For those of you who are looking for submarine stories, check out the Qual Card Drop Down on the right side of the page. Click on it, and look for the words submarine or Navy and you can find a good selection of previous posts… For those who just need a quick break, come on up on the porch and grab yourself a glass of lemonade. The parade is about to start…
When I think about an old Normal Rockwell picture of families gathering, I see a wide open porch facing Main Street in a small town in the hills of western Pennsylvania.
Its summer and the sun is shining. It’s actually been a pretty dry summer so the mosquitos are relegated mainly to the shores of the river down by the tracks. Fresh lemonade from Auntie’s small kitchen is sitting on a small card table and the rest of the porch is filled with kids and some of their parents.
Down the street at the old fire hall parking lot, the fair has already been set up. Games of chance, music and food and what could only be described as tame amusement rides were scattered around the lot. This once a year fair was the big fund raiser for the volunteer fire department and helped to keep the engine and ambulance running. Most of the towns in the area had their own fairs but none of them were as close to walk to as this one.
Auntie owned her own home. She was a retired spinster school teacher with a 1937 Dodge in the garage out back. It only had about 16,000 miles on it and was the only car she ever owned. A regular member of the Presbyterian Church down the street, she never smoked or drank and card playing on Sundays was strictly forbidden in her house. Rumor has it she was supposed to marry a Doughboy but he died of the flu that swept the world back in 1918. I suppose she never was inspired to look for a replacement and made the school her life.
Back up on the porch, you could feel the excitement as the kids strained to see down the street to the right. They all knew that pretty soon those big shiny fire trucks would come down Smithfield Street blaring their horns and sirens with lights flashing all over. The firemen would be dressed in their white shirts, black trousers and clip on ties. The Chief always wore a white hat with a black brim and the rest wore black ones with the fireman’s symbol on it. Even as a young boy, I knew they were special. They would show up dressed out in their gear and always save the houses from burning down.
Finally, they come down the street, led by the township cop car. The parents stayed on the porch while the kids rushed to the curb. Crazy Mary (an older guy who dressed like a woman) would come down the street with the trucks passing out candy from her/his purse. Funny thing is, I don’t ever remember anybody questioning why Crazy Mary dressed like that. The candy was good.
As the trucks slowly rumbled by we would all shout encouragement to the driver: Blow your horn… blow your siren… it was considered quite a triumph to actually get one to respond to your request and gave you a feeling of honor.
Too soon, the parade would be over and the people would follow the last truck down the street to the fair. We came back to the porch and were told we would go the next night when the crowds weren’t so bad. It wasn’t that disappointing really. Catching fireflies and setting off sparklers in the yard was entertainment enough. Auntie had a television but I don’t ever remember it being turned on. Listening to the Aunts and Uncles tell the old family stories was always a hoot.
Norman Rockwell would have loved it in our little town. You could almost rip the cover off the Saturday Evening Post, hold it up in any part of town and see the comparison. Life was like that for us back then.
Norman lived and drew his art at a time when America needed him most. Times in the thirties were tough but he managed to capture the best of America. The feelings you still get from looking at the faces of the Boy Scouts, Policemen, young lovers, families at Thanksgiving are all powerful and make you wish for a simpler time.
Norman did a series during the second World War called the Four Freedoms. Those freedoms had been articulated by FDR on January 1941 and were translated into some of the most famous works he ever created.
- Freedom of speech and expression
- Freedom of worship
- Freedom from want
- Freedom from fear
Now I will admit to not being a huge fan of FDR.
But as I watch our freedoms being eroded away in this modern day and age, I have begun to understand why freedom from fear is becoming more relevant. If a government suddenly decides it is smarter than the people it governs, we all need to stand together to remind them how wrong they are.
I miss those old days back up on the porch.
They kept us in pretty good condition and it didn’t take a government to provide much more for us than the means for a common defense.
I wonder how Norman Rockwell would paint us today?