His girls were gone. After having raised them during their first years, now they were gone. It would be six long years before he could get back into their lives. Resigned to waiting, he did so reluctantly. Remembering their time together helped, but there was no way Norb Nester was going to live without his two daughters in his life. Then, the break he was looking for.
Through friends he found out his girls were being taken out of the country to live, against the law.
“By the time I could track them down, they were already gone,” said Norb. Getting them back took persistence.
“I made a lot of phone calls, a lot of tracking, got really pushy and asked a lot of questions,” he said. “I found them in Israel.”
With legal help they were back in Oklahoma within 90 days. For his daughters, those 90 days were miserable. Living in a tin shack in a desert with no running water, no sanitation, no basic services, they had to scrounge under flea market tables in the local marketplace to forage for food.
Their stories of food-gathering and capturing the dew as their water which formed on the rooftops, running down a gutter system into a tank, devastated Norb.
“I grew up in a modest middle income lifestyle, never going without the basics that most people expect out of life - health care, education, clothing, food and housing,” said Norb. “To think my children would have to dig around under flea market tables for food is beyond my wildest comprehension.”
Norb and his parents moved to the Valley back in the ‘50s when his dad was a flight instructor at Moore Air Base. When his father went back on active duty, the family moved again, ending up in Kansas City upon his father’s retirement.
By this time Norb was on his own. Graduating from high school in Pharr, he attended college in other areas.
“I’ve never decided what I wanted to do when I grow up,” he said. Having been an auctioneer for 35 years, he finally tired of it and got out of the business.
“My real passion was aviation. I flew as a corporate pilot, ultimately ending up an airline pilot. I jokingly say I made a wrong turn and went to work for the federal aviation administration for about six years. The government is a very unpleasant place to work generally,” he said, laughing.
During the same period of his life, his government career ended, as did his marriage, and he became a single dad for the second time in his life.
“Dads are overlooked most of the time,” said Norb. “There are a lot of dads who are raising their kids every day very successfully, without a feminine companion. There is no reason they can’t be just as nurturing and just as loving and providing as a mom can.”
Norb even learned to sew and curl hair.
“I’ve made bedroom outfits and clothes and all kinds of things for my kids,” he said. It’s what had to be done.
Taking care of them, loving them was easy. Providing for them was another thing.
As a pilot he has flown from Central America to Alaska, flying gambling junkets out of Atlantic City for three years — hauling gamblers all over the eastern United States to as far away as the Bahamas, all organized trips.
“I loved the ability to get away from people,” Norb said about flying. “You could look down and say goodbye to life’s problems. I’m as free as a bird and I can do what I want to do when I’m up there. I can enjoy the peace and serenity that aviation offers.”
Then came the government job. After that ended a variety of other jobs followed, from teaching aviation courses around the states to building custom furniture, even remodeling TGI Friday restaurants. Ultimately he returned to his second passion - horses.
“Horses have been in my life since about the time I was six or seven. I started riding as a typical kid in a backyard operation — bareback,” he said. “My dad furthered my interest by acquiring more horses, better horses, better facilities. He had a riding stable when I was in junior high and I rode every day all summer checking on people who were renting horses.”
He came back to the Valley where his parents had returned to escape the cold winters of Kansas. Indeed, they are in the same house his parents built in 1980, his mom buying it back last October.
Taking stock of his life, waiting to find a way to get his daughters again, Norb made a fascinating decision.
“I wanted to get into something where people were happy, not mad and cranky all the time,” Norb said. “I decided that carriage rides, weddings, quinceañeras and celebratory events were happy, festive events. That’s why I enjoy this business.”
So Norb went into the horse world. He built saddles, leather crafts, carriages and started a carriage business — Royal Carriages 956-212-2854.
“It’s a nostalgic thing,” he said. “People enjoy the slow pace. During Christmas I transported almost 1,900 people during Hidalgo’s Light Tours.”
With his two large draft Belgians, Lady and Belle, and Chief, his speedier smaller horse, his horse business is a staple in McAllen. The horses even enjoy it.
“Before they go out on a job, they receive a warm water shampoo bath and rub down. They are scrubbed from the tip of their ears to the bottoms of their hooves. We’re talking about a two to three hour job to shampoo, bathe, dry them, get them all spit and polished, clipped and ready to go. There is no place that bars me from showing up with my horses because they are shod, clean, wear diapers and don’t leave calling cards behind,” Norb said, chuckling.
About five years ago he was finally able to bring his daughters back to the Valley and return them to a sensible lifestyle. It hasn’t been easy.
“At one point I was directed by a judge to place my children in the Chips program, and I have been unable to do so. I was at the lowest ebb before I finally had to draw sufficient willpower to walk in and fill out forms and subject myself to the humiliation necessary. Then I was rejected because I was attempting to take care of my kids,” he said. “They have WIC but no MIC. There’s a lot of single dads who don’t get a fair shake.”
Nonetheless, Norb loves being a dad.
“I was old enough this second time to really appreciate it,” he said. “It’s been the best job you could ever have - being a dad. I think we have a very open relationship. They talk to me about boys, their interests, changes which are taking place in life — probably because I don’t shy away from those subjects. I’m there to help them, support them and get them through whatever difficulty life puts in front of them.”
This whole long ordeal has made something very clear to him.
“It’s given me a greater appreciation for family and the importance of family - NOT possessions. Possessions come and go, family never will. You only have one opportunity to get it right with your children and your family. I am extremely determined to see that they are emotionally, financially and educationally self-sufficient so they are never, ever in their adult life dependent on anyone and are capable of taking care of themselves.”
Though Norb might be grounded for the time being in order to be a dad, going from 400 miles an hour in an airplane to four miles an hour with his horses, he says it’s worth it.
“I have one daughter who wants to be an astronaut, the other one wants to be a veterinarian. And, I think they’ll probably make it.”