdough recipe. "Then on Friday she would start
cooking and you could smell that bread cooking all over
the neighborhood," he continues dreamily, breathing in the
aroma of yesteryear in an aura so strong it is almost
possible to see the scent wafting over sunlit summer days
in a neighborhood filled with children and adults hungry
for a taste of the famous bread.
While Aunt Cindy warmed his belly with her delicious
wares, other neighbors provided young Clarence with pocket
change to spend on admission to basketball and football
games and the like. "I had a lot of daddies and mamas, I
really did," he reminisces.
He gained a real father when his mother married when he
was 11 years old. "That was the daddy I don't believe
anybody could beat; he was a fantastic person," Clarence
says strongly regarding his stepfather, James Anderson,
who died in 1978. His mother died on December 27, 1998
just after her 79th birthday.
"Me and her were pretty good friends," he says, admitting
happily to jealousy of the relationship his mother had
with Ruby over the years.
Another adult who was influential in Clarence's young life
was Dr. John Bethel Bell who came to Huntingdon in the
late 1920's, renting a room from his great grandmother and
treating Clarence with loving concern.
"He wouldn't let me go outside without a shirt on,"
Clarence says, amazed. "He's say, 'Miss Sally, that boy is
outside without a shirt again; he's going to get skin
cancer.' Sixty years ago doctors didn't know that about
skin cancer, but Dr. Bill did!" exclaims Clarence.
Dr. Bell sent Clarence on small errands for which he paid
him a dollar or a dollar and a half - far more than the
trip to town after a newspaper was worth. He knew Clarence
could use the money, but rather than giving it to him, "he
made me earn it," Clarence says.
"He gave me birthday and Christmas presents; I never got
so sick of pens and pencils in my life," Clarence
declares, fidgeting in his seat. "I wanted a gun and a
football! But I got a pen and pencil set twice a year. I
didn't understand his point: 'Boy this is a tool, use it!'
I wanted a pop gun!"
Another benefactor was wise to Clarence's youthful pranks
long before Clarence was aware of it. Coming home from
Webb School in McKenzie, Clarence and his friend would get
off the bus and go their separate ways. Then, once
Clarence had passed Mr. Will Wade's home, his friend would
call out, Hey Clarence, I forgot! Are you going to the
"I can't, I got no money," Clarence would call back.
"We thought we were slick," Clarence says. The retired
sharecropper would call him over to help with chores in
return for which Clarence earned spending money.
"I helped build Mr. Will's house when I was a freshman,"
Clarence recalls appreciatively. "He taught me how to
fence and run water lines from the front of the house,
under the house to the kitchen."
In 1951, at the age of 17, Clarence left high school his
junior year and enlisted in the United States Navy.
"I didn't know I was po - and not poor, po! - 'til I went
in the Navy in 1951," Clarence recalls, "Other guys were
talking about, 'I have a so-and-so car and a so-and-so
suit,' while we'd always had a beat-up this and a beat-up
that. But I had the love they did not have. There was love
in this house."
"This house" refers to the house his great-grandfather
built that sat on the same lot on which the Norman's
current home was built, thereby creating a continuing
thread of love from home to home on ground made precious
by the footsteps of his ancestors.
Clarence was stationed in San Diego, California for four
years, spending two-thirds of his time aboard ship. He
discovered he had "a lot of relatives he didn't know
about" in California who convinced him to stay when his
term of service was over.
Over the years since he had left Huntingdon one person who
remained much on his mind was Ruby Hunt, who lived just
down the street from him as a child. Five years older than
her, he used to baby-sit for her in his hometown. She was
just twelve years old when he left home at 17, but the two
maintained contact through letters and phone calls,
becoming engaged when she was 13 years old.
Finally, when she was 17, her mother allowed her to visit
Clarence in California. Once there, she didn't want to
leave and the two married, staying in California for a
dozen more years before circumstances brought them back to
"She loved California," Clarence said, regarding Ruby. "I
loved it for ten years but they couldn't get that country
boy out of me and I wanted to come back home."
