Barbara Norgol, AKA “Barbie, “ and “Barb” and “Norgie,” as she was affectionately nicknamed throughout her life, was 78 years old when she passed peacefully in Post Falls, Idaho on March 10, 2021 with Chrisley Knows Best playing in the background on her TV. She loved watching that show. That is my last memory of my mom, Barbara Lou Norgol. Beyond my final memory, I have so many heartfelt memories, mostly filled with laughter and a good story, sometimes a disagreement, but those that knew her knew she could be stubborn as a mule, but my memories, our memories, are all treasured, nonetheless.
Before I get to my sweet memories about Mom, let’s get some statistics out of the way, you know, for genealogy purposes, for those now and in future generations. She came into this world on April 25, 1942 in Martinez, California. As the middle child, she would be the only daughter of five children born to Walter Willard Coffer and Tressa Elizabeth Marglin, who was sixteen at the time, but lied and said she was eighteen (That’s what my grandma told me!), both of Henryetta, Oklahoma, and married on September 18, 1933 in Checotah, Oklahoma. According to my mother, my grandmother could be a feisty woman, but modeled the importance of family and perseverance, which would come in handy throughout my mom’s life. Mom’s oldest brother was Calvin, then came Donald, mom of course was next, then Charles, and Jimmie last. She lived on 4th and K street in Antioch, California, in a two bedroom duplex, with a nice old fashioned white porch, with a giant avocado tree outside her bedroom window that grew from a seed her brother Jimmie planted for his mother. My mother had one of the bedrooms, because she was a girl, and the others, the couch, and I don’t know, but they made it work. She lived there until she was eighteen.
Mom grew up in a large family. Many of her mother’s twelve brothers and sisters, not including her (Tressa or Liz as they called her), Ruby, Edith, Lil, Bill, Joe, (It’s possible I’ve missed some) and her grandmother, Bridget Marglin, came to Antioch, too, from Oklahoma. (Her mother told me there were fourteen of them all together.) I know her father’s two sisters, Doris and Lavita, left Oklahoma, and settled in Tacoma, Washington and Reno or Sparks, Nevada, respectively. There were so many family get-togethers and she was very close to many of her sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, and grandmothers. She told me her grandmother Bridgett Marglin played piano by ear and after she died, as she looked out the back window of her parents car, the cars driving to the Union Cemetery in Brentwood, California, wound down the road as far as the eye could see. I just love that fact, she was obviously loved.
My mom made best friends until the end starting in elementary school with Alice Ferreira (Araya) and Fay Kountanis (Vouyioukas). I like to think of them as the Three Musketeers. They had many life adventures together throughout the years, including a trip to Hawaii. Fay died first five or six years ago and Alice called my mother right up to the night before my mother died unexpectedly and the day I found her. She was also partnered in crime with her cousins Sissy (Marita Pato) and Peggy Moore (Ortega) whose mother was Edith Marglin (Moore). Together, they were a funny bunch and the laughter never stopped.
She told me how her father would follow her on dates and how that infuriated her, but she had him wrapped around her finger, and in the end of life for my grandfather and my grandmother, she held them in her arms when they went to their heavenly home. She told me her father said before he passed that his deceased mama was there to take him home. She played tricks on her brother Calvin, writing a fake letter from a girl, asking him to meet her, but never showing up. She did that several times. She was a bit of a prankster like her father. My grandfather was known to wire the front door handle with low voltage electricity to lightly shock anyone who entered the house.
A week before she graduated from Antioch High School, she married my father, Walter James Norgol, a man she had met in high school, on May 13, 1960, Friday the 13th. (I know, that is a bit foreshadowing, and you’re wondering what became of them, so just keep reading.) The newlyweds moved to 9th street in Antioch. A year and a half later, they named their first child Merrit, after a character in the movie Where the Boys Are, and we all know that was my mother’s idea. A year and half later, came Scotty, formally named James Scott, born in Antioch, too. We were, as the saying goes, the apple of their mother’s eye. I remember living at 1101 G street through the fourth grade and embarrassing my mother by throwing sticks at the neighbors door and redelivering all the neighbors mail around the block to other neighbors, while pulling Scotty in our little red wagon behind my trike. Yes, she had mischievous children on her hands! But I loved putting on her high heels, playing house, and baking cakes for my dad in my turquoise upright easy bake oven, just like my mom did; though, she used the oven without the light bulb.
