I Blamed Norman Rockwell

“STOP!” our manager cried out.

I stopped bagging. Cashiers stopped scanning. Customers stopped paying.

“She’s stealing a turkey! She’s stealing a turkey!” she yelled.

It was the day before Thanksgiving. The store was bustling. We all looked around fruitlessly.

“STOP, HER!” she pointed impatiently in the direction of the doors as an undersized woman in an over-sized threadbare winter jacket was racing out of the store.

Some male cashiers took off in pursuit and dragged her back into the store.

She was small. They were large. She looked scared. They looked thrilled. And,when they sat her down forcefully, a frozen broiler chicken dropped out of her jacket. Not a turkey. A broiler chicken.

I wanted to stand up and say “It’s a broiler chicken. It’s the day before Thanksgiving. And, the only reason someone would take the risk to steal a broiler chicken on the day before Thanksgiving is because they want to participate in the same cultural event the rest of us are participating in. Let her go.” But, I didn’t.

The cops were called. She was taken away. And, for the rest of my shift, I had to listen to a mustachioed man with a mullet tell his story of heroism over and over again to each and every new customer. I thought I was only a high school kid without the power to do anything. I was wrong. And, as a result, what I considered to be an injustice was perpetrated. I blamed myself. Still do.

I also blamed Normal Rockwell. Still do.

His manufactured image of the ideal Thanksgiving feast with its gigantic perfectly bronzed turkey, beautifully arranged table, and smiling faces is more than just a celebratory image. It is a measuring rod. Any American family worth its salt is supposed to be able to host a similar gathering. But, it sets the bar too high. And, as a kid, I witnessed first-hand the debilitating consequences of its expectations.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, my Mom would rush around town dashing from one store to another gathering ingredients, buying supplies, and spending money we did not always have. On the day of Thanksgiving, she would dedicate immense effort towards preparing, cooking, and setting the stage. And, on more than one occasion, she would excuse herself before serving the turkey, go to her bedroom, shut the door, lie down on the bed, and do what she could to control the irregularity of her heartbeat. My sisters and I would sit motionless around the table. We would not say a word. We would just wait and wonder. Would we have to call the paramedics?

They were called once before. Not to our home. But, once while we were attending a sporting event at school.

We were sitting in the bleachers when my mom began losing her breath and touching her chest. People gathered around, sat my sisters and me on the cold linoleum floor, and tried to comfort us as the paramedics began working on her. I remember struggling to get a glimpse of her through their legs. And, when I did, she smiled with her eyes, mouthed “I’m all right” and gently moved her fingers in a slow motion wave.

Goddamn Norman Rockwell. We did not want his fantasy. All we wanted was our Mom.

Now, in all fairness, I do not know for sure whether or not my Mom was chasing that ideal. But, I am not going to let Norman Rockwell off the hook. And, for those of you with children, let me be presumptuous enough to speak for your kids if only for a moment.

We do not care if the turkey comes frozen from a box. We do not care if the cranberry sauce slides out of the can shaped like a cylinder. And, we do not care if the mashed potatoes are made from a powder. In fact, a lot of us like it that way. But, here is the thing.


We do not care whether we gather around a table or set of TV trays. We do not care about the silverware or the centerpiece or the linens or the glassware. Give us paper plates and cups.


You do these wonderful things as an expression of your love. You do these things because you want us to know how much you care. We already know. So, forget Rachel Ray, Southern Living Magazine, and the Food Network.


That is all we ever want. You are enough.


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Thanks. – shawn