By Jane Farstrider
When you meet Norm, you can’t help but be disarmed by his openness and warmth as he shares details of his past ― many of them moments a person might rather forget. But he always returns to the good things he experienced amidst the struggle.
As he tells his story, Norm reaches down to stroke Little Bit, the grinning pug who’s been a constant companion to Norm and his granddaughter, Cheyenne, for the past eight years.
Norm describes a younger version of himself that doesn’t seem to fit the soft-spoken man of today, who shares photos of his spunky 10-year-old granddaughter with smiling eyes. But back in the 90s and early 2000s, addiction had a firm grip on his life and he wound up in jail more than once. “I was a real thug back then,” he says. “I thought I was a real tough guy, you know?”
It was a serious car accident that eventually shook that tough guy image and set Norm on a different path. “When I hit my head on that windshield in 2006, my entire life changed ― I became a different person,” he says. “My life has been really full, except that I had a drug problem.”
It was a long, rough road to sobriety, but with a broken neck and the possibility he might never walk or talk normally again, he knew something had to change. After 52 days in the hospital, he left on his own two feet, determined to make a better life for himself.
A parietal lobe stroke added to his struggles in 2011, and Norm explains that even now it can be difficult to communicate ― apologizing when his story wanders. Norm’s battle for social security assistance stalled for years, but he did his best to get by without it.
He started his own telemarketing company in Arizona, and got to work building a life for himself and Cheyenne, who he has cared for since she was born. Regret tinges Norm’s husky voice as he reflects that he wasn’t really around for his older children as they grew up, and the chance to be there for his granddaughter changed everything. “It’s been the most amazing ten years of my life, raising Cheyenne,” he says.
But when his business went under in 2016, they lost their home. For four years, they bounced between temporary living situations, and Norm would often house-sit so they’d have a safe place to stay.
In early 2020, Norm and Cheyenne returned to the Northwest, where he had some family and hoped for a new start. With $390 and whatever he could fit in his vehicle, they made it to Spokane and briefly stayed with Norm’s niece. The situation didn’t last, however, and before long they were back at square one.
Not knowing what to do next, Norm says he and Cheyenne spent their days exploring Bear Lake, barbecuing and making the most of it, despite the uncertainty they faced. At night, they would park at the Flying J truck stop on Broadway to sleep, because there was security and it felt safer.
With the colder weather, Norm knew they had to figure something out soon, and was preparing to drive to a warming shelter in Idaho that would take the two of them. “It’s hard for a man and a girl to get a spot. Really hard,” he says. “I’d been to churches ― everywhere.” But when a new acquaintance told him about Family Promise, they jumped at the opportunity. “We never had to do the shelter thing where you have to sleep on the floor. We had our own room ― everybody did! There were five families there.”
“We met some amazing people through Family Promise. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve been around.”
“This is so much different. They’ve stuck with me through all my trials and tribulations; helped me with electric bills; helped me get my vehicle fixed a couple of times. It’s a tried and true program … I’m not saying people never fail, but not because they aren’t trying to help you.”
“It’s not just getting you into a place,” Norm continues, “they set you up. They’ve helped me with so many things that I’m sure would have pushed me back … Now we’re able to do everything on our own to make it.”
He pulls out his phone, and flips through photos of a beaming Cheyenne in her Halloween costume, and talks about the basketball game he’s taking her to at EWU for family day. He says he wishes he was better at doing her hair. Luckily they have a friend ― an insurance agent who helped Norm when they first came to town ― who fixes Cheyenne’s hair when they see each other. “I guess I’m pretty good at making friends,” he says.
In August of last year, Norm and Cheyenne got their own place in Cheney, where Norm had heard good things about the schools. “That’s what I want,” he says. “I want her to have the best schooling.”
They seem to have settled into their new life, and Norm is a regular volunteer at Family Promise. These days, it’s common to see him around throughout the week, helping sort donations and lending a hand with whatever needs doing. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for these people,” he says.