Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thanks, Norm.

The coffee in my brand new mug from the Norman Rockwell Museum this morning, tastes as good as I hoped it would. The material from which a mug is made and the manner in which it's fired, really does impact flavor, you know. For instance, dark roasts taste cleaner in my white bistro mug with the letters U-N-E stenciled down the side in blue (see Pink Hats, chapter 9). In The Black Dog pottery mug given me by my dog and cat for Christmas last year, dark roasts seem to mellow. The Rockwell, as I think this new one should be christened, strikes me as midway between the other two, but we'll find out, once I'm back in Maine and writing on some bleary, early morning. That's the acid test, when I can barely see the keyboard, what's the coffee like then?

How I happened upon The Rockwell is a story in itself. I thought the museum housing this treasure was located in Sturbridge, 50 or so miles east of here, my destination on the 30th for an osteopathic students' conference. "Not so, Mr. Schuyler!" to borrow a line from Lord Lindsey, Chariots of Fire (1981). It's in Stockbridge, a little town memorialized by James Taylor in his song, Rockabye Sweet Baby James, the merest drive down the road with a turn left, then right, then back left, from here.

I was wandering through Richmond, a village that reminded me of my home away from home in Maine because both are mostly countryside and locating a "town" is an exercise in futility. If there was one once, there's not one anymore. But it's a lovely place and it felt so familiar I was on the outskirts of West Stockbridge before I knew it. A gentle nudge on the steering wheel from an oddly convincing feeling took me past the real Nook and Cranny coffee house (Pink Hats, chapter 3), up a long ridge, over the Mass Pike, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I saw a sign directing me to the Norman Rockwell Museum, 3/4 miles away. And they say there's no unconscious.

I grew up reading old copies of The Saturday Evening Post I found at my aunt's and having Rockwell's covers take me out of my comfort zone in the West through my imagination to parts unknown. It was his "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas" that led me to think I might make a home somewhere in New England someday. Standing in front of the original and trying to explain what that meant to a beautiful septuagenarian on the museam staff, reminded me trying to say anything at all at moments like this is useless. I'm going to choke up, so I may as well shut up and write about it, instead. But I never do and we both end up crying because childhood dreams have finally come true.

Standing outside his studio was like hanging with a pal who knew the things about you your family would never understand. I was the kid raised on Country music who fell in love with classical. It baffled my father worse than anything adolescence could have thrust into his path. Why his son, of all sons, liked "high brow," quite frankly, blew his mind. That was alright, I couldn't explain it either. Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins would just have to learn to share the stage with Brahms and Beethoven. Rockwell somehow knew what this was like because he created images that were just as evocative and made just as much sense to me. Like Stockbridge at Christmas. And a few minutes later, I was right there, standing across the street from the Lion's Head Inn, in New England, of all places.

Thanks, Norm.

(Photo of Norman Rockwell's studio on the grounds of the Norman Rockwell Museum copyright 2011 by the author)

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