By Alice DiNizo
In those long ago years of the 1950’s, none of us kids was old enough to drive. Sure, Paul drove us all down to Bennington or up to Manchester for pizza or the movies, but that would be several years in the future. So, for now, with our summers off from school, we kept ourselves busy and out of trouble, if that was possible for the likes of hyperactive Sue Anna or daredevil Georgie. Generally, about once a week, one of our mothers, generally Kelley’s Mom, Ginnie, would pile all of us, Paul, Kelley, Marie, Jenny, Sue Anna and Georgie in the back of her big old Jeep and would drive down Route 313 to the
where she’d leave
us with a stern warning to “Behave yourselves and use nice manners. All of you
hear me?” Then we’d swim for ours, sun ourselves and wait for another one of
our mothers to give us a ride back home. West Arlington
We loved our times down there under the covered bridge. We’d laugh and push each other into the water with our tire tubes intact. We’d swim around in the swift, deep waters like the kids we were. Sometimes old Jesse Truman would walk by, drunk as a skunk. We’d call out to him, “Hey, Jesse. Nice day isn’t it?” He’d wave back at us and then we’d watch for a bit as he made his way up into town where it was stock up time for Jesse at the VFW.
Paul and Marie remember this better than the rest of us, but this is what really happened one special day in July of 1956. The six of us were paddling around in that water under the bridge, laughing and having a really good time. Then Georgie called out, “Hey, guys look! There is a fellow up there on the river bank taking pictures of us. Wait, I think he is drawing something on one of those artists ’tablets.”
We all stopped splashing around and swam for the concrete walkway at the east end of the bridge. Our mothers had told us all not to talk to strangers and certainly not to go off with one. And this man was looking at us. He was even smiling and then looking down at what he had drawn.
Marie and Jenny turned pale as Paul drew us close and whispered, “Look, if we go up to him as a group and ask what he’s doing, we’ll be safe. He can’t grab all of us and run.” Sue Anna listened but whimpered that she had to pee. Georgie told her to shut up and hold it. We calmed down a bit as Kelley said Paul had to right idea. So we walked together up to where the man was sitting underneath a clump of swamp maples.
Paul was our brave leader. “Whatcha doing, Mister? We aren’t supposed to talk to strangers.”
The man looked up from whatever he was sketching. “Well, I’m harmless for the most part and I make my living by illustrating. I could not resist drawing the six of you children swimming around under the bridge. It is such a nice summer picture. You kids were having such fun and people should see just that and not have to worry about taxes or bombs while they are looking at your picture.”
Kelley’s freckles stood out against the white of her skin. She was scared, and grabbed Jenny’s hand, holding on really tightly. Somehow she managed to speak for the rest of us. “Do you want us to go back to our swimming so you can finish your picture?”
“That’s just what I want, young lady. I want to finish drawing all of you and color it in a bit before my wife calls me to supper. I live right up there in the big white house on the right.”
“Okay, Mister. We’re heading back to swim.” And with a wave to him we did go right back to the Battenkill to swim. Soon we were splashing around in those cool, deep waters as the man drew some colored pencils out of his front pocket and began coloring in what we guessed were our bathing suits and tire tubes. Jenny’s mother came to pick us all up an hour or so after that. We clambered into the back of her car, wrapped in our towels to keep from getting her car’s back seats soaking wet.
Jenny told her Mom all about the man who had drawn a picture of us as we swam. “Mom, he seemed really nice when we went up to talk to him. He told us that he lived in that big white farm house up the road.”
Mrs. Bronson listened as Jenny spoke and then she looked at the lot of us through her rear view mirror. “You know what that was, don’t you, kids?”
We shook our heard “No”.
“That was Norman Rockwell. He’s the fellow who was drawing you all.”
We looked at each other. We’d heard of Norman Rockwell and knew he lived in
Arlington. We knew he was pretty famous but never acted stuck up
or anything. Well, if that was Norman Rockwell, he certainly wasn’t conceited.
Hey, he was drawing our picture like it was no big deal.
The former South Plainfield resident and ex-Plainfield Public Library librarian is the author of "Imperfect Past," a recently published novel that treads over dark ground such as childhood abuse, racial tension and serial murder. But DiNizo, who goes by the pen name J.B., said her story, at its heart, is a tale of survival and perseverance.
"I survived a very great deal in my life," said DiNizo, 64, "and I think out of that survival came the gift of writing."
According to the author, inspiration for some of the book's first few chapters came from her own experiences of being physically abused as a child growing up in Vermont, during an era in which "they called child abuse "discipline.' "
The novel goes on to chronicle the life of protagonist Annie Phillips Murray, a white woman who falls in love with a black police officer during World War II in a town called North Hadley — which she said city residents instantly will recognize as Plainfield. DiNizo, also a former librarian at Washington Community School on Darrow Avenue, said the choice of setting was easy.
"I've tied everything in the book into Plainfield," she said, citing buildings and street names that only have been altered slightly in the text, if at all. "When I came to this area and first saw Plainfield, I fell in love."
DiNizo said the novel's plot includes three narratives bound together — one detailing the protagonist's checkered youth, one detailing a series of gruesome crimes being investigated by her love interest, and a third detailing the stubborn persistence of the characters' relationship in an era of intolerance.
After writing recreationally for more than 20 years, DiNizo, of Toms River, said she is warming up to the idea of having more novels published during her retirement years. With four more works already completed, DiNizo said she plans on seeing if Eloquent Books, the publisher of "Imperfect Past," is interested in seconds.
As for Plainfield Public Library director Joe Da Rold, he was pleasantly surprised to hear a former employee he said had a connection with the local community now is a published author.
"I had no idea that she was doing some writing," said Da Rold, who added that DiNizo will participate in a December book signing at the library along with a group of other local autho