Right before fifth grade, the Norgol family moved to Pittsburg, California, not too far from Antioch. Mom made sure we had family memories in our lives. Our holidays throughout the years were an open door to friends and family members all day long. I remember Mom’s round table in the den filled with pies, cakes, cookies, dessert breads, and red punch with Sprite. The women in the family peeled bags of potatoes and prepared holiday meals, while the men sat in the den and talked, watched TV, or sometimes, played football. My favorite was all the conversations and laughter that went on peeling ten pound bags of potatoes in my mother’s kitchen and dining room.
Mom was a homemaker until she became a dental assistant in 1973. Then in the late 70’s she and my father separated and then divorced. (They got along the last 20 or so years.) When the dentist she worked for died, she moved on and worked in housekeeping at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Walnut Creek, California, then worked as a file clerk in the Radiology Department at the same hospital until she became supervisor in the same department. She made so many friends there; they are the ones that affectionately called her “Norgie.” After she retired, she moved to Sacramento to be near her son, then to Idaho, to be closer to me, for the last, almost, seven years of her life. I remember she came along with my family on an afternoon fishing trip to the Coeur d’Alene river. She exited the car banging two pot lids together along the river road. I asked her what she was doing and she replied she was scaring the bears away. Gosh, she was so funny!
There was always a laugh at grandma’s house or a trip to the Chinese restaurant for her favorite Chinese Chicken Chop Suey. Mom and Bella visited there often. She left me funny voicemails telling me to be careful about the weather that was coming or to keep my onions and potatoes separated or she posted odd things on Facebook for me that made me shake my head and laugh.
As a side note, she had brown eyes and hair before she was married and for a time after that. As a child, I recall the big bouffant up-do that she’d wrap in toilet paper when she slept at night. I thank the Powder Puff Salon in Antioch that was just around the corner from the STAMM theater for that memorable creation. Sometime after she married, she decided to be a blonde. While living in Post Falls, Idaho, she let it go naturally brown and gray since Covid-19 began. After looking through the pictures of her life, I realized she was a beautiful woman with a beautiful smile. I always thought of her as my “mom” and not as the individual woman she really was, just nineteen and a half years older. I’m sorry I missed that. She had the gift of looking younger for her year’s and often was mistaken for my sister when I was in high school.
If you are still reading, it’s now time for some highlights of her life:
While growing up in Pittsburg, she would paint the living room a different shade of green every other month or so. I don’t use green on my walls to this day.
She had a big peace sign necklace and beads in the doorway of the kitchen and den, green of course, in the early 70’s.
My mother invited me to have my first alcoholic drink on a hot summer night sitting on the front lawn with friends and a neighbor. I was sixteen and it was a strawberry daiquiri.
When she moved from Pittsburg, she found a giant jar of pickles, in the original gallon jar, that was twenty-five years old in her refrigerator! Who keeps pickles that long!
As a single woman, she kept a small gun hiding in the oatmeal in the kitchen of her home in Pittsburg, just in case an intruder came in. I asked why the oatmeal, and she said the intruder might be hungry and the gun would be easy to get when she went to fix his oatmeal. Hmm, never thought of it, but that is problem solving.
Mom and her friend Alice brought me bags of groceries while I was in college. That was the kind of person she was. Homeless people would benefit from her kindness, too.
Recently, while cleaning out her refrigerator, I discovered that she only bought organic when I shopped with her. She was also extra sneaky at hiding the Oreo’s in the shopping cart when Bella was shopping with us.
My mom could talk for hours! It was usually a minimum of forty-five minutes for me. Once, I cleaned the kitchen, bedroom, living room, and bathroom on a single call from mom….yep, two and a half hours later. She often spent a good part of the day talking to friends or family, mostly on a daily basis. When she died, friends and family that couldn’t get a hold of her were on her voicemail.
She didn’t like broccoli, cheese, quinoa, and rice, especially, rice. Anything that resembled rice was a no go. She was basically a meat and potatoes, canned green beans, with a side of salad with ranch, croutons, and tomatoes kind of gal.
She loved watching Asian movies with English subtitles. She always tried to talk to me while I tried to follow the storyline. I’d say, “Mom, I can’t follow the story if I can’t focus on the subtitles.” Then, she would give me a dirty look and we’d laugh.
She wrote President Obama in 2009 about the housing mortgage crisis on behalf of herself and other families. He actually wrote her back with the solutions he was implementing. I discovered this going through one of her boxes.
