Sunday, 11 November 2007

Rewriting the Myth

Outside the sun is shining making the berries on the Rowan tree my window looks onto shine like tiny Christmas baubles. And it is Sunday. A day for kicking back and taking stock, reading the papers, clearing the mind, preparing for the week ahead.

As a child I was taught that Sundays were special: the mornings were taken up with church, we wore our best clothes, the tone was hushed and whatever the weather was like outside I always sat shivering for that preaching hour as the ancient walls sucked the heat from my blood. Once back at home my father listened to the archers 'shush...' and my mother cooked lunch: the fabled Sunday roast. Every Sunday was like a mini Christmas but without the presents. After lunch we were allowed to change and go out to play, it was such a relief to be ourselves again.

Later, Sundays were spent at my in-laws. These were the mid years. Church was no longer a feature but there was still an air of 'best' about the day and we would all dress with care. My mother-in-law would get up early to prepare the meal: roast beef or lamb or chicken, vegetables aplenty,crisp and soft roast potatoes, and pudding. This usually involved Bird's custard, richly yellow with a faint taste of raw cornflour, it was oddly moreish. At this table debate raged about all number of subjects and it was years before I could join in, it seemed so alien for children (we were children, still, in my eyes) to argue with their parents. I ate in bewildered awe. After lunch, we females would clear away the dishes while the males finished the wine and settled down with the papers. In the kitchen the preparation for 'tea' would begin. A cake or two would be baked and various packets of pancakes and potato scones would release their contents onto best china, new jars opened to reveal exotic preserves and crumpets toasted. Sometimes, if there was time between the two meals, we would go out for a walk along the river and feed the ducks. However, if there was an 'antiques' fair on in town time would be created, tea would be put back, and we would all squeeze into my father-in-law's Volvo to go and coo over faded crockery and old oak chests of drawers.

As Stevie and I settled into our own life as a couple, and then parents too, we created our own Sundays out of our heritage. For years we did the whole dressing up thing with me in the kitchen chopping and basting, mixing and baking, stomping and stressing as he sat and read the papers and Bob pulled at my skirt. But slowly and surely as life became less formal, more relaxed, Sundays took on the comfortable hue they have today.

Now I wear the same old clothes I wear every other day, I cook the way I always cook and we eat in the evening as normal. Anyone who wants lunch can have Saturday's left-overs or make themselves a sandwich, I do only one meal a day. And I can spend hours with the papers if I so choose. It is still a special day, however. We are usually all at home and I do sometimes bake a cake or make pudding with custard - made from vanilla infused cream and eggs - but only if I want to. We sit and read in unison and there is still a sense of hush about the day. Sometimes we go out for a walk in the hills or along the river, and over the evening meal we discuss the issues of the day picked from our various current interests. Afterwards we might watch a film together or we might go back to our separate, but somehow together, activities.

In a way I miss the days of frantic kitchen activity wearing an apron to protect my Sunday best, but not enough to actually effect a return. I save that kind of thing for Christmas now. Sunday is, after all, supposed to be a day of rest.

How do you 'do' Sunday, I'd love to know?


Kim Ayres said...

A superb piece of writing, Eryl - so evocative.

My childhood Sunday's only had the church and Sunday school until I was about 5. My parents had joined the Mormons a couple of years before so it became a way of life, but then they left and church never featured in our life again, except for school concerts.

However, the Sunday Roast and a sense of it being a quieter day was still there.

These days it doesn't seem that much different from any other day, expecially as Maggie & I are self employed and don't work in a conventional 9 to 5 style anyway. It just means it's the weekend.

I know what you mean about the nostalgia, but not wanting it enough to go to all the trouble to recreate.

I really enjoyed reading this.

PI said...

Sunday only happens in a special way if any of the children are here. Otherwise it's just another day with only the excessive amount of newspaper to mark it from the other days. When the children are here I feel like making the extra effort but more and more they take the strain and make our lives as easy as possible. I don't go to church but have a special time each day to Pray/meditate/whatever and I still feel reluctant to go to a cinema or the like on a Sunday.

Carole said...

Sundays--Ahh yes. As a child this was one of the few times we got to go into town. Us kids would hurry to get dressed and then walk/run/race to church. It was five miles but we loved the freedom of not riding in the car. It took about an hour. We had to ride home and then our meal was always fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, home-baked bread, and huckleberry pie.

