I met Norma many years ago when I rented the smallest apartment I’d ever stayed in. We are talking little! I once almost dis-located my shoulder trying to use the bathroom. But it had a view, wow what a view of the Provincetown bay. It felt a bit like a cocoon. I rented the little place for 8 years and wound up doing some of the best writing and painting of my life there.
On the pier next to me a lot of folks rented by the week, some owned, some rented for the summer. There was a seasonal renter of several years, a woman named Norma Holt.
On one my daily walks on the bay beach one afternoon, an old woman shouted at me, ”When you going in the water? Walking is fine but go in the water!”
I tried to argue, I wanted to clear my thoughts on a walk, the water was cold, bla, bla. She wouldn’t hear any of it and simply demanded I go for a swim. Once she got me to agree she also demanded I hold her hand and help her in the water, then after she submerged help her out of the water, then help her to her chair, then help her up the path to her tiny apartment in the back.
The next day I discovered that she had also enlisted her neighbors Andrew Sullivan and his boyfriend Aaron (now husband) as her dutiful solders to cart her here and there, feed her and entertain her.
“One simply does not say no to Norma,” Andrew explained.
For the rest of that summer, when Norma would catch site of me, she would wave me over to sit with her, swim with her, help her to and from the water. I have to admit there were days I hid behind the railing of my deck so I could have a little quiet time, but mostly I got a kick out of her.
I had no idea who she was, that she was a talented photographer of many decades and had lived a life that should be written about in novels and film scripts. She never bragged. I had to find these things out from others.
As the summer went on I took her out to dinner to The Squealing Pig and she told me what it was like to be in an inter-race marriage, I think it was in the 60’s or possibly 50’s I don’t recall, but certainly during a time that making that choice was dangerous. She felt she had much in common with the gay community trying to march to their own drum and not fit the norm and she was right.
I would escort her, by trotting along side her electric scooter, as she cruised down commercial street to T.J. Walton’s gallery for T.J.s artist’s brunch, which really was just an excuse to sit around and worship Norma.
On the way there, she would ride in the middle of the street holding up traffic and when they would beep, sweet little old lady looking Norma, would turn around in her chair and give the finger, with both hands!
Then she would spin off laughing at the shocked tourists.
I went with her to the Schoolhouse gallery in town and looked through the collection of her photographs. Michael the gallery owner knew I was Norma’s pal so suggested I ask her if she wanted to give me a discount.
I held up a darling photograph she’s taken of a sweet little old lady sipping a cup of tea totally naked and asked, “Norma can I get a discount on this?”
After a summer of buying her groceries, taking her to dinner, helping her to and from the water, I was kinda thinking she might make a gift of it to me.
Norma looked up at me sheepishly with her beautiful eyes and said, “Why on earth would I do that?”
You gottta love her.