When Sundays were days of rest

Friday, July 23, 2004

Once, within living memory, it was a day apart in many places: a 24-hour stretch of family time when liquor was unavailable, church was the rule, shopping was impossible and -- in some towns -- weekend staples like tending the lawn and playing in the park met with hearty disapproval. But America changed, and it dragged Sunday along with it. -- The Associated Press, July 18, 2004

The older I get, the more I sound like a talking scrapbook, one of those bound volumes of good intentions filled with old clippings, undated photos and a napkin from someone's wedding reception. Who the heck are "Ben and Vanessa"? And why did we keep a napkin with their names on it?

I am among those who have accumulated enough annual credits to remember a time when Sunday was different than the other days in the week, with church attendance being the centerpiece.

As a youth, I never quite squared the "day of rest" theme with all the chores a farm boy has to do, Fourth Commandment or no Fourth Commandment. The milk cow, it turns out, was not particularly religious, nor were the hogs, the cattle, the horses or the chickens.

If the pond froze on the Lord's Day, the ice still had to be broken for the livestock. Anyone who has chopped ice so animals can drink understands the phrase "when hell freezes over."

But the rest of Sunday's routine was different. No hay to mow. No bales to take into the barn. No fences to mend. No garden to hoe.

It was easy, in those days of church in the morning, fried chicken at noon and naps and playing on Sunday afternoons, to comprehend God's magnificent plan: a day of rest as a glimpse of the glorious hereafter. A child's sense of heaven, to be sure, includes no visions of milking before the sun comes up or slopping hogs as the sun goes down. It's all right there in the Good Book if you want to look it up for yourself.

Of course, that was all before television and air conditioning changed the world.

In case there are any youngsters reading this, there was a time -- and I am not making this up -- when it was cooler, on stifling summer days, to sit on the front porch than to be indoors.

So most Sundays, weather permitting, meant spending some time sitting in a porch swing or swaying in a cane-bottomed rocker as time moseyed along without benefit of commercials or station breaks. Honest.

From the front porch you could watch the cloud of dust boil along the dusty lane up the valley as neighbors or visitors approached in automobiles all the same color: dirt brown.

From the front porch you could watch a summer shower spread across the fields half a mile up the valley and make its stately procession toward the garden where, God willing, it would be too muddy to pull weeds on Monday.

Shopping on Sundays? Not possible. The stores weren't open. Even after the Blue Laws began to fall by the wayside, many of the stores in my favorite hometown stayed closed because ... well, because it was Sunday, and if the Good Lord wanted shopkeepers to work on Sundays, he surely wouldn't have let the Baptists build so many fine churches.

Yes, America has changed, but for the better? When was the last time you sat for a spell on your front porch?

Do you even have a front porch?

We live in a world of patios and decks now, mostly unused.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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