We enjoyed 33 years of blessed marriage until she passed away on Sept. 4, 2003. Below is something I wrote years ago about our meeting, courtship, and wedding. I hope you enjoy this brief trip down memory lane.
My first recollection of Norma Joyce Pratt was at one of these youth revivals in the Assembly of God Church in Stinnett, Texas (just north of Borger, Texas). I was preaching on a Saturday night and a car load of teens had driven up from Panhandle to attend the meeting with their Pastor, R C Hopper. I was sitting on the platform about to preach when Norma was called to sing. I remember looking down at my Bible the whole time she was on the platform, but very aware of her. I thought she was beautiful and could sing like an angel. While looking down at my Bible, I did notice her shapely legs as she walked by, I immediately rebuked myself for such “unspiritual eye-wanderings”.
Just a couple of weeks after the Stinnett encounter, the “Trio” was invited to sing at a Youth Rally in Borger, Texas. The group from Panhandle was there also and after the rally we bumped into them at a local restaurant in downtown Borger. Pastor Hopper was all excited about their church building and insisted that we stop by to see it on our way back to Amarillo, which we did. Norma was in that Volkswagen but I have no recollection of her that night. She remembered it though.
R C Hopper invited our “Trio” to minister at the Assembly of God Church in Panhandle in May of 1969. On Sunday morning, I was sitting in a Sunday School class when Norma Joyce came bounding through collecting Sunday School records for the Sunday School Secretary. She had her hair in a pony tail and got my attention real good. After the service I asked Pastor Hopper about her.
That very Sunday evening we were closing the service. I had preached and Mike Riggins was doing the altar service. Ricky was playing the piano and singing while I leaned on the piano to watch the altar activity. The youth of the church were all standing across the church facing the altars praying and seeking God. I watched them attentively when suddenly my eyes fixed on the girl standing in the middle. It was Norma! I heard the Lord say in my spirit, “This is the one I have chosen for you to marry”.
I was so shocked by this declaration from the Lord that I did not believe it was really from Him. The three of us (Ricky, Mike, and I) had made an agreement that we wouldn’t defile our ministry by dating the girls we met in the churches. So we left town with me musing this over in my heart.
In the weeks to come, our trio broke up and went our separate ways. I continued to preach on weekends and work at various jobs to get enough money to go back to college in the Fall. I also kept going back to Panhandle to visit my new friends, RC and Cecilia Hopper in their upstairs apartment behind the church. He would play his guitar and sing me songs he had written. I was really attracted to them and they showed me hospitality. During these visits, some of the other teenage girls in the church would “drop by” the Pastor’s apartment. It wasn’t long until they were showing up at churches where I would be preaching and would sit by me at Youth Rallies. There were three of them. I would always ask them where Norma was and she was always at home. I knew in my heart that I needed to pursue Norma but I wasn’t sure how. I believe to this very day that the Lord helped me do what I did because everything worked well to get her attention and to eventually win her heart.
One day in June of 1969, I was visiting Kathy Anderson at her mother’s beauty shop and I noticed a customer sitting under the hair dryer. It was Norma. When she was ready to go, we all went to the Dairy Corner for lunch and then I offered to take her to the farm. She accepted my offer and we drove out to the farm which was about 5 miles west of town. When we drove into the farm yard there was a lot of activity. Vernon was washing his car, others were scurrying about. It was a bee hive of activity. Only then did I learn that that was Vernon’s wedding day! Some of the young men working at the farm gave me some mean looks so I just let Norma out and drove away.
A week or so later, I bought a travel alarm clock and wrapped it up and mailed it to Norma for a graduation present. Then I sent her a letter in code asking her to be my friend. Each letter of the note was from a Bible reference. She said it took her and her mother a long time to decipher the note, but they both were impressed.
In August I went by to visit her at the farm and to meet her parents. Her Dad was more interested in some weather balloons floating by than the boy that came to see his daughter. It was a very awkward time, but she consented to go with me to the Ice Capades the next week in Amarillo.
I picked Norma up in a purple 1960 Chevy Impala that blew a thick cloud of smoke. It was the only time I ever drove that car. It was huge, so I placed my plaid sports coat on the right side of the front seat so Norma would sit next to me. She didn’t. We went first to the Chinese Restaurant in Amarillo on Paramount Blvd. Neither of us had ever eaten at a Chinese Restaurant. It was a great experience. We laughed a lot and had a good time. Then we went to the Ice Capades at the Civic Center. We enjoyed the show, but she would not hold hands with me. After the show we went to the Rose Gardens at Amarillo College and walked around in the gardens. Then I drove her home by way of the mail box on the highway where we stopped to look up at the stars which blanketed the sky. I told her that those stars belonged to my Father and she could have them if she married me. She laughed. I took her home and returned to Amarillo very much in love with her. She remembered that night vividly the rest of her life. In 1996 she wrote the following poem about that night:
With him I am forever young
The star-light evenings glow
With stars in past forever bright
“mail-box” nights only we know
Some days I wonder-fear creeps in.
If ever I’m alone, will I be just one more-old?
