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Norman Rockwell: the freedom to be nostalgic

In the weeks leading up to Christmas and on into the New Year holiday we are bombarded with the sounds, smells and sentiments of the season.  Many of these traditions are captured beautifully by homegrown American artist Norman Rockwell.  His renderings harken back to a time far less complicated than modern day.  A stark contrast to the early beginnings of 'your's truly'.

"Freedom from Want", 1942, Norman Rockwell illustration
by the Curtis Publishing website

As child of the 70’s who  lived with her paternal grandparents in South Buffalo until the age of 7 it is safe to say that life was not  "Norman Rockwell" normal. Accompanying them on just about every outing we grew to be as inseparable a trio as 'The Three Amigos'.  During the daylight hours these outings typically amounted to the one major pastime most active seniors are known for …visiting. These visits, more often than not, were broken down into three specific categories and were usually carried out in the following sequence; visiting the sick at home (before their frail bodies were thrown into a hospital bed), visiting the sick at the hospital (before their lifeless cadavers were thrown into a casket) and visiting the dead at the funeral home (before their rigored corpses were thrown into a hole in the ground). Morbid? Yes, but, that’s just the way it was. As crazy as it may sound, if more than a few days went by without venturing out for some “visiting” things just felt…well….off.  It had become ingrained and a part of the weekly routine.

Speaking of routines (as if seeing off old sick people into the hereafter during the day light hours wasn’t entertaining enough) the evenings were filled with their own forms of “appropriate” night-time recreation; Television and Reading.  The first option; television, was divided into three acceptable categories: cop shows like 'The Streets of San Francisco', variety shows such as 'The Lola Falana Show', and situation comedies like 'Chico and the Man'. (Yes, these two old farts were master couch potatoes and, I, their tater tot protégé.) The second option; reading, was closely monitored by Abuela mostly due in part to Abuelo’s penchant for nudie girl magazines of which he was notorious for haphazardly stashing amongst the piles of more “decent”, “reliable” publications like the 'Star' and 'The National Enquirer'. Adjectives such “decent” and “reliable” seem to be misnomers given the tabloid history of both magazines, however, if one had to choose between the lesser of two evils (pornography versus gossip), it is better to be guilty of the latter than the former and, when it came to tabloid gossip, Abuela was guilty, guilty, guilty!!!

All this is said not to make you take pity on a little girl who lived with two crazy, but well meaning, old people but rather to make sense of how a child of 7 found respite from death, celebrity and censorship in the pages of three other "Abuela Authorized" publications; 'The Saturday Evening Post' 'Boys Life' and 'Life'.

It was at this stage of the game that NOT knowing how to read very well yielded an amazing discovery; an instantaneous attraction and appreciation for “pictures”….but, not just any “pictures” for they would be the quirky, yet, skillful illustrations of one of America’s most beloved artists; Norman Rockwell. Even in youth when words either didn’t quite make sense or simply could not capture the essence of the moment it would be Rockwell’s illustrations that transported a slice of Americana not only into this fans home but the into homes (and hearts) of millions.

Filled with a timeless folksy humor and warmth that is classic Rockwell, his paintings and illustrations continue to give us a glimpse of the quintessential American life…simple, unpretentious and wholesome.

Thank you, Norman, for reminding us  to look back with fond nostalgia and forward with hopeful wonder. 

~ Desirée Crúz-Nevilles

*For a sampling of Rockwell's work please watch  the short video below....