How I Got Here: Norman Bridwell

It was a different economic class then – we were too. At one point we playfully considered going over to the mainland and robbing a liquor store if Clifford didn’t do well.

In the early days it was really strange 
being here. At first we didn’t feel like we fit in. But then people were very helpful and understanding. If they caught fish they’d bring us fish. We were just getting by in the beginning, and I don’t know if they knew how badly we were doing. I went to speak in one of the 
local schools in the early years, and as I ended my talk one of the little boys held up his hand and I expected a question. And he said, “My father makes more money than you do.” And I thought, There are no secrets here.
My wife Norma and I first came here from New York City forty-six years ago on our honeymoon. We first thought of going to San Francisco but we couldn’t afford the airfare. She saw an ad in the paper for The Storybook Isle of Martha’s Vineyard, and she had no idea what that was. I didn’t either, but we came here for our honeymoon and liked it very much. Then nine years later came back with the children: Emily was six and Tim was about three. At that point there were three or four Clifford books. He was started in 1962, and this was 1966.
Norma saw a lot for sale and thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to own a little lot here. We came back in the spring, looked around, and then Bob Carroll said, “Well, I’ve got one more house I think you ought to look at.” And I walked in the front door and out the back door, and said, “I want my wife to see it, but I think we’ll take it.”
The house was completely furnished; we didn’t have to buy furniture or anything. It was close to the school. There was nothing special about it except that it was on Martha’s Vineyard. We bought it thinking it would be a summer house. I think it was $28,500. The funny thing was that we put down $20,000 and took a $5,000 mortgage. Norma hates being in debt.
High Street [in Edgartown] was a very nice neighborhood and we had very nice neighbors. Lenora Bettencourt said she’d keep an eye on our house. And when we’d come up for Thanksgiving we’d find she not only kept the place heated and everything operating, she left food in the refrigerator. We knew the Burtons fairly early on. Jack Burton’s son Tim and my son were friends all the way through school. Bob Carroll and his former wife Lucille were very nice.
The first summer I had to stay in New York and work, and Norma was up here alone, and Lucille and Bob sort of kept an eye on her and included her in things, and helped her get around. The people around us were working people; they kept an eye on the place. It was just a family type of neighborhood.
It was the kind of place where the kids could walk downtown. If they wanted to go down to the candy store on Main Street they could do that. When we first came here there was an A&P right on the corner of School Street and Main. The house where the Bongiornos live used to be the old Boys and Girls Club. When we came here on our honeymoon there was a favorite place called Mrs. Smith’s, which was in a house that is now part of the Edgartown National Bank, a nice kind of home-cooking restaurant. The Seafood Shanty was a smaller, more intimate restaurant.
We couldn’t afford to keep the Vineyard house and the New York apartment, so it was one or the other, and we thought it would be nice for the children to grow up in a small-town atmosphere.
Tim began in kindergarten. Emily began in third grade. Until then we lived right in Manhattan. When we moved here my son would ask if he could go outside and play in the park – meaning the side yard.
It was different. It was very quiet. When we bought the house people said, “Oh it’s quiet now, but wait until the people come down,” and the people came down, but even in the summer season it didn’t get all that busy.
It was a different economic class then – we were too. At one point we playfully considered going over to the mainland and robbing a liquor store if Clifford didn’t do well. We thought we’d go over and come back with enough money to hold us over to the next month, because you never know with royalties. We were just kidding, of course.
At first I kept going back to New York. I’d get on the bus and go down to New York and work for three or four days doing slides and film strips, commercial art, then I’d come back. And it went that way for a couple of years. Until – I think it was 1970 – I had my last commercial art job. By then Clifford had sort of 
gotten established.
It seemed like we always looked forward to those days after the season ended. It would be kind of stormy and you’re sitting there with not many people around, and feeling kind of like, Well, gee. I’m in a special place. We liked that.
We added an apartment for Norma’s mother when she had to be cared for. We added the room with the fireplace and my office just off the entrance, and my new studio. We’ve just sort of spread out.
Somebody once said, “Hey, your books are doing well, and you could 
buy one of those places down on the 
water.”  I said, “I don’t really want that. This is our house. This is where the 
kids grew up.”