She loved Hallmark Channel movies. She loved The Christmas Shoes and Somewhere in Time the most. She then added Asian movies to her favorite movies to watch, while in Post Falls, Idaho. In fact, one time I called her and she answered in Chinese. We got a good laugh out of that when I asked her, “What did you say?”.
Mom was a slow walker and I used to tease her about it. It usually took a while to get through the thrift stores, grocery stores, park, walking trails, beach, wherever we went, but she could talk up a storm and entertain the whole way with all those stories she had tucked away in her mind. I learned a lot about her life that way.
My mom was useless at picking blueberries, in a good kind of way, but she was there as my non-blueberry picking cheerleader and that’s what really counted. One time two years ago, I took my mom, Alex, and Bella to a blueberry farm. After forty-five minutes, Bella and my mother came to me with approximately ten blueberries in their bucket, I asked where all the blueberries were, and they said that was all they got. I said, “What! You guys are worthless!” Of course, we all laughed and they sat in the shade with the owners of The Red Canoe farm while Alex and I slaved away for two more hours under the hot July sun. Our final blueberry picking adventure happened last summer in July, 2020, during Covid-19. My mom and I wore masks while I drove her car. She had assured me that she had filled the gas tank. It wasn’t a concern until I noticed not only had we lost cell reception AND google maps wasn’t working, that we were out in the middle of nowhere on our way to Riley Creek Blueberry Farm, in LaClede, Idaho, when I realized we were very low on fuel. We came to a “T” at the end of the road and I asked her if I should turn right or left, she replied, “Left,” and I said, “Ok, I’ll go right!” It happened to be the right choice. We had a wonderful time talking the hour-and-half it took to get there. She sat in the shade and talked to the owner, buying fresh blueberry muffins and scones, while I picked four large buckets of blueberries. It was a day to remember. One of my favorite memories. I found three gallon bags of blueberries in her freezer from that special day that she was saving for me.
She loved dolls. Anyone that ever knew her knew she loved dolls and she had quite the collection. I have to admit, some of them are a bit unsettling. She surprised me on my birthday in 2020 with a tall Santa Claus doll that was nearly as tall as her. Laughing, I told her it was too creepy to take home. Now that it’s connected to a memory and stands in my living room, it doesn’t look as creepy anymore with those long legs and slender waist. I still catch myself looking for the box it’s standing on, but it’s just those long legs that still make me catch my breath!
After she died, I found a name she had given me when I called or texted on her phone, “Darling Baby Girl,” with a picture of me as a toddler.
My mom said her prayers every night, and on March 10, 2021, God answered her and took her home to the arms of her family waiting for her.
It’s funny how life just goes on as if our loved one was never here, but the hundreds of cards, and I mean EVERY card she ever received, from family and friends through all life's moments of friendship, marriage, holidays, and grief prove that she touched many lives. My mom became more than just a mother, she became a friend as she grew older. Her family, children, grandchildren, and friends are evidence that she was here. All her friends and family have told me wonderful stories of how she touched their lives and how much they will miss her. I’m sure the child whose tag she pulled off that Christmas tree, somewhere in Coeur d’Alene, enjoyed the mysterious gift of the puppy she received in the mail or all of the homeless people she stopped to buy hot food for have a story, too. She always told me, “You never know when you’ll meet an angel.”
For all that knew her, she had a laser memory and could recall every detail in her life which made her a great storyteller. She could be stubborn and hard headed. She’d say that was the “Taurus” in her. But beneath all of that, she had a big heart. She was sentimental and full of kindness in her fifty-seven and a half inch frame and she loved those family and friends that were in her life.
She leaves behind her daughter Merrit (Norgol) Mitchell and son in law Patrick Mitchell, and grandchildren Isabella and Alexander Mitchell, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Taylor Pinney of Spokane, Washington, Lauren Pinney of Chicago, Illinois, son James Scott Norgol, grandchildren Kylee Norgol and a great granddaughter Autumn of Sacramento, California, and sister in law, Beverly Coffer of Sacramento, California, and many nieces and nephews. She was the last of her immediate family of seven. She was preceded in death by her mother, father, and four brothers. She has countless cousins that miss her...first, second, and third cousins, and friends galore, too. She requested to be cremated and have her remains buried with her mother, Tressa Elizabeth Coffer, in the Union Cemetery in Brentwood, California. This will be done in the future, due to Covid-19. To Barbara Lou Norgol, my sweet Mother, I hope this is a lasting tribute to the wonderful person that you were. I love you so much and words can’t express how much I miss you.
With enduring love,
Your Darling Baby Girl