Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Rockwell-inspired trip down Memory Lane

Casey sent me a great post showing a selection of Norman Rockwell's photo studies that would become some of his most famous paintings. I had a deep appreciation/minor obsession with Rockwell in high school and into college. As the Apartment Therapy post so aptly puts it, his work sparked "endless nostalgia for an America most of us never even knew."

Yet I've always been drawn to those iconic small-town scenes he so often depicted. I still own a framed print of Marriage License, wrote a college paper on the Four Freedoms series, have a 1,000-piece (maybe bigger) puzzle of Stockbridge at Christmas and sort of believed a friend from high school who said I resembled like the smiling boy on the left of Freedom From Want (side-by-side image TK, maybe). And, of course, I have various items depicting his baseball paintings. Oh! I even still use an address book showing a wide range of his works, even though no one uses address books anymore.

I love looking at the photos to see part of the process and to see how amazingly accurate his depictions and details were. In some cases, his paintings are nearly photocopies. I still haven't been to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, but with this exhibition I may just have to make plans.

One last Rockwellian-related anecdote from my past. It will probably mean little to anyone else and I doubt I can describe it in as funny a manner as it happened, but I feel like recording it for posterity so that one day when I'm old and forgetful, I can read this blog like The Notebook and live in a fantasy world in my past.

For a few years in middle school and into high school, I found myself involved with the youth group at my church -- mainly because of some of the cute girls in my class who also participated. The pastor at the time was a woman with a family who was really intent on making the youth group work, and one way she did so was to get us involved with the Christmas Eve service. This one particular Christmas Eve service, we each took turns reading different parts of the Christmas story from the Bible. We readers sat in the choir loft at the back of the church -- a small, early-1900s building. The loft wasn't used regularly back then, so being allowed access to it was a thrill and probably convinced a few of us who weren't natural performers to agree to participate.

The readings were interspersed with hymns, and either to punctuate the announcement of what passage was about to be read or to signal the end of the reading and the start of the hymn, one girl was down in the front of the church, at a microphone and podium in one of the two choir boxes on either side of the altar, and tasked with ringing a triangle to go with each reading. That girl, Heather (not the famous friend), was a bit overzealous on one of her taps of the triangle, striking it so hard that it flew off its hook, clanging on the microphone on the podium, then hitting the podium with a thud and falling to the floor. In the choir loft, we snorted in an attempt to hold back our laughter. Heather's brother, sitting with their family in the pews, cracked up. Heather herself laughed as she recovered the triangle and sat down, but on the remaining chimes, continued to suppress laughter. If only we had YouTube back then.

One year at Christmas, I sent Heather a Christmas card depicting Rockwell's Christmas Trio. Inside, I wrote that the trio was supposed to be a quartet, but the fourth had bent down out of the frame to pick up the triangle she had dropped. That year at the Christmas Eve service, our families happened to fill one of the long pews in the center of the sanctuary, and during a particularly solemn part of the service -- I believe it was during the service-capping singing of "Silent Night" as everyone held candles and the lights were dimmed -- I made a motion of striking a triangle toward Heather. Both my sister and Heather's brother also saw and the four of us spent the remainder of the service snorting and stifling laughter. When the song finally ended, we all had tears in our eyes and aching cheeks from laughing so hard. The recessional couldn't happen fast enough, and once we were free to exit the pews, we bolted for the back of the church to let loose with the laughter that had built up during "Silent Night." I doubt that song has ever elicited such a joyful reaction at a Christmas Eve service.

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