Happy Birthday to “Sweet Norma Jean”

(Denver, CO – posted by Jeanie Rhoades) Dave and Tara Powers, husband and wife band and songwriting duo, MOUNTAINCITY, recently released their latest single, “Sweet Norma Jean.”

Tara explains it is a song, a musical tribute of love to her grandmother, who is living with dementia, and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011.  

(Dave and Tara talk about their latest release on this video. CLICK HERE).

The hauntingly sweet lyrics and melody, written from a caretaker’s view, the heart of a person experiencing a very long and slow goodbye for their loved one, is a personal story. Very personal in this case,  yet universal.

Tara Powers with her grandma, “Sweet Norma Jean”

Up 145% 

Alz.org, a leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research, reveals that Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States killing more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. They tell us someone develops the disease every 65 seconds in the U.S. Even more staggering is that between 2000 and 2017, deaths from heart disease decreased by 9%, while deaths from Alzheimer’s disease increased by 145%. By now, who among us hasn’t been touched by this life-altering disease?

We all know someone.

Sweet Norma Jean, 1957

Ours is Norma Jean, “Sweet Norma Jean.”

She’s my mom, and June is not only “Alzheimer’s Awareness Month,” but it is her birth month, as lovely and sunny, vivacious and life-giving as the song’s subject herself.

Sweet Norma Jean, Class of ’56

It’s her 81st birthday, this woman whose life and heart inspired the thoughtful lyrics of MOUNTAINCITY’s song, and whose love of Roy Rogers’ cowboy matinees in her girlhood lent the country-and-western flare to MOUNTAINCITY’s arrangement, complete with the sound of a steel guitar.

Norma Jean and her big sister, Helen, mid-1940s

These days, getting smaller by the minute, it seems, people will look at a grayed-haired lady and watch her careful shuffle, note her trembling hands and they will not recognize the extraordinary value of the life of this one unassuming woman.

Norma Jean, 1938

Alzheimer’s doesn’t just steal memories. It takes someone you love while their heart still beats.

She raised 5 children with her husband (62 years and still going), and taught us and all of her grandchildren and many great-grandchildren to draw and write and sing and play instruments and love life. She taught us that you can soften the hardest of hearts with love and kindness and win lifelong friends. We watched her do it time and again. She lives in the total joy of the beauty of the earth and the importance of every beast God created. She can still whistle the birds straight from the sky to her patio and there isn’t a dog or cat alive who doesn’t tell Norma Jean their deepest secrets and love her deeply, as she loves them.

Norma with about 2/3 of her family a couple of years back.

It’s not just about losing a memory or two, here and there. It isn’t that she may or may not recognize me now when she sees me, though that is difficult. It is how the disease seeks to steal more of her heart and soul and life daily, despite her valiant attempts to embrace it, and we cannot stop the march.

This woman who has always been physically active and could hike the meadows with her camera for hours a day, beat the whole family in corn-hole and horseshoes and will still try to lasso if given a rope, this active, energetic, exuberant woman is beginning to fear the out of doors. And because of the confusion and wandering, really cannot just walk out her own door to her yard unattended now. By the end, she could lose her ability to walk at all, sit in a chair and eventually to swallow. These are the possible, heart-breaking realities with Alzheimer’s disease.

Still a cowgirl at heart.

Just months ago, even, she was still snapping photos. People won’t look at her and know that she became a professional horse photographer, her photos on the covers of magazines, in her 50s! She has captured all the major joys of her life and family, first, on thousands of rolls of film, later digitally. But her camera is a mysterious gadget now. I don’t know if we will ever see her framing a shot again. 

A few short years ago she was a voracious reader. She not only read her Bible and books on many topics she wanted to learn more about daily, she kept a dictionary handy for studying deeper into the words she read, underlining and adding notes. That old red volume is rich with her insights. She pored over the daily paper, eager to understand world happenings. Then the words began to “dance,” on the page…was it just her eyesight? Her recall faded, then the ability to read each word or recognize letters. She runs her hands over her cherished books with reverence these days, but the reading, all to soon, gone.

She still loves to gather with family for a lovely meal at a local restaurant, although each person’s exact identity may be in question. She’s safest and happiest among us, and doesn’t believe us when we tell her she already had dessert, three times! “What is this for?” she asks as her daughter places a fork in her hand.

Norma and her one of her beloved “grand-dogs”

I”ll remember for you

So, when strangers see us protectively guiding her through a store, they will see a little old lady, but I will know the real story. I will remember for us and for my children and grandchildren. I will remember all she keeps teaching us and how to love like she keeps loving us and I’ll think about…Norma Jean, a little cowgirl in chaps and a big hat, some silver spurs dangling from her boots. A little city girl growing up in the 1940s and 50s, collecting horse figurines and playing the guitar, singing just like her silver-screen favorites, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. And she grows up to be the most wonderful mom and grandma and photographer and wife and friend and animal lover and the world has ever known. She is the Queen of our hearts forever.

She has become a radiant woman,

and all her loving works of righteousness deserve to be admired.

Give her everything she deserves!

Festoon her life with praises!”  (Prov 31:31, TPT, MSG)

It’s Sweet Norma Jean’s 81st Birthday!

Happy Birthday to my mamala, Sweet Norma Jean.  

Who named me Debra Jean.

Whose granddaughter, Tara Jean, wrote her this song.


Listen on Spotify and wherever great music is streamed. BUY the song HERE.

And please, share it with those who will hear and understand.

(Liner notes and Tara’s notes on “Sweet Norma Jean” HERE)

Comments are closed.