Clarence was working for Alco Aluminum when the ALAW's new
contract provided every employee ten weeks off with 13
weeks pay every five years. Clarence's opportunity came up
during the second year of the contract when employees with
higher seniority opted to postpone their vacations in
order to save enough money for a trip abroad.
Clarence was asked if he could start his ten weeks the
following Monday. "Just like that - boom, boom, boom - we
were going to stay six weeks and I haven't been back,"
Clarence said. "My wife and my daughter have been back and
friends from out there have visited me but I haven't been
"When we came back home staying was an accident," Clarence
insists. The couple's nine-year-old daughter, Gina, joined
her father in wanting to remain in the town of the
family's roots. She loved her grandparents and great
grandparents and small town life.
As for himself, Clarence says, "I missed jazz concerts and
I missed the beach when I came back but I don't miss
either one of them now."
Ruby returned to California to sell the house and make
arrangements for the move. When she returned to Tennessee,
she and Clarence started working at the Milan Arsenal on
the same day, where Ruby remained for two and a half years
and Clarence stayed for six weeks before deciding to write
insurance policies for Universal Life Insurance Company
for about six months before beginning a 10-year stretch of
employment with Foote Mineral in New Johnsonville.
He was having coffee with the Huntingdon Fire Chief and
several others when the chief said, "Little Man, I need a
good man, at least 18 years old, with a high school
"Little Man" was Clarence's CB handle, a hobby he shared
with Ruby, known as "Little Woman", his mother "April
Showers", and his step-father, "Big Man".
"I had a guy in mind and immediately sent him for the
job," Clarence says. Two weeks later the man still had not
shown up to apply for the position.
Clarence asked the fire chief how much the job paid in
order to pass the information along to the next candidate
for the job, whereupon he was told the job paid $150 per
"It was 1978," Clarence says, "I said, 'No, you don't
start a man at $150 a week! Don't give that position to
nobody, I may want that job myself.' "
He sat down with family and determined he would lose $80
per week if he took the job, but would incur less
transportation costs and the benefits were just as good
with the city. He decided to take the job with the fire
department, earning five raises the first year with the
second giving him more money than he was making at Foote
"So I've just been blessed; the Lord has just blessed me,"
he says today.
After leaving the arsenal, Ruby worked for some time with
Agriculture Extension Office teaching people to use
commodity foods in making balanced meals. She later became
employed with Basler Electric, retiring after 23 years.
Ruby attended the Vocational-Technical School in Paris
where she learned to work with computers and office
systems, finishing as valedictorian in her class, a fact
of which her husband is particularly proud. "She hadn't
been in classes for 40 years," he brags.
Today she works at the Carroll County Health Department in
the WIC program for pregnant women, infants and children.
Clarence is retired after 18 years with the fire
department, ending his career as a captain. Now, he
laughs, "I still work but I don't get money for it."
His favorite volunteer pursuit is serving as member of the
Huntingdon Town Council where he is in his third year of
service. He is also active in Habitat for Humanity, and is
an active member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in
America, serving as an elder in the local church and as
clerk for the Tennessee Synod. Until this past September,
he was also clerk at the district level of the church. He
is a member of the Board of Directors for the Huntingdon
Heritage Museum and sings with the Carroll County RSVP
Angel Choir. He has been President of the Carroll County
Chapter of the NAACP and was president of the CB Club in
1978 and was an assistant Scoutmaster in California.
His favorite sport is bowling. "I played a little tennis,
I played a little softball, but I loved bowling," he says.
"I still bowl with the senior citizens. Lee Scott and I
have been pretty successful at the District Level; we went
to State but we didn't win." Regardless of the golf clubs
in his study, he protests, "I love the game but that game
"I have two beautiful grandchildren in Huntingdon," he
glows. Lauren, a 16-year-old junior at Huntingdon High
School, enjoys singing country music. Her brother is
five-year-old Joseph Conrad Atkins
Norman daughter Gina works with the tax assessor's office
for the county while her husband, Conrad, is a maintenance
man at Norandal."