Sunday, 8 September 2013

Rockwell’s Boy In A Dining Car 1946



“I’ll have.....”

The boy was giving the menu his full attention. The rattle of the train made the card sway in his hand, his other hand firmly held his money purse. He knew how much there was, knew it would be sufficient  to pay for a generous breakfast. All the same, he had miscalculated badly on a previous journey, getting his sums wrong, and he did not wish to repeat the mistake. A gentleman must not embarrass himself.

The waiter in his spotless server’s whites smiled patiently. His job depended on  patience and efficiency. He wished the boy would come to a decision, spending too much time on one traveller might cost him more time than the company allowed; still, the boy’s earnest and single-minded study moved him, he stood and waited, arms folded behind his back, his black face in the shadow above the window, nothing visible to the observer but the smile. Life had trained him well.

"I’ll have.....”. The boy had made up his mind. He would have ham and eggs, tea and toast and some marmalade. His voice was steady as he ordered, his eyes barely rising from the menu as he read.

“Yes sir, young master,” the waiter said.



PS: US readers, please forgive me for my culinary ignorance. I have no idea what kind of breakfast would have been served in a dining car in the US in 1946. And Tess Kincaid’s Prompt No. 185 didn’t say, naturally,  this being a writing prompt and neither a history nor art prompt. For other interpretations please click on the link.


48 comments:

  1. I went to a wonderful exhibition of Norman Rockwell paintings a couple of years ago. never realised how talented he was. Stupid of me, I guess, but I didn't. I don't think this was one of them. A bit racist, I think, myself, though things were different in his day

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  2. This was lovely. I can see the still little fellow ordering and tallying up the bill like a grown up :) And that breakfast sounds marvelous.

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  3. i am glad he took the time with the boy in your story...and gave him the opportunity to take some responsibility as well...its part of growing up...smiles.

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  4. Young master my foot! Young brat, I'd say he was, ignoring the fact he was keeping the man waiting ...

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  5. Decidedly racist...to our eyes. Normal, probably to his.
    I wonder if wondering whether the chap spat in the tea (waiters have their own private satisfactions after all)would be considered racist?

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  6. Its so interesting what we see in the image. Interesting, also, to read your UK view.

    All, so perfect.

    Now I know why I'm hungry. I haven't eaten yet today and all these words about ordering food have now distracted me... but you brought me right back to the words and images.

    THANK YOU!

    If you care to read my Magpie Tales inspired verse, visit here.

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  7. Interesting perspective on the story, Friko, and I would venture to say, historically accurate in your portrayal of race relations, as politically incorrect as it might be today. Why people get upset about a portrayal of life as it was, I don't understand.

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  8. My grandfather worked for the railroad. On his retirement trip, he took my family in a private rail car from Denver to Salt Lake City. We had two black porters - Sam and Roy. What I remember is their kindness to me, an eight-year-old girl.

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  9. Pretty close with the breakfast, unless he was a southerner. Then he'd probably also have grits. Without his parents, he'd be more likely to order coffee with milk and sugar.

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  10. There are still black porters on Amtrak. One of the better jobs for recently freed slaves, a way to earn a decent wage, although it was a mixed blessing. Still servile and vulnerable and poorly paid, it beat a lot of the other few choices for black workers. I don't know about then, but train tickets usually include the meal these days.

    Diner slang is a language of it's own. I suspect bacon & eggs, hashbrowns, toast and jam, would be more the terminology for the limited fare on a train.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diner_lingo

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  11. I think he would have ordered exactly that! Maybe jam or jelly -- or maybe marmelade! Possibly bacon rather than ham -- unless he was in the South!

    No matter what, it's a wonderful story and thoughtful observation from the prompt. Nice!

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  12. You got the menu order exactly. No need to mention that it probably cost nearly $5 for that breakfast IN 1946--equivalent to maybe? $40 today....
    (Pssst. I was there.)

