On the dining room wall of my childhood home were a collection of Norman Rockwell pictures.
One of them was of a boy and girl sitting on a bench watching the sunset. She’s holding some wilted daisies and there’s a fishing pole on the ground and a beagle puppy behind the bench.
Another was of a little boy and police officer sitting at the counter in a diner. The boy is running away from home and it appears the cop and line cook are giving him some advice.
Of course we all know the famous Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving table scene. It’s an iconic image that has come to represent the ideal holiday family gathering. Grandma is carrying the giant turkey, and Grandpa is ready to carve it, while everyone else leans in and smiles — anxiously waiting for dinner to be served.
Contrary to popular belief, this painting did not run on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. It was part of a series of paintings created to represent the four essential human freedoms that Franklin Roosevelt outlined in 1941 — freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The Post ran the series of Rockwell freedom paintings in 1943 as a way to illustrate what we were fighting for in the war.
The Thanksgiving painting ran inside the magazine in March 1943 and was called “Freedom from Want.” After the series was published, the Post received 25,000 requests for reprints. The U.S. Department of Treasury used the paintings to sell war bonds and stamps and raised $133 million dollars.
I tend to gravitate towards these iconic images, my favorite being the Rockwell puppy love painting, but also realize the idealistic scene can be somewhat misleading.
Each of us probably has a memory of Thanksgiving past that captures our own definition of the ideal scene around the table. It may, or may not, be similar to Rockwell’s, but the comparison of past to present can bring a bittersweet reality that makes Thanksgiving difficult for some.
Familiar faces may no longer be at the table and empty chairs can be a painful reminder of absent loved ones. Life brings changes that can be difficult to swallow during the holiday season.
So as we gather for this meal of gratitude, take a moment to notice those around you and find a way to offer a gracious gesture, smile or hug around the neck. Make sure everyone knows how grateful you are for their presence, and the blessings each person brings to your life.
At the end of the day it’s not about the perfect turkey, dressing and cranberries, but giving thanks for life’s blessings, expressing gratitude and paying tribute to the people — past and present — who are a part of our lives.
This prayer of Thanksgiving by Ralph Waldo Emerson sums it up in the simplest terms.
“For each new morning with its light, for rest and shelter of the night, for health and food, for love and friends, for everything thy goodness sends.”