Thursday, November 24, 2011

Curses on you, Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell ruined many a holiday for me, starting with Thanksgiving. Look at that family, all having a wonderful time together. Look at lovely Grandma and handsome Granddad and the SIZE of that turkey. Look at the "good" china, the silver and the brilliant white damask cloth on the table.

Maybe there are families like that; although I know now Rockwell posed many a scene, took a photo and then painted it for Saturday Evening Post and various other publications. They bear some of the blame too -- yes, you, Henry Luce. Maybe somewhere a family, even as I type more than half a century later, is planning a Thanksgiving just like this. Maybe ... but not many. Many, I hope, are having their own kind of Thanksgiving day. As a very impressionable adolescent I thought that was "how it should be." By then I had only one living grandparent, a very bad cook who lived in a very tiny house where family dinners were never held. No one in the family had good china let alone silver ware. The white table cloths were more likely new vinyl with a flowery pattern. The family was a boring assortment of aunts, uncles, and bratty little cousins. I will say the food was good, much of it was home grown, the turkey was from a near-by poultry grower -- using none of the factory type methods used today. We didn't know there was anything except "free range"

What adolescent appreciates the apple pie she helped make when she knows that once it's all gone she is expected to join her mother and the aunts in the kitchen doing the dishes -- while those irksome little cousins run around outside playing tag and shrieking like banshees. None of the family conversation ever is so humorous that everyone grins with true happiness like those in Rockwell's painting.

Between Rockwell and Luce my brain was imprinted with perfect holidays and the need to acquire china and silver and to regret gravy stains on my white table clothes. Those images were set in concrete, if not marble, in my brain at that age -- an age before [yes, friends there WAS a before] television came to the rural boonies. The damage done took decades to be undone. It took thought, reading, and traveling to many other countries to realize this image of the happy, well accoutered American family with their super sized turkey was all a lie -- except for the super size of any food any time -- but only in America where so many of those people are also now supersized.

I am thankful I have lived long enough to destroy that concrete image and thankful I remember that apple pie, those home grown tomatoes, the other vegetables and fruits that had real flavor and no chemicals -- although often in our kitchen, too much salt and more pepper than necessary was dumped on already delicious food. I am fretful about much that has happened to Thanksgiving in the last half century. I know Norman has been replaced with endless visions on television to unsettle the minds of adolescents perpetually dissatisfied with their families. I knew then and know now that whatever was lacking at our Thanksgiving dinners we loved one another and were that rarity, a "functional" family. Those cousins grew up to be good, honest people with their own functional families. Today I am especially thankful for a dishwasher.

5 comments:

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

June -- this is a great post. My young adult memories of Thanksgiving are that the women did all the work in the kitchen. Tons and tons of dishes. Catering to the men who enjoyed the meal and then got up empty handed and headed for the family room to watch some football game. All fun and games for them but so much work for the women. That is when I became disillusioned with holidays. Besides the English did a disservice to the native Americans -- breaking up their families and taking their land away. So why is it a holiday? -- barbara

June Calender said...

Thanks. Yes the women did the work, the men no work. I guess in the more upscale homes the work was done by a Irish cook or, further south, by the black cook.

"Disservice" is a very mild word for what was done to the indians, although originally it seems they were generously sharing their harvest festival with the Pilgrims.

Ladydy5 aka: Diane Yates said...

How can one get disillusioned with Thanksgiving. I have many great memories that are pictured in Norman Rockwells painting. It was like that for me back then and I did try my best to do that with my family for years, not that I had too but that I wanted to. That painting is almost like our dinner table with all the finery set out for that special day.
Now, all my family have moved away or died and it is no longer like that. I miss it. I did all the cooking, the men did sit and talk and the kids played, thats okay it was a wonderful time. Probably never see that again. Wish it were like that now.

June Calender said...

I'm glad to know someone had a Rockwell Thanks giving, but my post's point was that many of us did not. The media set standards by which the have-nots measure themselves without understanding that the important part is the people, not the stuff on the table.

Christine Thresh said...

What a grump you are.
I remember Thanksgivings as pictured by Normal Rockwell. We got out the "best stuff" and paid attention to details.
Even this year, as a widow with no family close by, I prepared my small feast for my neighbor. I used my best plates, nice silver, pretty napkins, and old serving bowls. We had a delightful meal and were thankful. That's what it's all about -- taking time to give thanks. You don't have to have fancy stuff, just things you love, however humble.