Living Inside a Norman Rockwell Painting

 by Ken Gottry


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, the McGeochs. 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 Wonderful Life.


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.


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