Thursday, July 20, 2006
Sometimes, Sunday school was at the duck pond
Recently our Sunday school children were given certificates of participation and books about Bible characters to mark their attendance during the past school year. Thankfully, at least at our church, the old custom of honoring those who had “perfect” (that is, every Sunday) attendance has gone by the way.
How many years I started out with every good intention of achieving the goal, but always, it seemed, something happened to thwart my resolve. Once it was the chicken pox; another time I had my tonsils out. But the old “perfect” system — designed I am sure to encourage the children to “be there” had the unintended effect of teaching little ones that heaven is given to those who earn it.
There are still those, I fear, who think that those who have logged the most “bench time” in the pews will sit on the front rows of the heavenly choir.
I loved each one of my Sunday school teachers, and I believe I could name them all. These good men and women gave up a lot of free time to teach us kids — and we were not always attentive or even cooperative. But I also have to admit that some of my favorite Sunday memories are of the times I skipped Sunday school — either for family visits to my aunt, uncle, and cousin down in Louise, or so that Daddy and I could spend some time together.
You see, my father worked six days a week. Not even a Thursday or Saturday afternoon off. He opened his store at 7:30 a.m. and it closed at 5:30 p.m. Six days a week. We took exactly two four-day vacations in my entire childhood. It was not that he was fanatical about business — that is simply what it took to make ends meet. The only time we ever had was on Sundays.
So sometimes we would take off for “Sunday school” but daddy and I would plot to do something different. Sometimes we would go to feed the ducks at Mrs. Beevers’ pond. She lived way north of my hometown of Cleveland, on Bayou Road — and sometimes daddy would let me sit in his lap and steer the car. He had an amazing, antique, 1949, black, two-seat, Plymouth coupe that just kept on runnin’. I guess you could say that is where I learned to drive — if driving counts when you are too little for your hands to hold the wheel and your feet to touch the floor.
Everyone at our house but me took Sunday afternoon naps. Mother and Grandmother had worked hard to get a big, old-fashioned Sunday dinner ready. Usually it was roast beef, and always on Saturday afternoon, Grandmother baked a layer cake which could not be cut until Sunday dinner. With that, the three adults were ready for a nap, but at that age it was my firmest resolve that I was so grown up I would never have to take a nap again. Consequently, Sunday afternoons were extremely long.
Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I would sneak in and touch Daddy on the arm, and he would slip out of the bedroom and put on his shoes. We’d hop in the black Plymouth and go out to the Cleveland Tea Room, which was one of the local gathering spots for men who drank coffee. Daddy would have his cup, and I would get a Coca-Cola and bag of potato chips. By the time we got home, Mama and Grandmother had awakened and were dressed to receive company, for in those days, when 3 o’clock Sunday afternoon arrived, company either came to see you or you went to visit
Television had not yet come to Cleveland, so people still had to entertain each other — usually with conversation or food. In the summer Mama would have homemade strawberry or peach ice cream to go with the cake that Grandmother had made. I enjoyed listening to the adults talk as I played on the floor with my trains. I do remember that a few people had televisions and sometimes we would be invited over to watch a program. Often as not it would be “Lawrence Welk.” I was only four or five, but even then I knew that Lawrence Welk was not “cool” for kids. My cousin, who was two years older, had already explained that Elvis was the music that mattered.
Those memories are nearly fifty years old, but I still remember how we marked our Sundays. I am glad Sunday school was part of that, but I’m glad for these other things, too.
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