Thanksgiving (Dysfunction Palooza) 2011

Are Norman Rockwell's images portrayals of the world he lived in or are they wishful painting?

One year for Thanksgiving, I begged my mom to bring the roasted turkey to the table uncarved so that we might participate in a tableau vivant of Norman Rockwell's painting Freedom From Want. As a middle class kid interested in art, I was familiar with many of Rockwell's beloved illustrations and I was convinced that this Thanksgiving scene should be acted out. Here's how it went down:

Mom did relent (I held, at the time, a Masters Degree in nagging) and she and Dad attempted to airlift the turkey from the roasting pan onto an enormous bone china platter from Mom's wedding set. Well, you know the phrase "falling-off-the-bone"? That turkey was done to perfection and I noted that silently as it slipped off the carving forks Mom and Dad had plunged into either end of it. It looked like a perfectly roasted turkey competing in a diving competition as it careened off the edge of the oven door, flipped once beautifully, and smashed onto the kitchen floor. It was roasted to such tender perfection that it shattered into a thousand pieces. As it broke apart, Mom's stuffing was released from its fowl chamber and scattered in sad, moist, savory lumps. It looked nothing like a Norman Rockwell painting.

Dad quietly put down his carving forks and walked out of the room. I said, "Mom....", but that's all the further I got. She turned to me, still clutching her carving forks and said, "Get. Out." I backed out of the room slowly.

Thirty minutes later we were called to the table. Turkey and stuffing were both served -- though no one claimed that they were done to perfection. We ate in silence. I don't believe I ever asked Mom about that Thanksgiving, but we laughed about it a lot as kids. As an adult, I often thought that Rockwell contributed to making us all feel a little inadequate in our familial celebrations -- that we just couldn't live up to Norman's high standards or the ideals of an America gone by.

The truth about Norman Rockwell's idealized images is sweeter and more innocent. Rockwell came from the wrong side of the tracks in New York. His home life was emotionally and economically unstable. Those iconic images, Freedom From Want most especially, are his dream of a Utopian America. Norman Rockwell was us; those unrealistic images of American life represent Norman's nostalgia for something he never experienced personally. And that's the funny thing about nostalgia.

So this month, we toast all the Thanksgiving dinners and family celebrations gone wrong with our KnitFlix presentation of Home for the Holidays -- Jodie Foster's love letter to America's Dysfuntion Palooza. Pumpkin pie will be served, but bring your own baggage. Tuesday, November 15, 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Central Library, Level 1 Fresh City Lounge.

Written by Chris on November 9, 2011


Anonymous on November 10, 2011


What a story. Happiness is a dysfunctional family. Happy Thanksgiving and keep up the good work!

Lisa F. on November 14, 2011


Wow, that turkey just couldn't catch a break.

Casey Casebeer on May 14, 2014


An absolutely Wonderful write-up on one of Norman's most Wonderful paintings.

Yes, he had a knack for capturing the Best that we (probably) weren't.

...would that we could all live up to his standards.



Thanks, Casey, for your kind and thoughtful comments!

Anonymous on September 8, 2014


I'm French Canadian and indentified myself so much true is works. I shall say I was an early 50's kids.T.Y. Normand you saw it right!

Normapoece on April 6, 2018


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