About an hour before the designated time for the event, April and I arrived within a mile of the place so we could take an extended walk around Silver Spring. It was cold and windy for my taste, since my taste doesn't run much toward cold at all, another of the pre-mature winter days we've had in this part of the country for the past couple of weeks.
It had been some years since I felt this sense of the city as a way of dividing us from what is good and beautiful.
And then something happened that put the city into a different, more humane perspective.
It was on the main drag of Silver Spring (Georgia Avenue). We passed a little space that opened back off the street, instead of being closed by some building-front flush with the wall of buildings housing all the shops and offices. Back a little ways from the opening of this space we saw a monument of sorts: a bronze statue of a man, from the middle of the torse up to the hat on the top of his head.
The statue was placed atop a block, and on the street-ward face of the block there was a plaque. The title it gave for the figure was "The 'Mayor' of Silver Spring." And beneath that, the writing, engraved in bronze, told a story.
This is how it read:
The “Mayor of Silver Spring” was our official town drunk. Although he was born into a prominent DC family, Norman got off to a rough start. His mother had TB and the stress of bringing him to term took her life and left little Norman with life-long problems. He ran away from a school for retarded children when he was six. He grew up as an outcast, drifting around the country doing odd jobs, farm work and washing dishes. He was an odd shaped piece that never quite fit into society’s jigsaw puzzle.
Norman’s was the picture of misery. Often wearing his shoes on the wrong feet, his rumpled clothes hung off his 90 pound frame like a scarecrow. He looked like a gargoyle peering out from under a hard hat. After returning to the DC area, he spent the winter of 1966 in Glenmont, sleeping in the fire department coal bin. That spring he wandered down Georgia Avenue.
In Silver Spring he found a home. The Phillips family set up a cot for him in the back of their autobody shop. For 25 years Norman lived in that back alley garage, which was directly behind this statue. It was the only real home he ever knew. After his death, Norman’s alley, “Mayor Lane” was named for him. Silver Spring’s business community, the shoppers, the police, and fire departments were his family. They accepted his drinking, his course manners and came to love his quirky, Tom Sawyer sense of humor.
One day he put out his last cigarette in his last beer and just like that, he quit. But the truth is he wasn’t much different sober. Silver Spring’s loving care allowed Norman to live out his life on his own terms. Silver Spring’s finest hour lasted 25 years.
<em>[Text from click here It says, "The monument was sculpted and donated by Fred Folsom in 1991," but it is not clear whether Folsom is the author of the tale told on the plaque.