Norma Mary Daggett
September 24th, 1906 - May 24th, 2003
I was a tomboy. That's for sure. With five older brothers I was always trying to keep up with them. I went wading in Nebo Creek. I climbed trees. And I learned to use a slingshot.
But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .
I was born in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, on September 24, 1906. Kings Mountain was a small cotton mill town in southeastern North Carolina, in the area known as the Piedmont. Kings Mountain takes its name from the historical Revolutionary battle fought five miles to the south. This battle was very important in early American history, being proclaimed "the turning point of the American Revolution in the South" by Andrew Jackson.
I was born prematurely, at about seven months. I was told that I was placed in a bureau drawer until I developed to full term. I was the first girl after five boys. My brothers were Clyde, Marion, Robert, Lawrence, and Lloyd. My sister Ivy was born after me. My name was actually Mary Norma Falls, but I always went by Norma. Many of my family and friends used their middle name rather than their given first name.
My dad built the house where I was born. It was on the "outskirts" of town, near Nebo Creek. Once Ethel and Johnnie Wright and I, and I think some others, went wading in the creek. We took off our clothes and jumped in wearing just our underwear. Some older boys came by with their fishing gear, stole our clothes, and hid them in the bushes. We had to walk home in our underwear, but we found our clothes later.
I always liked school, but I did better academically in the upper grades. On my very first day at school one of my brothers came over to see how I was getting along. He really raked me over the coals because he saw that I had eaten my lunch at recess time. Of course I was starved during lunch that day. When I was in the first grade my teacher thought I was not progressing enough. She took me out to the hallway and hit me with a yardstick. When my mother found out she wrote a letter to the teacher telling her that she should never hit me again. I saw the teacher reading the letter to the principal and it appeared to me that they thought it was a joke.
I don't remember there being anyone on the school grounds to monitor us as we played. One game we played was called, "Jumping the Plank". We would place a large plank across a log or tree stump. Then students would stand on each end, jumping up and down. It was sort of like playing "teeter totter" standing up. It was probably dangerous, but I don't remember anyone getting seriously hurt.
In high school I took two years of French and two years of Latin.
My father was a carpenter. He built several homes in Kings Mountain in addition to the one I was born in. He did a lot of repair work for the colored population that lived around our town. I remember him talking about working on the roofs of the colored people's houses, and looking down inside. He often said they were cleaner inside than many of the white peoples' houses he worked on. I sometimes took the lunch my mother prepared for him to his work site. I carried it in a pail. One time she fixed string beans with a lot of black pepper. I was disappointed that I didn't get any of it.
My father also had a part time job as a mailman, delivering the mail to the rural areas outside of town. He drove a horse and buggy. My mother sometimes did sewing for people in town. She had a black lady come to the house to help with our laundry.
The house I grew up in had an outside "privy". I was embarrassed by this. We didn't have running water inside either. Someone had to go out to the well in the backyard and crank up a bucket of water. Inside plumbing wasn't common in our area on the outskirts of town until several years later. If you lived in town, or in one of the houses owned by the cotton mill company, you were more likely to have indoor plumbing.
In the Spring we looked forward to gathering Trailing Arbutis, a very fragrant plant, with white and pink blossoms. It was found in the wooded areas around our town. It was a native North American plant related to the Heath family. I still like to know the botanical names of the plants around our house, and try to learn the botanical names of the plants we see on our travels. I'll bet you didn't know that the "Bottle Brush" is really callistemon lanceolatus or callistemon citrinus.
My parents did not own a car. Few others that I knew had cars either. We never went out of our immediate surroundings. I had graduated from high school before I went as far as Shelby or Charlotte, North Carolina.
My brother Robert Presley died in the fields of France during World War I. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery. My brother Lloyd Garrison died of a ruptured appendix shortly after graduating from Kings Mountain High School.
When my brother Lloyd died I wrote to Rodney to let him know about it. He and Lloyd had corresponded for several years. He answered my letter, and began sending others. I read them to my girl friends at school. He would sometimes include photographs. My friends were impressed. This correspondence later led to our meeting and marriage. We actually met and were married in about one week. You can read more about it in Rodney's story.
After I graduated from High School I entered Nursing School. My training was at the Ashville Hospital for "nervous" people. I left after about 2 months. I guess I was homesick. I had never been away from home, and training in this type of hospital atmosphere was difficult. The head nurse said she was sorry for me to go. She said I had real potential. There was one elderly lady in the hospital who always asked for me when she needed help, and often asked me to play checkers with her. I learned later that she hanged herself sometime after I left.
I next worked for Western Union in Charlotte. I was a telephone operator, taking down messages that were to be sent by telegraph. At lunch I would go to the lunch counter at Woolworth's for a hotdog and Coca Cola. We called it a dope and a dog. When Rodney and I got married my friends at Western Union gave me a bridal shower. I got several very nice gifts, but they were all stolen from my apartment. I think someone came in through an open window. I never told my friends.
When we'd been married one month Rodney sent me a huge basket of flowers.
Rodney and I lived a short while in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We were living in Des Moines, Iowa when Rodney learned he would be transferred back to California. I returned to Kings Mountain to visit my father and sister, and while there I had a miscarriage. I had to recuperate before I could join Rodney in Los Angeles.
In 1930 our son Rodney, Jr. was born, and then in 1932 our daughter Ann arrived. When the 1933 Long Beach earthquake struck I was in the living room of our new house on 109th Street holding Ann. It was the first earthquake I'd ever been in and I was so frightened I lost any good sense I had. I put Ann down on the couch, grabbed my purse, and ran out the front door. I'm not sure what that says about my priorities, but I gained my composure after a few seconds and ran back into the house for Ann. By then the earth had stopped shaking.
Robert was born in 1937 and Richard was born in 1940. Richard was a breach birth, coming into the world feet first.
I seemed to always be in some sort of class. In the 1940s I took adult music appreciation classes at Fremont high school, and even played the cello for a little while. When I was young, and living in Kings Mountain, our family had a pump organ. I learned to play it and later the piano, mostly hymns. I was fair, maybe a little better than fair, but I didn't like to have anyone watch or hear me playing.
After we moved to Downey I took courses in millenary design, flower arranging, and several cooking classes. Rodney and I took a course in upholstery, and working together we re-upholstered one of our large living room chairs.
Also in the 40s I was active in the Order of Amaranth, belonging to the Redondo Court. My sister-in-law, Hazel, was Grand Matron.
One of my greatest joys is music. For many years, probably thirty five or more, I belonged to the Euterpe. When I joined it was called the Euterpe Opera Reading Society. The Society had soloists and an occasional group singing arias accompanied by a pianist. Later they staged full operas, but with just a few musicians. They changed their name to the Euterpe Opera Theater. I was privileged to see several operas at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center. After Rodney retired he and Richard would accompany me to the daytime performances. I think they even enjoyed it.
Rodney always enjoyed traveling. I was probably less enthusiastic, but after we started on a trip I'd enjoy it too. Rodney took thousands of photographs of our trips. I still enjoy it when Rodney or my grandson Steve takes out the projector and we relive our travels.
NOTE: Norma died before completing this autobiography. There are many gaps that she planned to fill in, and many stories left untold.