Now, I go to church early, shake as many hands as I can, sit through my husband's sermon, shake hands and hug people again. Don't leave til we lock the doors and then I scurry home. The kids that live near come by to watch football and we play board games or watch a movie or whatever. The kids (you gotta love it when they grow up) do the cooking and we have whatever is on their agenda. Last night it was crab salad, pasta, and chocolate chip cookies.

If the kids don't come over, I fix a nice afternoon meal and at night we have big bowls of hot buttery popcorn.

Eryl Shields said...

Kim ~ Glad you liked it:) I mostly think that nostalgia is quite nice but has to be watched, actually going backwards never works.

Pat ~ Your children sound marvellous.

Carole ~ Your kids sound marvellous too, crab salad yum!

Mary Witzl said...

Our family went to church every single Sunday, which I found desperately embarrassing. Sunday was the day my father trotted out his little shoe-shine box and carefully shone his shoes. It was a day of ironed skirts, clean socks, and cufflinks, and my mother actually put on lipstick. We had icecream after church, and peanuts. Later, we went home and played games or had religious quarrels with visiting relatives. Part of me feels nostalgic about those Sundays, but only for the good parts.

Nowadays, we try to make it a family day. Sometimes, we succeed and when we do, it is good. We all try to cook the dinner together, and share the washing up afterwards. I prefer that to having all the women in the kitchen doing this. That used to drive me crazy as a kid -- that all the girls and women got stuck with the clean-up.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I agree with Pat. Children make the difference. Wait til you're a granny and you might want that sense of a traditional day back.

My childhood Sundays were actually pretty mild considering where I come from. Unless we went to my other granny's. Then it was church at both ends of the day, bible-reading in the middle, no noise, absolutely no telly and no running about outside.

In our house, may dad went for a run, my mum started Sunday lunch then went to church with my granny and grandpa (Episcopal - much gentler and far less demanding). Home for a huge roast lunch, custard and pie and all that, clean-up, a walk, a read, a toast-based tea, some tv, and off to bed with us.

Nowadays, to my regret, I don't make a big deal on Sundays. I do pancakes for breakfast, religiously on Sundays, but after that the day is pretty free-form.

Maybe I'll reinstitute a British roast dinner around here. That might be nice.

Great post, Eryl.

Eryl Shields said...

Mary ~ You've reminded me that my mother used to wear lipstick and a skirt for church too, I'd forgotten about that. She wore powder on her face too and I loved the smell of it. My father wasn't religious so he didn't join us. He spend Sundays getting ready for the working week and he was very fussy about his appearance, unlike my mother, and would wash and iron his shirts for the week. He had all his clothes made for him at a tailor in London and sometimes I was enlisted to help him choose from bolts of cloth.

You sound like you've managed to get a good Sunday thing going at your house now. I agree, all the women in the kithcen while the men relaxed and chatted used to drive me crazy. The cooking was usually fun but the clean up afterwards, no way!

Sam ~ I can't wait to be a granny! When there are small children around, my sister's or sister-in-law's, we celebrate with big meals still. I love that sense of family and everyone in the kithcen helping out, men too these days thank goodness.

Pancakes are a good Sunday tradition I'd say, if you do a roast too you'll be a slave to the kitchen all day unless your husband does some of the work. Mine's a lazy bugger unless there are guests so I've given up.

Sniffle&Cry said...

I used to hate Sundays. The church thing was stiff collars and claustrophobic. Of course I grew up in 60s Ireland, not the most enlightened place. As a child I remember the house-hold seemed to be broke all the time, so yeah it was nice dinner but, there was never enough. However I remember two things about mass, counting the squares of plaster board on the church ceiling and watching girl’s bottoms at communion, particularly the McNamara sisters. Hard chaws left early but I always waited for communion.

Sundays now are more chilled thank God. Live and let live. I cook, I create, I invent and I love the compliments. Our eldest boy does rugby in the morning, and I go walking or on my bike whilst he articulates his talent. Lunch of some sort and Squeeze might bring the three kids to church, or then again she might just laze. I can never tell.

Did I mention that I cook and Squeeze’s dad, who I love dearly, comes for dinner? No papers for me (Rupert’s papers wreck my head), I try to get outside as much as possible, a pint late on maybe (like most nights), or else too much wine and beer with nice food and a big hangover on Monday.

Summer Sundays, well, if the sun shines there’s summer Sabbath …………

Thanks Eryl, you’ve reminded me that there’s loads to Sunday. Loved your posting (and you poem)
Sorry for hogging .

Eryl Shields said...

Sniffle ~ Sunny summer sundays are the best: Fish and Chips, or Roast beef or whatever's on offer really, and a pint in a beer garden, heaven.