Midland Remembers: Part one of the story of Norma Boeckler
Posted: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 12:35 am | Updated: 12:04 pm, Wed Oct 6, 2010.When Norma Boeckler was only 1, she lost her mother. Not yet 20 years old, Inez Wasmuth left two small daughters and a grieving husband to mourn her premature death. Sister Marian had just turned 2 on Dec. 7 and Norma had turned one on Dec. 22.
A few keepsakes and some black and white photos were all that were left of their young mother. Tragically even those were lost when several years later a house fire destroyed everything. But our lives are ruled by forces unseen and beyond us.
This is the story of the little girl who grew up to become an artist.
After their mother died, Marian and Norma, lived in Midland briefly in the Carpenter Street area when their father married Pansy Hoover. When Norma was three years old, Alex bought a farm on Brooks Road and it was here that Marian and Norma grew up along with Joe, Darlene and Beverly, the children that Alex and Pansy had together. All five children grew up on the farm learning to work hard at a young age as all farm children did in that era. These were the Depression years and while Alex managed to keep his job at The Dow Chemical Co., it was the farm that provided the family with milk, butter, vegetables and meat.
Growing up on the family farm on Brooks Road, Norma remembered having to take her turn at watching the cows in the unfenced fields. Becoming bored with this, she found pieces of sawed-off lumber scattered in the meadow and with some wood chalk she sketched pictures on the boards. When she was 8, she asked if she could have a leftover roll of wallpaper for drawing. Norma took the roll, turned it pattern-side down, grabbed a handful of crayons and drew a landscape mural of trees, animals and people When it was finished she tacked it up on all four walls of the bedroom she shared with her sister Marian. Marian wasn't pleased with the new look to their bedroom and she asked, "Why did you spend all that time doing that?" It was Norma's first critique of her art work.
Her life growing up was circumscribed by her family, the little Brooks School where she attended kindergarten through the eighth grade, visiting friends and relatives in the small town of Midland five miles away and the yearning to escape from those narrow confines to see a larger portion of the world.
Norma remembered the year the barn burned down with 20 head of cattle trapped inside, in their stanchions. The sound of their crying haunted her for years. She said simply, "It was absolutely horrible!" Alex rebuilt the barn himself but fell off the roof before it was completed and broke a vertebrae in his neck.
When Norma entered the ninth grade, Midland Senior High School was located on Rodd Street. Now, it's Central Middle School. It was a long drive from the farm to the school and Norma knew a girl who was staying with a family in town, doing housework for her room and board. The idea appealed to Norma. Already, her self-assertiveness was coming to the surface. Ula Martindale, a counselor for high school students, found a job for Norma with the Ed Gibson family.
Gibson was manager of the Midland Circle Bowl working for Delores Cassidy, the widow of Bill Cassidy. The owner of the Frolic Theatre and the Mecca Theatre on Main Street, Cassidy had decided to invest in the future of the Circle area and built the Midland Theatre with a bowling alley next to it. His death saw his wife Delores taking over the management of the theater and the bowling alley. Needing someone she could depend on, she chose Gibson who spent the rest of his working years as manager of the bowling alley complex. When you said "bowling" in Midland, his name automatically came to mind.
After Norma secured a job with the Gibson family, she was still expected to return to the farm on weekends where she would help with the housework and the farm chores. Then one weekend Norma went with the Gibsons to their cottage at Houghton Lake without telling her stepmother that she wouldn't be home. When she returned from Houghton Lake, Pansy insisted that Norma quit her job in town and return to the farm. After a week of half-heartedly trying to readjust to farm life, Pansy realized that her stepdaughter had her mind made up that she didn't want to live on the farm. Marian was content there but Norma wasn't and Pansy wisely realized it in time for Norma to keep her job with the Gibsons.
Living in town was a totally new experience for 13-year-old Norma who had lived on a farm, sheltered for the most part by the seclusion of a rural community. She was thrust into a world completely different from what she had grown up in. Mary Ann, Ed's wife, was her employer, friend and mentor and later when Norma married Walter Boeckler, the Gibsons hosted the wedding rehearsal dinner as a wedding gift for the young couple.
Although the idea of becoming an artist at this point in her life was nebulous, still Norma selected an art class taught by Mr. Linden at Midland Senior High. But after a year, Norma realized that more prosaic but practical classes were necessary if she was going to seek employment after high school graduation.
The year that Norma graduated from Midland Senior High, school she enrolled in an Advanced Business Course and Wilford Sweet supplied her with a list of places for possible employment. She was hired by A. C. Graham, the Chrysler-Plymouth-Valiant dealer in Midland, located on East Lyon Road.
Part two will published in two weeks.