Reunion from Goldings to Alabama
Last year, Winston Norton After years of searching had found out that he was a wartime
baby, and his father was a black American GI. Reunited with his mother in the UK,
Winston then searched for his father in the USA, only to discover he had died several
years before. But all was not lost. His father had married, had a large family and had tried
to trace him. This is the story of Winston and his wife Janet's visit to Alabama to meet
his brothers, sisters and other relations.
Our first big emotional surprise occurred when we got off the plane at Birmingham, Alabama, to be met by about 50 banner-waving
relatives all cheering, kissing and hugging us as if they had known us all of their lives. We were asked many questions by everyone
we met. Not only to find out more about us, but to hear our accent which sounded quite quaint compared to their Southern drawl.
We were eventually allowed to go to bed at 1.30pm, which meant we had been up for over 24 hours and this was only the first day!
We were staying at my sister Winda's home, and we got up and decided to go for a short exploratory walk around the
neighbourhood. This was apparently a foolish thing to do because there are still Klan members in the area who would not be
pleased to see black and white out walking hand in hand. Later, we went out to breakfast with some of the family. It came as a
shock to both Janet and me the amount of food we were expected to consume. Breakfasts consisted of bacon, eggs, sausages, hash
browns, grits, pancakes with maple syrup (all on the same plate), all washed down with pints of fresh orange (into which they put
vast amounts of sugar), iced tea and coffee.
We followed breakfast with a visit to Toni-Marie (my sister) and her family, then we went back to Winda's home and wrote
postcards all afternoon. In the evening we all went to my brother Hoosey's fish restaurant where we ate shrimps, catfish, red
snapper, croaker and ribs. My nephew Rodney, who is a policeman, took me for a cruise in his squad car to show me the sights
at night, but while we were out we got caught up in a high-speed police chase which I found to be a bit unnerving to say the least.
Went to have breakfast with brother Meatball (everyone has a nickname) and his partner Lettie, my niece Brenda and her husband
Gary. Meatball owns a nightclub and car wash and Gary works at the airport. We then went to the Mall to do some
'serious shopping' with Winda. I bought two pairs of Converse trainers and a pair of leather shoes for a total of £15.
In the evening we went to a birthday party for my niece Andria who was six. Janet and I were totally surrounded by little black kids
who wanted to just sing and dance for us all night. Beautiful. After this we went to Meatball's club.
We were invited downtown to spend some time with Terri, Winda's daughter, who works in a bank inside the courthouse. We
lunched on macaroni cheese, fried green tomatoes, black-eyed beans, turnip greens and corn bread.
Spent the evening at M'Dear's home. M'Dear is the affectionate name given to my lat father's wife, Annie. She is about 80 and is
an incredible and beautiful person. Janet and I slept there that night and spent the whole evening listening to stories about my dad
and looking at photographs.
Gracie and Veronica (sisters) took us to breakfast (they said between Sam and 11am - time means nothing) and we spent the rest
of the morning talking about my dad. We went on to M'Dear's home and sat on the porch drinking beer. In the afternoon Patricia
(sister) and her husband Albert took us to the Civil Rights Institute where we learnt so much about the sacrifices people have made
in order that all men should be treated equally. A humbling experience.
In the evening we went to visit Kitty whose husband Tweetie (my cousin) died one week before we flew out there. He had been
most helpful in setting things up for our visit and his sudden death was a great shock to all of us. Needless to say, this was an
emotional evening among his family. When we got back to Winda's home we met another sister, Portia, who had come to see us
Brother Karl and his partner Daisy took a crowd of us to the dog track where they managed to win enough money to take us all out
to a restaurant where we ate oysters, red snapper, shrimps, hushpuppies, fried okra, coleslaw and scallops. Tomorrow being Easter
Sunday, we all went home and made food for a big party and dyed some eggs for the children.
Left to go to church at 11am and this was probably the most moving day of all. Everyone (except us) had their Sunday best clothes
on. All of the little girls had white socks and gloves and beautiful dresses on. The small church was
packed with about 80 people. Someone across the aisle from us stood up and started singing spontaneously and unaccompanied.
Then the pastor joined in on an electric organ, a drummer picked up the beat and the congregation harmonised. This method of
praise lasted for three hours which went very quickly. This was followed by the children enjoying an egg hunt in the garden at the
back of the church.
We went off to Gracie's home for a huge family party where we met even more cousins, nephews and nieces. Meatball had ordered
two massive cakes for us which we were supposed to share with family and bring the rest back to England. However, we were
distracted watching the children playing and when we returned both cakes had been eaten. The Americans do enjoy sweet things.
Spent most of the day at the shopping mall with 'Shop 'til you drop' Brenda and Gary. We bought clothes to bring back for our
family. Things really are much cheaper than they are in England. In the evening we went to the 'Golden Corral' restaurant where
customers can eat and drink as much as they like for about £5 a head. It was good, but there is terrible greed and wastage here.
We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and playing cards.
Winda has brought a video camera and no one is safe from her gentle probing. She wants us to have an interesting film to take
home with us. In the morning we visited her friend Linda - the first and only white person Janet spoke with while we were away.
Veronica and Portia collected us at noon and we went downtown to meet some of their friends. We then went to M'Dear's house
and chatted for the rest of the afternoon. In the evening we went to my nephew Benjy's home for a barbecue. We were both starting
to get really tired now - but it was a good tired.
Wednesday, the last full day of our trip. The Birmingham Post Herald came to interview us today and take photos. We got on to the
front page of the paper. Winda and Patrick took us to Huntsville to visit the space centre. Although it was interesting, Janet and I
found the journey to be far more fascinating, it was good to see green fields and cows and sheep again.
On our return we visited Karl who had gifts for us. Then we were taken to Meatball's home where he had organised an 'aloha'
Hawaiian farewell party for us. All of the family attended and we were given lots of gifts for us and our children.
We woke up early and finished our packing. People started arriving and there was a lot of sadness. We were taken to the airport
where other members of the family arrived at intervals.
When we were all together, we all stood in a circle holding hands and everyone prayed for us to have a safe journey home. This
was a special moment. No embarrassment, no feeling self-conscious. Just an overwhelming feeling of being loved by all of these
people. Suddenly an enormous sadness overtook us and there were many tears as we boarded the plane to come home. We
(and they) have already started saving for next year. We got back to Gatwick on Friday morning. It was raining.
© Winston Norton