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Carrie Donovan

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” — Matthew 10:29–31 For Norma Sparrow Sikes, my Momom. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for getting on that bus to D.C. 60 years ago. All my love, Carrie

Ever heard of Scranton, North Carolina? Probably not. It’s not even on most maps anymore. Now imagine a place seven miles away from Scranton, even further out in rural Eastern North Carolina: Sladesville. Ring a bell? Not for most people. That’s why this area of North Carolina is usually just called “Hyde County.” Why do I care about Hyde County, North Carolina? Well, sometimes great things — and great people — come from unexpected places. And an amazing woman named Norma Faye Sparrow Sikes came from Hyde County, North Carolina. She’s my grandmother. And her story is worth telling.

Norma Faye Sparrow was born on May 28, 1936.

Her father’s name was Bill, and that’s what he insisted his children call him. Not Dad. Bill. He was a commercial fisherman.

Norma’s mother’s name was Pattie. She worked hard taking care of the house and farm and caught oysters to sell. She also shot snakes when necessary.

Norma had an older brother named Glen and two younger sisters, Liz and Rena.

The Sparrow family lived on little, and what they had came from hard work and living off the land and the water. They did everything like in pioneer times. The first house Norma lived in had no running water, heating, electricity, or phone service.

Wind would blow into the house through holes in the floor.

You could see chickens running under the house through the floorboards.

Bill remodeled another house on the same property for the family when Norma was seven, but they still didn’t have most of the conveniences the rest of the country had in the 1940s.

Norma lived through part of the Great Depression and all of World War II before she turned ten.

But way out in Hyde County, Norma didn’t hear much about the Depression or the War. She was a sad child, but not because of the current state of the nation. Her family wrote letters to some relatives who were soldiers, but they didn’t plant victory gardens or buy war bonds. They didn’t have a radio, so they didn’t know these things existed.

Norma started school when she was six. There wasn’t any kindergarten at Sladesville School. She went to the same school from first to tenth grade. The books she used at school were the same ones her father used when he went to school there. There was just one big, dated dictionary for the whole school.

Even though Norma got an education, she didn’t have the luxury of being a full-time student. She did whatever work she was big enough to do: gathering wood, feeding livestock and taking them to graze, straining milk, making butter, shelling corn, picking up eggs, washing dishes, making soap, and mending fences.

When she was older, she worked chopping corn and picking tobacco to earn money for school clothes.

She made 35 cents an hour.

In spite of all the hardships she lived through, Norma did have some fun. As a child, Norma saved her money to buy a cowgirl outfit with a green painted gun. She liked to ride her brother’s bike, but it was so big that she had to stand on the porch in order to get on it.

Once in a blue moon, she got to go to the movies to see a Western (the closest theater was 30 miles away). She and her sisters made movie star books from advertisements in old magazines their aunts gave them.

For 11th and 12th grades, Norma went to Swan Quarter High School.

High school was the first time she used a telephone.

At Swan Quarter, she played basketball and worked on the yearbook committee. She was even the homecoming queen.

When Norma graduated high school in 1954, she could’ve stayed in Hyde County, married a fisherman, and lived the same life her parents had lived. Actually, she had been engaged to a guy from high school but gave him back his ring when she found out he had been seeing someone else.

But Norma knew there was more out there than she had known in Hyde County, and she wanted to see what that was.

Some recruiters from the FBI in Washington, D.C. came to her school and told the students about job opportunities with the FBI. Norma applied for a job, and she got it.

Her mother told her, “I don’t want you to go, but I know there’s nothing for you here.” Norma knew she wanted new opportunities she couldn’t get in Hyde County.

So in the summer of 1954, she left everything she knew and took a bus ride to Washington, D.C.

A bus ride to a new life.

Two of her friends from high school, Kay and Hazel, also got jobs with the FBI. The three of them lived in a rooming house on Massachusetts Avenue in D.C.

Big city life was a shock to Norma from the beginning. The tall office buildings shocked her. She was fascinated by the streetcars that traversed the D.C. roads. And she was puzzled the first time she walked on a sidewalk. No sidewalks in Sladesville.

Her job at the FBI included administrative work, like filing and helping at the information desk. She often substituted for other secretaries over lunch. When she was subbing in the Assistant Director’s Office, she sometimes answered the phone when J. Edgar Hoover called. (He was the director of the FBI and a notable figure in the McCarthy era.)

The girl who didn’t use a phone until high school was answering the phone for J. Edgar Hoover.

It was hard for Norma to get used to life in the big city. During the first several weeks, she cried a lot and wondered if she’d be able to do it. She went to the doctor because she wasn’t feeling well, and the doctor told her the symptoms she was experiencing were just from the climate change. Basically, she was experiencing culture shock.

Sometime while she was in D.C., Norma got fed up with men. She decided not to date anymore, so she bought herself a television to help her spend her time in the evenings after work.

She dated a guy from North Carolina who looked he walked off Mission: Impossible. He would come to visit her in D.C. and she would see him when she went back to see family at home. His name was Fritz, but her daughter and granddaughters like to call him Mr. X.

Her friend, Hazel, had a boyfriend that would come visit them in D.C. with his brother. Norma dated the brother, but she really wasn’t that into him (as is apparent in the photo). The guys would watch Gunsmoke on Norma’s TV in the evenings. She just went to bed.

Thankfully for Norma’s kids and grandkids, those boys fell by the wayside, and the TV phase didn’t last too long. One time, Norma needed a ride back to Hyde County to visit family. Through a friend, she got in touch with a guy named Earl Sikes, who was also from Eastern North Carolina and worked in D.C.

Earl agreed to give Norma a ride.

They met at the Washington Monument, a place they both knew they could find.

Earl eventually made a good impression on Norma, and they began dating.

They were in a car accident together, and while they were in the hospital recovering from minor injuries, Earl asked Norma to marry him.

She said yes.

Earl and Norma were married on April 6, 1957 in North Carolina. They made their home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. where Earl ran Sikes Construction Company and Norma did administrative work for the business.

Earl kept his favorite picture of Norma, taken before they were married, in his wallet for years. That’s why there’s a crease through the middle of the picture.

In May of 1958, Earl and Norma had a son, Ray. He grew up to be a writer and English teacher.

Gary was born in 1961. He worked with Earl in the construction company and became a skilled electrician as well.

Lisa came along in 1965. She became a special education teacher.

Norma’s father, Bill, passed away in 1971. In the 1980s, Norma’s mother came to live with her and Earl in D.C. as she battled Parkinson’s disease. Later, Pattie went to a nursing home in North Carolina and passed away there in 1997.

When Norma was getting used to life in D.C., it helped her to remember that there was Someone greater than she was.

And that Sovereign Someone carried her through each season of her life: being a country girl in the city, raising children, watching each child’s rebel streak come out and run its course, and now making memories with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Norma and Earl have been married for 57 years.

Norma celebrated her 78th birthday in 2014. She loves well and is loved by many.

And besides that, she just rocks.

Profile for Carrie A. Donovan

His Eye Is On the Sparrow  

“Well, sometimes great things — and great people — come from unexpected places.” A story about one such person. Written and designed by Car...

His Eye Is On the Sparrow  

“Well, sometimes great things — and great people — come from unexpected places.” A story about one such person. Written and designed by Car...