NOMA – One local town recently celebrated its history of simple living. And if something can keep this kind of reunion going, it’s the anticipation that nothing will change.
Dozens of former Noma residents attended the Noma town reunion Saturday, held each year the Saturday before Labor Day. The majority of attendees were once childhood residents of the one-square-mile town. Today, they travel from near and far to retell old childhood memories of living in a simple place that, basically, had nothing – except good, easy-going people.
“Noma’s so laid back,” chuckled Ludine Coker-Riddle, of Niceville, who was born in 1936. “Don’t have any red lights, don’t have any grocery stores.”
“Everybody just laid back, we just enjoying each other,” she said.
According to a number of attendees, Noma used to thrive on its lumber industry, exporting pine. However, when a plan to build a railroad through the town never came into fruition, Noma residents —mainly farmers – moved elsewhere. The town had one school in its history, possibly two school buildings.
The city currently has 211 residents, according to the 2010 census.
“There’s an old story about how Noma got its name,” jestingly said Don Knox, of Auburndale, Fla., who has regularly attended the reunion since 1988 with his wife Terri Williams Knox. “They were traveling down through Alabama and they got across the Alabama land and they just said Noma – No More Alabama – that’s the old story.”
Knox’s wife is a descendent of a land developer, Walter Williams, who donated land for the town’s cemetery, according to the couple. Her grandfather was married to a Noma School teacher and principal Sally Williams.
“Our family is from Noma,” Williams Knox said, responding to a question about why she attends the reunion. “It' the memories.”
And just like any proper hometown event, most of the fellowship happened over a meal. One could recognize the best stories due to the seemingly cued laughter.
“For years we didn’t have electricity and running water out here,” said Betty Counts Robinson, 86. “We had to play everything on the dirt – even basketball.”
Coker-Riddle told a story about picking peanuts all day for a farmer. Apparently, he didn’t pay the youth farm-hand accordingly.
“So we started throwing out his tools off the back of the truck,” she said, chuckling.
Although he wasn’t raised in Noma, Bobby Kirkland, 74, spent summers in Noma from Panama City.
What he remembers most: “Taking off my shoes and not put them on — except Sunday (to) go to church – until I went back to school when summer ended.”
Kirkland is Williams Knox’s first cousin; he is the first grandchild of Sally Williams, the teacher and principal.
With so many good memories of old-time Noma, it was obvious the reunion had functionally preserved history, relationships and the “laid back” culture of the town and its people. Unfortunately, that preservation is embodied in an aging generation.
Several individuals suggested the town’s current residents should attend the reunion, as well as, former residents, who should bring their children and grandchildren.
“We were just talking about how kind of sad it is that the younger people don’t really have anything like this,” Kirkland said. “(They) don’t too much care about none of this. It’s sad because we’re dying off.”
Perhaps Coker-Riddle’s elementary school classmate Sarah Kennedy, of Tallahassee, best summarized a lifestyle that keeps the reunion alive.
“Everything’s laid back,” Kennedy said. “Nobody did any shooting, no robberies, we didn’t have no police, nothing – except the sheriff out of Bonifay.”
“All of us was poor people and we just loved one another,” she added.