Norman's Norma

on babysitting for Norman Rockwell's children

by Debbi Collar

Everyone has a story.

One of the first lessons learned by college students studying for a career in
journalism is to listen.  

That lesson proved to be a beneficial one recently. While in conversation with
a newfound friend, she related an interesting part of her life story.

While visiting with friends, she noticed plates that were on display in the
home. Conversation then led to the discovery of Norman's Norma.

Norma (Deschenes) Hemenway, of Melrose, was once a babysitter for famous
artist Norman Rockwell's three
children. Although his children are now grown and she has raised 8 children
of her own, she remembers the time well.

It was Norma's father, Prosper DesChenes, who discussed the artists need
for a babysitter. Artist Norman Rockwell, was visiting her father's workplace
one day in a search for some factory workers who were to be used in one of
his paintings. "He knew my father," who was Vice President of the Hale
Company. Employees of the company made dinette sets.

Following that search for models to be used in his paintings, Rockwell
mentioned that he was in need of a babysitter and it wasn't long before
Norma received a phone call from Rockwell's wife, Mary, who asked, " Would
you be interested in babysitting our 3 boys?"

Norma's answer, "I said yes."

She estimates the she would have been about 13 or 14 years old. Her father
used to drive her to the Rockwell home and of the Rockwell children, Jarvis,
Thomas and Peter, she says that "they were pretty well behaved." Her
recollection of Rockwell was that "I never saw him that much," because as
she was babysitting, there were times that "he would be in his studio

As to the factory workers chosen to be models, she laughs , recalling the
preparations they made before visiting Rockwell's  studio, "they went and got
all spruced up with new haircuts and put on suits. When they got to Norman
Rockwell's studio he said he really didn't want them to look as they did
because they did not really look like the factory workers he had chosen for
his painting."

Although there is a portrait/print of Norman Rockwell's, "The Babysitter," in
her possession, Hemenway says she was never asked to pose for the artist
and is not the girl in the picture.

On the other hand, she and her brother have always felt that "the back of my
father's head can be seen in  another of Rockwell's portrayal of a "town

Hemenway says that all the locals knew Norman Rockwell was famous, "He
was a well known figure in Arlington, Vermont," and at the time that she was
babysitting,"his paintings were in the Saturday Evening Post."

Rockwell, himself, would often visit the General Store in the area, "He used to
go in there mornings, have coffee and look around to see if there was
anyone he wanted to use as a model.  It wasn't uncommon for him to ask
someone, "Would you mind if I used you as a model?  I would pay you."

In later years, even Hemenway's husband, Al, and the family dog, "Ginger,"
had the opportunity to model for the artist, when Rockwell met them as they
hiked Flagg Rock. "That dog loved my husband.  They used to do a lot of
hiking.  Norman Rockwell saw my husband and said "Could I use you and
your dog as models? "Her husband, Al Hemenway, agreed, "but nothing ever
came of it because he wasn't going to be there long. He was there on a short
trip visiting the in-laws"

While Norma and her family members never made it to "The Saturday
Evening Post ,"the memories of having been one of the babysitters for
Norman Rockwell's children have remained alive. Memories she cherishes, as
evidenced by the  twinkle in her eyes as she tells this portion of her life

The story to be passed down from generation to generation.


Her family has now grown to include, in addition to her own 8 children, eight
grandchildren and one great-grandchild, "Grace," (pictured above).

Coffee with friends,a casual observation of Norman Rockwell's artwork on a
display of dishes on a shelf and of course, listening, led to this story about
Norman's Norma.

She had a story to tell.

November 7, 2014

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