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  13. I love your interpretation of this picture. Rockwell really did paint life as it was in my childhood. I was born in 1946 and was an admirer of Rockwell's work from a young age.
    I don't know about the dining car porter saying "young master," however. Most likely it would have been more like "young sir" as slavery was quite some years back by that time.
    Still, it's a lovely story, Friko, with the intense concentration of the youngster, and the kindness and consideration of the elder. I enjoyed it, and it made me think of my first train journey.
    I was 10 or 11, my brother was 8 or 9, when we were sent on a train from a station near our grandparents' home to one a few hours' drive from our parents' home, just because our dad thought we would benefit from the experience.
    I'm sure now that our grandparents spoke to the train attendants when we couldn't hear them, but at the time we felt like two bold adventurers, off on our own with no supervision for a whole day and well into the evening.
    Thanks for the memories.
    Luv, K

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  14. Gorgeous interpretation of an image I would find confronting today. I love the way that 'normal' shifts. Often (but not always) for the better.

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  15. As I see it, your 'take' on the painting is probably fairly accurate... as a previous commenter states 'a portrayal of life as it was'. All of our past social values while not acceptable today (and rightly so) do not evoke unhappy times. I see the young boy as concentrating very hard to behave in a grown up manner and the waiter as finding this concentration endearing (perhaps thinking of his own son in a similar situation).

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  16. Friko, I like your take on that painting. I cheated and Googled it, and it turns out that the boy is looking at, not a menu, but the bill. He's working hard at figuring out the proper amount to tip.
    The website I found that on is here http://www.best-norman-rockwell-art.com/1946-boy-in-dining-car.html, and also has this to contribute: "As far as finding the ideal model for the waiter, the first three models interviewed also proved to be not suited for that role as Rockwell pictured it.
    "The following week when the older car with more character arrived, so did his waiter. The waiter who arrived with the older car was a twenty-eight year veteran waiter."


    We recently watched the movie "42" about Jackie Robinson, the first black man in major league baseball . . . in 1947. You'd better believe that Racism, with a capital R, was alive and well in 1946, but I don't think it figures much in this illustration of Rockwell's.

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  17. I think your take is pretty much bang-on, Friko. When I was a little girl we traveled across Canada by rail. I remember that all the porters were black men - African Canadian now - and that they were formidable.

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  18. This is fun, Friko. I enjoyed your creative take on the painting.

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  19. I love the black waiter in the shadows, a reflection of life back then. I've long had an artbook of Rockwell's paintings and believe this to be a bill and the child wondering if he had enough money to pay it?

    XO
    WWW

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  20. You breathed life into the scene with your evident sympathies for both....
    ALOHA from Honolulu
    Comfort Spiral
    =^..^= <3
    > < } } ( ° >
    > < 3 3 3 ( ' >

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  21. The young man might have ordered Ovaltine instead of tea, but your story is perfect. Norman Rockwell is a favorite of Americans of a certain age and you have put a smile on many of our faces as we read this post.

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  22. I really like where you went with this...thanks for sharing the journey

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  23. Firs time for me to come across Norman Rockwell, and it looks like it is definitely worth exploring more of his work. Thank you for introducing us!

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  24. Hi Friko - love the painting ... then your interpretation of it - wonderful insight into people and their position in the hierarchy of life .. also fun to find out it's the bill .. then your part about him getting his sums right rings so true too .. and after that monumental decision for the young lad ... he'd have been so grateful for ham and eggs, tea, toast and marmalade ...

    Fun interpretation .. cheers Hilary

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  25. Thanks for that whole new thought - my Mom had a few Norman Rockwell prints framed and hanging in the house from a "VERY" olde calendar she rescued from my grandmother's house. I think my one of my sisters has them now. I loved your take on this Friko and dead on in regards to sums and spending, eh.

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  26. You rose to the challenge beautifully ... I can imagine the boy ordering what you envisioned.

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  27. I love it! What fun this is, and I enjoyed thinking about the scene from the point of view of the two characters in it. I suspect the breakfast was just right, except for the tea. It was more likely milk and nothing with caffeine. :-)

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  28. This picture really says a lot doesn't it? I liked your take on the prompt Friko.

