Norman Rockwell–His Thanksgiving Myth

Freedom from Want (painting)
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It’s my favorite picture—Norman Rockwell’s painting of Thanksgiving.

There’s Grandma Jo holding the turkey that took most of the day to make beautiful. Grandpa Lou bends over her shoulder, smiling proudly and very hungry. He’s waited all year for her special turkey recipe. Everyone is ooing and awing over the spread. There’s Annie grinning at her mother who is laughing at something her eldest daughter, Sarah said regarding one of her high school assignments. Grandma Jo’s sister laughs about her rheumatism. Her bag contains a plethora of medicines she’ll have to take after the meal. Annie’s cousin, Tommy, winks at someone behind the camera. It looks like he’s planning some mischief. You can’t see cousin John’s face behind Sarah’s. But then, he’s always camera shy, ducking behind people or things to avoid the lens. Sarah’s dad is singing his mother-in-law’s praises, and there’s Uncle Bean. He looks at the picture taker. Last year, he recovered from a long bout of cancer. He’s celebrating another year, another Thanksgiving. The person behind the camera is the painter himself. The quiet observer who takes the photo and paints from it, capturing the very emotions that electrify this successful moment.

I wish all families were like this.

Everyone encourages each other to do well; forgiving each other when mistakes happen. I can picture these people finishing a beautiful meal, leaning back to talk about everyday things, then digging into the pies, the cookies, and praising the bakers—the women at the table who grin, hiding their secret ingredients; a secret company who try to outdo each other every year in good natured competition. The hour will grow late. Everyone will follow the lead of the first person leaving, tarrying in the foyer, and spending the next thirty minutes saying goodbye. Hands linger in handshakes and hugs go long. The smells of dinner and dessert fill the room, leaving a permanent memory etched into their minds. How many Thanksgivings do Grandma and Grandpa have before they are gone? No one wants to think about it, and finally Grandma Jo closes the door behind Sarah. Grandpa Lou sighs and returns to his easy chair. Grandma Jo looks at the dishes in the sink and on the counter. She’ll do them tomorrow. Tonight is about remembering and reliving.

I believe Norman Rockwell painted the ideal family. In our culture, Tommy would have his android on and his ipod playing. Sarah would sneak a drink. Mom and Dad would be arguing; mom putting down dad because he’s not as smart (or so she thinks). Grandma and Grandpa would wonder what happened to the family. How did it get this way? Church is something one does on Sunday, and God is hardly mentioned except in afterthought. Some are athiests. Some are believers with soft theology. Some are stalwart believers. Some are agnostic. Uncle Bean is a strong believer. He just went through the toughest years of his life battling cancer. Grandma Jo’s sister would complain her medicare is giving her problems and spend the next hour berating Tommy for wearing his hair too long. John would rather be somewhere else, but he came out of obligation. Annie is a sweet girl, but she’s nearly invisible. She’s always afraid. Sarah blabs about everything.

No, Norman Rockwell, that painting doesn’t capture America’s family anymore. Maybe some families are like this, but a lot would, like me, look at this and yearn. But could it one day look like this again?

I believe so. I believe healing could happen in America’s families if only they allow Christ into their lives to mend the cracks, fill the fizzures, and heal the vacancy in their souls. But until then, Annie’s and Sarah’s parents will put each other down, Tommy will hate to be around Grandma Jo’s sister because she always picks on him for one thing or another. Grandma Jo and Grandpa Lou will breathe a sigh of relief and pain as they close the door and relish the peace and quiet of an empty house. Uncle Bean will try once again to reach his family with the truth of the Gospel and fail because they consider him too extreme in his beliefs. Next year, Grandma Jo will burn the turkey after getting a phone call from Annie that her parents are getting a divorce.

What do you see when you look at this painting?

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2 thoughts on “Norman Rockwell–His Thanksgiving Myth”

  1. I see what I wish would happen again….reminded of days when it did feel somewhat like this when I was small. I know it wasn’t perfect back then either, but it was much closer to this than what we have now :-)

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