The Ocean View Historical Society hosted its second “Trip Down Memory Lane,” with Norm Justice of Cedar Neck on Wednesday, June 3, at Millville Town Hall. Justice, who at 87, has seen a lot of changes since he was born in 1922, is quick of mind and has a lot to offer, history-wise. And he is one of the few people with such knowledge that the historical society has tracked down to get a record of times past before that history is lost.
Justice was born in Millville in 1922 and grew up in Cedar Neck. He lived with his parents and grandparents. His grandparents were tenant farmers, and his father worked on a tugboat in Philadelphia in the early part of his childhood. He lived in several houses in the Cedar Neck area over the years, before joining the Navy and meeting his wife. He and his wife settled in Cedar Neck in the early part of their marriage but eventually moved closer to her family in Rhode Island and lived there for 30 years, but Cedar Neck was always “home.”
“I did a lot of traveling between Rhode Island and Norfolk, and would take a few extra days to work on the cottage,” he said. “And when we were on vacation, we’d work on it so, in 1979, when we came back, we had a place to come to.”
The family moved back in 1979 and Justice has lived in Cedar Neck ever since.
Justice was widowed in 2005, and his two sons are still in Delaware, one living right in Ocean View and one in Bethel, and his daughter lives in Rhode Island. He now lives in the house he and his father built, across from Hickman’s Package Store, and calls himself “the trunk dude,” as he refurbishes old trunks.
As a boy, he lived in several houses in the area, one being his Aunt Sara’s house, from which he watched the construction of Fred Hudson Road – named, aptly, after Fred Hudson, who Justice said was the only person who lived on the road at the time. Justice spent much of his childhood on a farm across from where the Bethany Grand condominiums are located today.
After Justice’s father came back from work in Philadelphia, his father was a waterman in the summer season, as well as a farmer and a carpenter. He gathered holly for holly wreaths that Justice and his mother made to sell in the winter, and he drove a small local tugboat. Justice got to help his father with much of that work, once he was old enough.
“My father and I would get up at 4 a.m. and go crabbing until about 9 a.m. After we came home from crabbing, we’d hook up the mule or the horse and start tilling the fields ’til dinner, which was the noon-time meal, then we’d go back to work in the fields until about 7 or 8, eat supper and then feed the livestock. By the time you got cleaned up from that, it was 9 p.m. or so, and you’d play checkers, or listen to the radio if you had one, or you were just plain tired and went to bed exhausted.”
Justice said that, back then, there was hardly a market for hard-shell crabs, but you could get a quarter for a softshell crab and 5 cents for a “peeler” – a crab that was about to shed its shell.
“A lot of the kids picked tomatoes, and you’d get 5 cents for five-eighths bushel of tomatoes, 25 cents for seven-eighths bushel of green beans and 2 or 3 cents a quart for strawberries. I remember I picked 80 quarts of strawberries in one day. Fred Townsend, a friend of mine, picked 100 or more in one day,” he recalled fondly.
Many local people raised hogs and trapped muskrats to make money in the wintertime, and Justice and his family made those holly wreaths. His father would gather the materials, and he and his mother would make wreaths – sometimes making 40 to 100 in an evening, depending on their size. They would then take them to Milton, which was then known as “the Holly Wreath Capital of the U.S.,” and sell to contractors, who would then ship them to people in the big cities.
“Doing the holly wreaths was an experience,” he said. “It would be from November to about the first week in December, and I’d have homework to do at the same time.”
Always hardworking himself, Justice said his family was poor but was never hungry.
“We didn’t even know the Great Depression was happening,” he said. “We always had something to eat. At one point, I was even sick of eating pork chops,” he added with a laugh.
Eventually, his family owned the land they worked, and kids would come and ice skate on Eagle Pond, which froze in the winter but has since been filled in. For fun, they went to the theater and, as a boy, he worked at Tom Walston’s bowling alley in downtown Bethany Beach. For the Fourth of July, families went to Sandy Landing, and they always went to Big Thursday in August.
Justice started school at Cedar Grove, where he went for the first two years before moving to Lord Baltimore School. He attended Lord Baltimore until ninth grade, in the old wooden building, and then when to school at a church while the current brick building was being completed.
He left school in 10th grade but eventually got his GED in the Navy, along with training from the University of Houston in electric and radio material. He owned stores and had a radio shop and spent much of his adult life, both in the Navy and as a civilian, working on radar systems that went into aircraft.
While living in Rhode Island, Justice started a hobby that has become one of his biggest claims to fame. He refurbished his first trunk. He found one and worked on it, and friends loved it, so he decided to buy another one. He found one at a yard sale for $5, lined it with cloth, refurbished the wood, re-stained it and put it out in his yard for sale.
“A lady bought it for it for $165, and I thought, ‘I’m gong to be rich,’” he recalled with a laugh.
He still sets his finished works out for the public to see, and people still stop and buy them. He has had as many as 547 at one time in various buildings on the property.
Although things have slowed down a bit for Justice, at 87, he has no plans to retire. He enjoys life and said he feels blessed to have seen all that he has in his lifetime. He said he feels the area’s development boom was something that was bound to happen and happened in a good way, though it has changed the area so much.
“If my father came back and stood in the yard, he would say, ‘Where am I?” Justice conjectured.
“Sometimes I want to cry because I see everything so differently, but I knew it had to come,” he said. “But, I carry on my business. I have my house, my yard. I pay bills. I even got a friend I date once in a while. We go to doctors’ appointments — that’s our social life!” he exclaimed, laughing. “I’m blessed. You got to say I’m blessed.”
Justice said he is glad to be a part of the organization of Ocean View’s oral history. His story, in its entirety, will be made available on CD.