The road to youTony and Norma Caudle find love in their 80s
In the fall of 2006, when Dwight “Tony” Caudle was 81 and preparing to marry his fiancee, Norma Deaver Messer Caudle, then 80, he asked the secretary at Waynesville First Baptist Church to schedule the ceremony.
“She told me the preacher preferred to do pre-marital counseling,” said Tony. "I told her that I had been married 62 years before and that Norma had been married 61 years before, and asked her, ‘What exactly does the preacher want to know about marriage?’”
Many people currently witnessing their sweet love don’t realize Tony, now 92, and Norma, now 91, lived totally separate lives before merging their worlds.
Tony was born on March 18, 1925, to Thomas and Myrtle Stillman Caudle, and grew up in Courtney in Yadkin County.
His Baptist preacher father’s first two wives had died and, at age 45, was raising eight children alone, 18 months to 16 years, when he met Tony’s mother, Myrtle, at a revival in Wilkes County.
“She was 26 and considered an old maid, so I guess she wanted to get married bad to a man with eight children,” said Norma.
Tony was born 10 years later when his mother was 36 and his father was 55. After his father died at 65, his mother re-married and moved the family to Forsyth County.
Two weeks after graduating from Clemmons High School in May 1943, Tony joined the U.S. Navy during World War II, which eventually took him to San Pedro harbor near Los Angeles, California, alongside his high school sweetheart wife, Cherry.
After being discharged in 1945, Tony worked as a mechanic for Buick before serving as a North Carolina highway patrolman in Elkin where his son, Tom, was born. He rounded out his 38-year career in Lake Lure, Troy and Waynesville before retiring in 1985.
While it took many years for Tony to make his way to the mountains, Norma was born on Dix Creek Road in Bethel to Charlie and Lola Singleton Deaver on March 4, 1926.
One of her earliest childhood memories is attending the two-room Dix Creek School under teachers Gay and Evelyn Chambers.
“I remember the first thing I ever done wrong,” said Norma. “A boy whose father worked at Champion brought in big stacks of paper and I started handing it out and he got mad.”
After graduating from Bethel High School in 1944, she married James Calvin Messer, a World War II U.S. Army soldier, on July 3, 1944, and raised three children — Diane, Jeff and Jim.
Falling in love
Tony and Norma’s lives were strikingly similar later in life.
In 1991, Tony’s son, Tom, died from juvenile diabetes at 34. Norma’s husband, James, died from Parkinson’s disease and pneumonia in 2005, and Tony buried his wife, Cherry, in January 2006 after she suffered a stroke during heart surgery.
Their shared experiences first bonded them as good friends. Then, Tony took the next step.
“After my wife died, there were lots of people around, but a month later, I was so lonely,” said Tony.
For their first date, he took Norma to the Waynesville Country Club on Mother’s Day 2006.
“Everybody did a double take and we sat there and laughed our heads off,” said Norma.
When they tied the knot on Nov. 25, 2006, they celebrated with about 100 family members and friends.
A life together
Norma is convinced that Tony is not only her husband, but also her “angel.”
In 2008, after just being married two years, Norma was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Tony was the best nurse and really spoiled me,” said Norma, who has been in remission for eight years. Sadly, in 2009, Norma lost her daughter, Diane, after her battle with breast cancer at 52. Since Tony knew too well the raw heartache of burying a child, he grieved alongside his wife every step.
“You never completely get over it, but time does help heal,” said Tony.
In the absence of his only child, Tony has enjoyed Norma’s six grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and one great-grandchild on the way.
“All the grandchildren love their ‘Papa Tony’ and look forward to his birthday cards,” said Norma.
In their 90s, this feisty couple keeps on living life to the fullest. They stay busy growing daylilies, tulips and dahlias; remaining active at Waynesville First Baptist Church; singing at nursing homes; traveling; and Tony serves as acting secretary for the Rotary Club where he has been a member for 45 years.
“I don’t have much time left, but every day God gives me, I want to enjoy it,” said Tony.
“And I’m going to make sure you do,” added Norma.
To contact the Caudles, call 456-9224 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.