Norman Rockwell had a profound influence on my life. Thank goodness he still does. It all started with my grandmother, Nan. She was the salt of the earth, strong and loving, and lived her childhood much like Little House on the Prairie. I spent every Sunday afternoon with her growing up.
Nan told stories of her childhood, living in a log house in West Virginia. She took us to the five and dime to spend a nickel on anything we wanted. She let us dress up in her clothes, and she taught my sister how to sew.
She didn’t have many books, but she did have a big book of Norman Rockwell illustrations. I loved that book. I looked at it every Sunday. There was always something new to see. I remember asking questions and just talking about the illustrations. That was the best part. It was real life. There was much to learn. It was my Sunday ritual with Nan.
As soon as my husband and I married and set up our new house, I went to the bookstore to find that Norman Rockwell book. That had to be part of our life.
The following Christmas I bought the Norman Rockwell Christmas Book. At last I felt complete.
When children came along, we spent much time reading stories and looking at the illustrations. Our son was particularly fond of the books. I remember sitting together on the couch looking through the illustrations with him. When he married, our first gift to him and his new wife was that Norman Rockwell book.
In the early eighties, we moved to Massachusetts. What a thrill it was to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. First it was in his original home on Main Street, and years later a big new museum was built. I was beside myself with excitement at the prospect of seeing these paintings. The real deal. “The Four Freedoms” are enormous. I had no idea. Each one is nearly four feet tall and three feet wide. Standing by these paintings is a humbling experience.
By contrast, “Main Street” (my favorite) is small, only ten inches wide and thirty inches long.
My Dad and I went to the museum together. What a joy. I had no idea he loved Norman Rockwell. That day opened a whole new chapter for us. He was one of the Greatest Generation. While he did not fight in WWII, he was the link for me. We loved watching war movies on TV. I attribute much of my patriotism to him. I teach my preschool class about patriotism in many ways- from the American flag, to songs, to making quilts, to thanking soldiers, to writing to pen-pals, to sending care packages overseas. It’s wonderful.
What does this have to do with Norman Rockwell? He was instrumental in inspiring patriotism through his illustrations. I didn’t learn this until much later, after my Dad had died. Fellow blogger GP Cox at http://pacific paratrooper.wordpress.com wrote an excellent post last October 17th on Norman Rockwell and how his illustrations helped the war effort.
I was bowled over at the recent edition of Military Officer magazine. Right on the cover was an illustration I had never seen. I thought I had seen them all. Boy, was I wrong. When the magazine arrived, I was once again a little girl, sitting with Nan on a Sunday, looking at a new Norman Rockwell illustration.
The magazine had more, much more, including one that GP Cox featured in his blog post. I love this illustration. A picture is worth a thousand words, and every character and artifact here has a story to tell. I fly that blue star flag, too.
Rosie the Riveter and Willie Gillis became famous icons, thanks to Norman Rockwell. Yet, his most memorable illustrations are those of everyday life, like “Home for Thanksgiving”. Just look into the eyes of that mother. He captured our deepest feelings, beautifully and subtlety.
I asked my Dad his favorite. It was “Saying Grace.” Nan would have liked that.