03 February 2010

Birthday Reflections

According to Google, today is the birthday of Norman Rockwell.

I used to think that Mr. Rockwell's paintings were overly contrived, with about four extra tablespoons schmaltz and nostalgia than ANY recipe ever called for.

I thought that for a long, long time.

Also, those little pricks at grandpa's right elbow are about to start some shit. Backhand those twerps!

It just always seemed like things were a bit too posed in his paintings. Almost fake.

... ... ... ...

My grandmother (father's mother) will be ninety this April. Born in 1920 (in case you can't do math), she's a tough lady with an even temper and an endless supply of patience. She has had the experience of seeing her corner of the world turn from agrarian to mechanized, and lived through some of the more interesting chapters of twentieth century history (including Oklahoma's depression-era dustbowl).
I can't help but reflect upon how many advances mankind has made since my grandmother was a child: splitting the atom, walking on the moon, curing polio, eradicating malaria, national highway projects, radio, television, computers, advances in medicine, civil rights, and women's lib, breaking the sound barrier, 911 service, color photography...the list goes on forever. The advances of my generation (and subsequent generations) don't really look that impressive by comparison, and seem to serve only individual selfish purposes rather than humanity's greater good. (Got cancer or AIDS? There's an iPhone app for that! ... But no cure.)

In preparation for my grandma's upcoming birthday, the immediate family (all 20+ of us) are pulling out all the stops, and our current guest list for the event is only slightly smaller than the 400 or so blood relatives who came out to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of my great grandfather's purchase of the family farm in 1898.
Fourth from left: Sweetest old lady in the world
Third from left: Some asshole blogger

My contribution (chosen for me by less tech-savvy relatives) for the party is to sift through photographs and compile a photo/video DVD as a keepsake for attendees.

And actually, most of the photos come pre-"sifted" from my other relatives, as NO ONE wants to scan and email their ENTIRE library of photo albums. So I'm only getting the relevant and most cherry of all the photos.
Like this one. Notice how well behaved children were when they were regularly beaten.

... ... ... ...

A few things keep popping into my head as I pour through the photos....

The first is what a spoiled little bitch I am. My dad spent his second (and possibly third) year of life literally living in a chicken coop, because the lumber (and ALL other building materials) from the old farmhouse were taken apart to be used in the new farmhouse. So he spent a year and a half living in drafty makeshift quarters in the middle of the windy plains. DHS was NOT called in response to these living conditions, and not just because they had no phone service out in the country. Mainly no one dropped the DHS hammer because the living conditions were not considered unusual for the area at the time. Contrast that against what gets people in a twist these days, and I think you'll agree we've all become a lot softer over the past few generations.

I think the worst scenario I've ever had to endure was when my electricity was out for a week after an ice storm. It is relevant to note that my grandmother went without power for a week and a half during that exact same storm. So she even proved herself as more of a hard ass than I in a head-to-head challenge.

NOT PICTURED: Sissified whining cowardly wimps.

Another thought is that I have a pretty long family history, and that history has only recently intrigued me. I should take a week off work, plan a lengthy visit, and soak up every last tale my beloved grandmother has the inclination and energy to share. Because while "Joseph beget Mathias beget Henry beget Mathias beget Krëg" is good to know, it lacks the colorful details that make it more than just my lineage, more than just branches on my family tree. There are things I'd like to know, blanks I'd like filled in.

... Like where my granddad got his pimpin clothes.

Seriously, where can I get some fly-ass suits like that?

Ok, so maybe I don't want to know EVERYTHING...

Finally, I've decided that while they are overly nostalgic and schmaltzy, perhaps Norman Rockwell's paintings weren't quite so posed after all. From the photos I've been sent, it appears that's how people actually behaved before the hydra of mass media began trading us fear in return for our own independent thoughts, judgments, and emotions.

"Shit! Look out! Terrorists and Swine Flu! Hide! ... Oh wait. I forgot. We DON'T panic about over-hyped crap."
"Damn straight. Pass the catsup, miss bad-ass."

If that's the case, modern society got ripped off. It seems we traded character, camaraderie, and resourcefulness for mass-produced shiny baubles and blindly following the messages of our favorite talking heads. Perhaps the technology that we praise for connecting us has also taught us that we no longer need to look people in the eye while communicating, and that the act of texting "xox-hugs-xox lol" is an acceptable substitute for the real thing. Our newest and best technological distractions seemingly only disrupt opportunities for REAL connections, and while they plug us in to a vast world of communication possibilities, they seem to leave us increasingly isolated from our immediate communities.

After looking through piles (albeit digital piles) of old photos, Mr. Rockwell's paintings don't seem quite so posed and fake.

In fact, they feel a bit like family.


Something Happened Somewhere Turning said...

Sometimes I feel sad that we have lost the dazzle of yesteryear. Sometimes I think about the vanishing race of the Indian culture. Sad that the children have let it die.
It is nice to see evidence of a Rockwell family.
I truly enjoyed this post, Kreg.
I hope your grandmother has a beautiful birthday this April.

Lo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lo said...

Capture the stories while you can. WIth audio equipment. I was blessed to get a bunch of tapes my dad made at my request. I can hear him tell the stories -- and so can my kids, who never met him.
Don't wait, though. YOu never know and you can't get it back when it is gone.
Lovely post.

le @ whoopwhoop said...

ohhh I love this post !! you made me all goose bumpy ... I see the poet in you in this post .. god (or your chosen daiety) bless grandma for bringing you to all this thinking ... thinking like this is just so appealing :) I know definately do have a word crush on you :) le xo

ZDub said...

That is awesome.

I love your grandma.