Homeless Veterans Volunteers to Assist Others With Literacy

By Holly Lyon

    I begin the interview with “other than knowing you are a veteran and where you live, I don’t know anything else about you.”  Norman chuckles slightly.  He is sitting adjacent to me wearing a U.S Navy hat, a button down shirt and black pants.  He is a dignified looking gentleman, whose age is ambiguous; he could pass for a graceful 45 or a distinguished 65. His voice is that of a radio personality - articulate - clear with purposeful pauses. 

    He is the middle child of three children - with a slight smile he adds in it is true what they say about the middle child.  His mother was a stay at home mom and later in life did security work - his father worked in refrigeration.  It is evident he had a close bond with his parents who have both passed away.  He is still in close communication with his siblings.  He describes his childhood fondly - relating to me the importance his parents put on education and social activism.  Norman’s father participated in the civil rights movement- traveling to the south to march for equality.  He credits his parents as being the influence for his current and past advocacy work.

    After graduating high school he attended LA Tech College - he did not graduate but enlisted in the Navy and served from 1968 to 1971.  He worked on submarines; he was stationed in Scotland, and had the opportunity to visit Ireland on several occasions.  Although 40 years have passed since he lived and traveled abroad his face still beams when he speaks of the experience.   Several hours after the interview was completed and I ruminated on the conversation, I become annoyed with myself for not asking more about what life is like in a submarine. 

    After his time in the military he settled in Los Angeles and worked as a manager at an alarm/ security company until 1988. In 1987 Norman suffered the loss of his son.  I ask if he has any other children, in a timid almost whisper he replies “no.”  I can tell he is getting emotional and I cannot bring myself to ask if his sons name, so I ask if he has any contact with the mother of his son, which he does not.  Although I want to learn more about his son, I drop the subject.  It occurs to me that it has been 25 years since his son died and he still cannot speak freely of the incident.  I suppose this is typical, but I feel the profound sense of loss he experiences.  Not only did he lose his son but he also lost the joy of bragging about him or telling a funny story from his childhood.  Norman openly admits that the death of his son was the reason for relocating to Cleveland in 1988; he has not returned to LA since.

     An opportunity for employment arose the company he worked for in California opened an office in Ohio, and so he moved to Cleveland and continued working in the security/ alarm system business.  In the early 1990s Norman switched careers and began working in the IT field, he also earned associates degree in accounting.  The last fifteen years Norman has dedicated a great deal of his time to tutoring adults who are working towards earning a GED.  He discusses the shock of realizing the prevalence of illiteracy among adults.

    Although there have been bright spots in Norman’s life in Ohio, there has also been tremendous struggle.  Norman’s current struggle is reestablishing his life after residing in a shelter for a year, but he is optimistic.  Just before he established residence in a shelter he passed the giant free stamp sculpture in downtown Cleveland.  Norman, who has a strong interest in art, felt the sculpture was symbolic of his situation, a time to reinvent his life. 

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published Sept. 2011 Cleveland, Ohio