Friday, May 14, 2010

Tell Me About America, Mr. Rockwell

My mom had a Norman Rockwell coffee table book. It rested at a tilt on the bottom shelf of her night stand next to the floppy-eared stuffed dog and her crocheted afghan. I say had because shortly after I left the island, I sent her a text message. "Mom, when you die, can I have your Norman Rockwell book?"

Her reply came moments later. "Glad to know you can benefit from my death! You can take it home with you the next time you visit if you want." (This is not the first nick knack I've asked to be willed)

And I did. It now sits familiarly on my bookshelf with Paul's Star Wars novels and my historical ones, several books about the Beatles and Elvis, King Arthur and the dinosaurs and a heavy tome containing Edgar Allen Poe's complete works. The dust cover, bearing Mr. Rockwell's "Grace," is torn along the spine and its edges curl away from the hardback, revealing its burnt orange binding. It is comfortable to me, and reminds me of youth and home.

I would spend afternoons on the floor of my parents' bedroom pouring over that book. While a healthy dose of text is sprinkled between the paintings, I cannot honestly say I've ever read the words. My eyes are drawn to the paintings, and each time I look I find yet another telling detail that reveals a little more about the subject.

Even as a little girl, I found myself wondering about the subjects of each painting, imagining their lives and expounding on what they were doing and feeling at the exact moment that Mr. Rockwell captured them. And as I get older and revisit the images, I am shocked to find that they mean something completely different to my adult self.

For example: "The Problem We All Live With"

Eight year old me saw a little girl in a white dress walking to school. The men around her were probably businessmen headed to their offices, and the splattered tomato simply meant that the city streets are kind of dirty. I liked how her white dress and shoes contrasted with her dingy surroundings. 

Of course, 28 year old me has taken a few history courses and thereby earned a completely different understanding of this painting. And today, for the very first time, I noticed the faint graffitti on the wall behind her head.

As a child, I understood the children and took the adults at face value. And now, as an adult, I see new emotions, new courage, new experiences in each image. I've gone from appreciating the visual detail provided by Mr. Rockwell to appreciating his ability to catch the mood of his country on a particular day.

Pardon my tangent--I hadn't thought of these things until just now. All this is just to say that today, I feel like this:

Three hours and one minute until the weekend begins!


Tiffany said...

I like this. And last night, I was just telling Chris about my mom's copy of "1984" that I always remebered being on my mom's bookshelf. It always caught my eye because it was the only book title with numbers. ;)

Mom said...

Love this blog. Go ahead and read some of the print between the images. I did and they are very revealing not only about our courntry but also about Mr. Rockwell. Love you this much (-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------) and a little bit more.

Busboy said...

Several years ago, my wife and I were visiting friends in Massachusetts. They took us on a day trip to Stockbridge and the Norman Rockwell Museum. I remembered his illustrations from the copies of The Saturday Evening Post I used to see when my Dad took me to the barbershop for haircuts. When I was older, I thought of his illustrations as portraits of a younger, more innocent America -- maybe from my Dad's time. But in the museum, as a late middle-age guy, I found my own childhood memories and emotions summoned from the depths by his work. I ended up taking home an oversized book of his illustrations. I had not looked at "The Problem We All Live With" as closely as you. Thank you for helping me appreciate it all the more.

Heather said...

As I was writing, I wondered if there was a Norman Rockwell museum, and now I know! If I ever find myself in Massachusetts I'll definitely make my way to it. Thanks!