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  29. Bacon and eggs with grits and toast and jelly. Or, maybe a biscuit and gravy. Or, perhaps eggs Benedict with a glass of bubbly.

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  30. I really enjoyed your piece which goes really well with the picture. I don’t know what a boy would have for breakfast in 1946 but I think my grandson would ask for orange juice instead of tea. You are good at these word plays.

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  31. Very nice and apt for the times.

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  32. Friko, what you envisioned that boy's breakfast order was perfect. However, he is looking (in the picture) at the bill handed to him after he ate. Yu wrote a nice picture of the picture, and that's what we try to do here I guess.

    Is that header photo of an old castle, or ruins of some other architecture?

    OK. About "Sticker shock", an example;

    when I was yung I bought a motor scooter (the best one made in 1947) for $320. What a BEAUTIFUL machine, I loved it. When I wanted a new one 8 years later, the paper, aka "sticker" on the windshield (windscreen) read #920. I was SHOCKED, as if a lightning stroke went through me.........that's called "sticker shock".

    Glad to meet you. If U do not like blong comments, let me know, PLZ.
    "Blong is only word I even created, means "long enough to be a blog. BLONG!

    PEACE!
    Steve

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  33. My grandfather worked for the Chicago and Northwestern RR in 1946 retiring in 1949 with 50 years as an engineer. After he retired he had a free pass for himself and a family member and he took me on a train trip from Appleton WI to Fon du Lac (I think).
    When we went to the dining car, I ordered a bowl of 'real' chicken noodle soup. Real meant big noodles and delicious broth, not the crap in those Lipton Packages which is all we could afford after Mom gave up raising her own chickens.

    A memorable trip I have never forgotten. It did not occur to me as a young child that the Black people who waited on us did not have the same priviledges as we Whites did, at least in the South where I rode on many trains until 1960 when air travel became my means for getting around. Dianne

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  34. Well done-- I remember an overnight train trip with my grandmother in 1948 or thereabouts and how elegant the dining car seemed. And how kind the porters were. I think at the time, the position of porter on the railroad was one of the best jobs open to a black man in the South.

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  35. Wow! This could be one particular of the most useful blogs We have ever arrive across on this subject. Basically Wonderful. I can understand your hard work.
    Estetik

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  36. Some of the past we might wish to forget, the memories are painful, trouble is if we forget what caused the pain, we find nothing to change. Thanks

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  37. Friko, that is a nice account of what breakfast might have been like. I've never been on a train, but I think it would be a lovely way to take a trip.

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  38. With as keen of an eye for the visible details as you have, be assured that there is no need for more information to make for a delightful read. Very well done!

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  39. I think you've captured the scene beautifully. The only thing I might add to the menu are hash browns!

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  40. Beautifully written, Friko! I was there! :)

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  41. Memories of riding the train to my grandmother's
    in Nashville, Tn USA from the big city of Detroit, Michigan.
    I loved riding the train.
    Many many years ago :)
    Thank you for making this wonderful memory surface
    Love your writing...

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  42. ...life had trained him well. Yes, in the 1940's he still had to consider some harsh lessons!

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  43. What fun taking such a story telling piece of art and working it into a little story. Of course, Rockwell is one of my favorites. I remember a story riding a train for the first time and I should blog about that.

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  44. The waiter's lucky it wasn't my family trying to order. Multiply the making-up-the-mind time by 6...
    Nice vignette!

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  45. Through the years, I've had a few Norman Rockwell prints on my walls, and I've stitched a few cross stitch patterns of his work, as well. Gotta love Rockwell and I quite enjoyed your take on what was going through the boy (his son's?) head. Nicely done.

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  46. Sounds good to me - the breakfast and the story!

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  47. Dear Friko, you've written an endearing story for a much loved painting by Rockwell. His art went out of favor for a while as being too sentimental and patriotic. But now viewers are beginning to value him again.

    As to the breakfast, I'd say it was just what he would have ordered except for the tea. I was child at the time this was painted and most parents didn't allow their children to have caffeine. So he probably ordered milk! Peace.

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