Together we have so much past
Together we are ageless
Together we must stay- must stay-
Without you, I am pageless
No further writing of my life
If you will not be in it
The final page- the final door
“Growing old gracefully” is what it’s called
but what about the others
whose “graceful” time was torn from them
torn from the graceful arms of lovers?
Norma Joyce attended West Texas State University in the Fall of 1969 and lived at Brown Hall, right across the street from the Library. She was persuaded to attend meetings of Chi Alpha, the Student Fraternity that Mike Riggins and I started the year before. We had “pledge week” to start off the new school term. This was a get acquainted effort for the freshman class students to be welcomed into the fraternity. We would write their names on paper and put them in a hat. The upper classmen would draw their names out of the hat. Whoever drew the Freshman’s name, became their “Master” for the week. They would have to carry their Master’s books, and do small chores of a Christian nature. I drew Norma’s name out of the hat. By the end of the week we were inseparable. Everyone had so much fun that we all decided to do it again for a second week, so we wrote the Freshmen’s names down and put them in the hat. I drew Norma’s name again! Amid cries of “cheaters” and “draw again” we insisted that it was honest and the Lord’s Will.
For weeks to come, college took a back seat to my pursuits of Norma’s hand in marriage. Our courtship included W.T.S.U. football games, Chi Alpha activities, going places on Sunday to preach. I would preach and she would sing. Finally, one day in early November while we were studying in the Library, I wrote on a legal pad “Will you marry me?” “She wrote back, “If you will let me study, I will marry you”. I was the happiest boy alive. I was 19 and she was 18.
I continued to go to college and Norma signed up for a Medical-Receptionist course at The Amarillo Career Training Center located on Polk Street. I remember dropping her off at school one day during the noon hour. As she crossed to the other side of the street and walked toward her building, something came over me and I yelled across the street, “Norma Pratt, I love You!” I could see her smile and it was worth all the stares I got from people on the street. We never forgot that moment.
As we got closer to our wedding day, I began working from 3:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. as a school janitor. It was very difficult for me because it kept me from being with Norma in the evenings. She was preparing for the wedding and I was stuck cleaning schools.
When we were able to be together, we went looking for an apartment to live in after we were married. We looked everywhere, but everything was more expensive than we could afford. Finally, my Dad found us a duplex not far from his house for $50 per month. Even back then, that was an amazingly low rent. It included water. It was a one bedroom with a detached garage. It was right next to a Baptist Church parking lot and right off of the freeway going north out of Amarillo.
The day before the wedding day, Norma’s dad and I moved a huge refrigerator from the farm to the duplex. Once we got it unloaded and in the house, it wouldn’t work. We spent a few tense moments trying to fix it and finally got the refrigerator part going, but not the freezer. We later exchanged it for a smaller version that worked. Norma and I spent some time moving pieces of furniture into the duplex that we gathered from box cars, basements, attics, etc. We did not have much furniture, but we did not have much room for it either.
As we were leaving that last day before the wedding, Norma let go of the screen door just in time to break my glasses. I did not have time to do anything about it, so I gave them to my mother. She was to go have them put in a new frame. Instead, she took one of her horned rimmed frames and had them squeeze my lenses into them. I did not wear them during the wedding ceremony, but had to wear them to drive.
Our wedding was in the First Assembly of God Church in Panhandle, Texas with R C Hopper officiating. It was on Thursday, March 26, 1970. The day before Good Friday.
It snowed the night before and was windy and snowy the day of, so many people did not come from Amarillo. There was around 50 people there and it was a nice wedding. The reception was held at the First National Bank’s Heritage Room.
We left that evening after the reception in my dad’s blue 1964 Ford Galaxie 500. It was all painted up and decorated with toilet paper and streamers stuck on with Vaseline. We headed West with $60 cash in our pockets. Our first night was at a Best Western Motel in Clovis, New Mexico. We got the “honeymoon suite” which was just a room with a king size bed. We had a very romantic evening in spite of being extremely tired.
Our first full day of being a married couple was spent driving from Clovis to Carlsbad, with a brief stop in between to wash the black shoe polish and Vaseline off of the car. We arrived in Carlsbad in time to order in Pizza, relax a bit, and then go to a Good Friday service at the local Assembly of God Church. They looked at us kind of strangely when we told them we were on our honeymoon.
The next day, Saturday, we went to the Caverns and took the tour, then drove on to Lubbock, Texas. We called Norma’s folks and learned that it had snowed some more and was going to snow again soon. We decided to drive the 120 miles to Amarillo and arrived there around mid-night. Before going home, we stopped at a 7 Eleven and bought some orange juice and something to snack on. When we got to the house, Norma dropped the sack containing the orange juice and my billfold. It became a sticky mess. She was upset until I changed the subject by carrying her over the threshold. That night, there had been no heat in the duplex, so our home was ice cold.
The next morning was Easter Sunday, so we thought we had to go to church. We got all ready to go only to discover that the car had a flat tire and a snow drift behind it. I changed the flat and shoveled the snow and we went off to church. Unfortunately, our delay made us late to church. When walked in, everyone turned and smiled at us with that look that says, “We know why you are late, you newlyweds”. We wished we had just stayed home.