Living Inside a Norman Rockwell Painting
Growing up my parents used to
tell me that people in Cambridge thought the sun rose in Ash Grove and
set in Coila. Until I went away to college I didn’t understand what they
meant. However, until I moved back I didn’t understand that that’s a
good thing, a very good thing.
Growing up in Cambridge in the
1950’s meant that Robert Frost lived to the east in Shaftsbury, Grandma
Moses to the south in Eagle Bridge, and Norman Rockwell to the north in
Arlington. To us, they were simply nice old people who used poetry and
art to depict what we saw every day.
Rockwell used many Cambridge
residents, including my parents, as subjects for his paintings. Once he
wanted to include a fire hydrant in a painting, so he approached my
parents who owned and operated the Cambridge Water Works. After some
negotiation, Rockwell got his hydrant and my parents ended up on the
cover the April 4, 1953 Saturday Evening Post.
The painting, entitled
Walking to Church didn’t seem that unusual to me. It depicted a
family walking to church together, a scene that I observed every Sunday.
Then I moved away from Cambridge
and I began to understand the significance of Rockwell’s paintings and
the charm and allure of small villages like Cambridge. I saw
developments being built outside cities and villages. I saw everyone
driving everywhere because ones house wasn’t near anything. I saw
families moving from house to house and from city to city.
Then I moved back to Cambridge
after a 30-year absence. Friends that I went to school with still
stopped me on the street. CCS graduations listed many familiar family
names. Families still lived in same houses – the
Ridlers, the Robertsons,
Other signs of “my” Cambridge abounded such as the Cambridge Diner, King
Bakery doughnuts, parades, and church dinners.
I was reminded of the 1975 movie
The Land That Time Forgot. A good thing, a
very good thing.
On a warm Friday evening this
past June, I walked aside the parade as it headed to the school. I
listened as the Cambridge Band played, while youngsters turned
cartwheels on the lawn. The weather was too unpredictable to launch any
hot-air balloons that night, but it didn’t suppress the roar from the
crowd as a balloon was inflated and stood upright.
On a cold Friday evening this
past December, I joined the “kids from one to ninety-two” who lined Main
Street to see the Santa Parade. The street lights glistened off the
freshly fallen snow as children rushed to collect the candy being tossed
by Santa and his number one helper, our mayor. The tree lighting, the
storytelling, the caroling, the hot cocoa and doughnuts - it truly was a
I work with many people from
around the US and around the world. When we reconvene at work on Monday
mornings, they ask me “How was your weekend? Did you do anything
special?” I tell them, with heart-bursting hometown pride, that I spent
another weekend living inside a Norman Rockwell painting.
Well, I’ve got to run. There’s a
sunrise in Ash Grove that I don’t want to miss.
The copy of the Walking to
Church print is included here with permission from the Norman
Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.