As I walk into the house of Norma Farrens, the first thing I notice is the smell of tomatoes. Further, into the house, I see at least a dozen cans of fresh tomatoes and a pot on the stove, surrounded by fresh and uncut vegetables. NPR’s “All Things Considered” is playing softly from a radio in the corner and the only word that comes to mind is ‘cozy.’
With a cup of coffee in our hands, Norma tells me about her life in Decatur. She’s lived in the area her entire life and her childhood home is not far from where she lives now. When she graduated from high school she was one of four people to go to college and the only woman at that. The idea of marrying right out of school wasn’t appealing to her, and her face lights up as she laughs at the idea, almost fifty years later.
After college, she started teaching in Rosalie, mostly business English and math classes. After several years there she moved on to teach in Decatur, and then at Lyons-Decatur after the merge. All through it, she taught the same sort of classes, and even became a mock trial coach and a Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) advisor.
Norma is married, and her husband was gone when we went to see her. She said he felt bored and went out to the cabin, as if on a whim. My mom used to babysit her kids and they laugh about how similar Norma’s son and grandson are in nature: good-hearted, tantrum throwers in action. Norma’s son lives in Sioux City, and her daughter lives in Omaha.
Nowadays Norma spends most of her time either at her part-time job or in one of the many community clubs she participates in. She’s a part of the Decatur Museum club, which helps keep the Decatur Museum intact. The museum itself is an old house, built in the 1870s. “We have different displays,” she says, “And we’re a part of the new art project… the trolley car.”
She’s also an officer in the Decatur Community Club, which is in charge of things like Riverfront Days. Norma said, “We do other things through the year. The Easter Egg hunt, garage sales, the chili cook-off, a Halloween Party…” She was also a part of the talent show in Decatur; a group of women from the Community Club wore suits, held microphones, and lip-synced their way through a song. “We were the Blues Brothers,” she told me. “We didn’t even know the words to the song.”
By the time we were done, I felt like I was closer to the community itself. Norma was the embodiment of small-town Nebraska; the vegetables on random flat surfaces, horses (and one pony) outside, and a luscious garden with colors so vibrant they hurt to look at. Norma was warm and inviting, and there’s no better person to represent our community.