For five decades, from 1916 to 1963, Norman Rockwell’s paintings appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post weekly magaine. His artwork captured a sentimentalized view of American family life. (I should qualify that by saying “white families.” His editor didn’t allow him to depict Black people except in servile roles.)
Recently, I was reminded of the old-time appeal of his paintings on a Sunday excursion to a local park. The day was filled with simple pleasures: a walk with friends, a few games in the park, a casual visit with neighbors, a few introductions to new friends, light refreshments, and then a walk home. Nothing extraordinary, yet a surprisingly nourishing Sunday afternoon.
The day started out cool and overcast, but by the time we headed to the park around 2:30 p.m., it was sunny and warm.
We walked on a main street for two blocks before circling a roundabout. We continued walking, no longer on a city sidewalk but on a walkway carved through the middle of a huge plant nursery.
In less than a mile we arrived at our destination, a newly renovated park adjacent to the Lez River. Like everyone in our neighborhood, we’d been invited to enjoy a party to celebrate this resource.
Activities were organized to encourage all ages to have fun playing together. Seniors mixed with toddlers, while preteens tossed basketballs in hoops.
A friend and I tried one of the board games. The object was to keep adding tiles without making the board tip over and dump all the wooden hearts and trees off. As you might be able to tell from my expression in the photo, I managed to lose. The tiles were dumped on the table.
The renovation of the park was not yet complete, but four slides had been installed on one side, taking advantage of a natural bluff. Kids squealed going down them.
The day was sponsored by our neighborhood center, Mas de Rochet, which serves residents of the city of Castelnau-le-Lez. The Mas de Rochet is one of five government-funded maison des proximités (neighborhood centers) that provide a variety of free services to multigenerational residents—from young children to seniors. They also make referrals to other agencies and resources.
Some of those served are French citizens; others, like me, are immigrants. Many of the services provided are volunteered by neighbors. For example, last year I took a free French class from a volunteer teacher.
Besides offering services, the centers try to foster a sense of community, even a sense of responsibility for the neighborhood. Later this month, for example, a Sunday morning will be dedicated to cleaning up litter and trash. In joining the effort, even if I’m not fluent in French, I’m sure I’ll meet more of my neighbors.
Our center is headed by Joelle, who speaks multiple languages (Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, English, and so on). Evidently, she needs them all in her work. I’ve gotten to know her by attending neighborhood events. Her background is quite impressive. Moreover, the energy and the joie de vivre she brings to the center is inspiring.