In Nostalgia’s Thread: Ten Poems on Norman Rockwell Paintings, author Randall R. Freisinger has written poems that are personal reflections on 10 of Norman Rockwell’s iconic paintings. Rockwell’s paintings have become part of our American experience. When I lived in South Carolina, The State Museum had a traveling show of Rockwell’s work and I set up a field trip for our lower school to go. It was absolutely fascinating to see cover after cover that Rockwell had on The Saturday Review. They were a piece of Americana and they each told a story.
Fresinger wrote about 10 of those paintings with poetry. Just as Rockwell told his story with paint, Fresinger tells his story with words and I enjoyed most of them. Some of them made me remember my own stories.
One of Fresinger’s poems, based on the painting Girl with Black Eye (1953) started:
At twelve, here you are, waiting outside the
the principal’s office, one eye closed
and darkening—a shiner of pride,
your widening smile seems to say.
I was immediately taken back to the vice principal’s office where I sat when I was fourteen. I was not the one with a shiner, and I was too scared to smile. There was trepidation but also a sense of accomplishment. A girl, F had been picking on me in English class by poking her pencil in my back and other annoying things for weeks. During Home Ec class things came to a head when she shoved my books on the floor. I retaliated and things escalated further until she came at me scratching like a cat with her long fingernails. The teacher was not in the room because we were cleaning up the kitchens and she was with a group putting supplies in the storage room. I had had enough of it all, so I made a fist and punched F in the face. When the teacher returned, she said she did not know she was teaching second grade. It was junior high and I was in ninth grade.
We were sent to the office and for me as an honor student I saw my world falling before my eyes. I wasn’t as scared of the principal as I was afraid of what would happen when my mother found out. I was going to be in big trouble. All the way down the other girl was crying hysterically, she was on one side of the hall and I was on the other. In the office she continued crying but I just sat there. When the vice principal came in he said, “Janice, you’re not crying, like F, don’t you take this seriously?”
Now, I was not being a smart aleck, and I must say I have found myself in this same situation many times since. I am not crying or hysterical and someone, usually a man doesn’t understand and thinks I don’t care. I answered then with what I thought was an honest answer, “I am not a baby like F.” Then I realized what I said and thought; now I am in real trouble. He asked me why it happened and I explained what had been going on in English. After a few minutes, he sent me back to class. I walked into the science class and everyone was looking at me. Some of the fellows made comments and I knew I had gained a few points with them that day and that no one would be picking on me any time soon. But I realized I had to go home.
I got home and waited for the other shoe to fall, but it never did. Years later I told my mom and she said she had heard what had happened but had never said anything to me. Here, I had worried and held that guilt for years and my mom already knew. Probably even more funny was walking into a college class, my freshman year and there was F. I hadn’t seen her since 9th grade since we had gone to different high schools. We didn’t speak and I made sure I always sat on the other side of the room from her.
All of this came back to me as I read Freisinger’s poems on Rockwell’s paintings. Many made me remember my stories but some of the poems were dark, and I wasn’t sure what they added to Rockwell’s painting. Freisinger wanted to bring Rockwell’s pictures to life which is probably why pictures of the paintings weren’t included with the poems but I wish they had been.
Check out this book, and then go check out Rockwell’s paintings. I wonder what memories they will bring back to you.