PERSONAL HISTORY: Norm as a fetus narrowly escaped early demise when his parents discovered the abortionist had taken the afternoon off. Within six months of his birth the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 ushered in the Great Ten-Year Depression. His mother, a teen-ager with three children, suffered such violent abuse from Norm's father that she fled her home, leaving the four-year-old and his two older sisters motherless. After three years of various "housekeepters" his father abandoned the children to the custody of a violent former nurse, a psychopathic, child-hating woman whose livelihood was not childcare but performing illicit kitchen-table abortions, grinding up the fetuses and flushing them down the toilet. Having been denied her nurse's license by the State, she operated a criminal abortion racket in Hardwick, Vermont, in full awareness by the villages "best" citizens, including the priest, the academy, village officials, and three Protestant churches. No one protested.
Norm Lee, 2005
Effie Houston's "childcare" style included regular and frequent beatings with a hardwood stick, and forcing seven-year-old Norm to labor long hours, serving as a cover for the illicit abortion business. He took care of cows, calves and pigs, and from spring to fall he planted and raised three acres of vegetables, and peddled them door-to-door. He was sent to school barefoot and in rags, denied playmates, and force-fed Baptist doctrine. For that five years he was, summer and winter, forced to spend all his nights in an unheated barn, despite winter nights typically dipping below zero degrees. Chronically tense and frightened, Norm wet the bed every night without exception, for which he was beaten. In school, fear of rejection prevented his asking to go to the boys' room; as a result he sat in abject humiliation as the pee puddled under his seat. He was the object of pity, scorn, and bullying. Throughout, from Grades 2 thru 6, the school did nothing.
It was five years before his father, needing Norm to work in his new gravestone business in a neighboring state, rescued the three children from their personal holocaust. Emerging from Hardwick a frightened, skin-and-bones, trembling child of 12 (who had not seen a doctor for more than six years), Norm was immediately prescribed - by an outraged physician - massive doses of vitamins and full freedom rest as he wished and play in the outside air. The boy would not have survived another six months in Vermont, the doctor said.
Norm's hardships did not end there; he worked hard in his father's granite and marble business for the succeeding six years, and suffered daily humiliations from his psychotic step-mother. But he had already formed a determination to overcome his early trauma and abuse, and live a life worth living. Despite long hours of outside work with his father, unrelenting misery and despair inside the house, the new kid in town and no social skills whatever, and a conviction that he was below average in intelligence, he gradually put the beginings of a life together. He taught himself blues piano, excelled in music courses and choral singing, and became the best dancer in the school.
He enlisted in the Air Force hoping to build confidence thru travel experience, and volunteered as instructor so he would be forced to stand before a class and teach. Signing on with a traveling technical school his confidence grew as he traveled from base to base teaching pilots, crew members, and technicians. The opportunity to see Asia came when Korea was invaded and Norm volunteered to join the teaching unit to fly to Pusan. He taught for a year in the combat zone, then two more years in Occupied Japan.
After seven years in service, Norm decided to leave the military and see if he could - despite much fear and doubt - succeed in college. At Syracuse University he earned three degrees and emerged a certified teacher of public school. After two years teaching high school English, he became a college teacher on the faculties of Univ. of Pennsylvania, Syracuse University, State University of New York.
Classes in yoga led him to volunteering to help build a stone monastery in the next county, which work led him to learn Buddhist dharma and practice meditation. In a few short years he took the Bodhisattva vows, and continues his practice today.
Having written a book about motivating adolescents to read (Syracuse U. Press), he again turned to writing. This time it took the form of a newsletter about self-reliant living, concurrently with an annual three-day festival of workshops. The newsletter grew to be a magazine (Homesteaders News), and the festival grew to be national as well. He also wrote articles for national magazines, and worked with John Holt promoting and leading seminars on home schooling. Norm has since written ten books, and taught creative writing in six colleges.
For his progress in recovery from early trauma Norm gives much credit to two or three professors at Syracuse University, and to a series of psychiatrists, notably Dr Thomas Szasz... and for special mention, his mentor at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the mountains of New York State.