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When I Was Little, Television Ceased at Ten O'Clock!

Yes, Life was tough back then.......

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 01, 1997.

I was explaining to children of my friends over Christmas what things were like when I was growing up. We were, at that moment, on 28th St., passing gas stations that were open and restaurants and even some stores. Back in the Pleistocene, I said, nothing whatever was open on Christmas, even if it was legal to have been. The community would have been offended. This raised quizzical eyebrows. But I saw an opening to get that gasp of disbelief only children give, and they are almost too old now to be susceptible. I plowed ahead. “Hell,” I said, “when I was a kid, nothing was open on Sundays.” I still have it. Huge gasp, leaned forward.

“Come on,” they said.

“Locked up tight as a drum.”

“What,” said the youngest, “if you wanted to get a movie,” one of which we were returning. Loved it. Now I got to explain videotape’s nonexistence pre-1970 to the public. But it was the fact that no food store, no convenience store, and only one gas station out near the highway (the Interstates had not been built) were open on Sundays in the 1950s. What did people do, they wanted to know.

Well, there were restaurants and movie theaters and entertainment in the areas not soaked in the Blood of the Lamb. I told them that it must have been horribly difficult to have been an observant Jew, thus lose both Sunday and Saturday. I told them that when 7-11’s came along they probably made half their sales on Sundays, and that when supermarkets started staying open past nine in the evening and opening on Sundays, civilization changed.

It changed because the Sunday, church or not, no longer had to be planned way ahead. The shopping for a big meal no logger had to be done by Friday or Saturday morning; families tended to stay together on Sunday because activities were limited and required planning, and when I was the age of the kids to whom I was emoting, it had all seemed to be claustrophobic and awful.

Yet, that holiday, I think, provided a surety, a hitching post, that centered our civilization, and I say that with no sense of hyperbole. When you were stuck at home with family, you either murdered each other or got to know and endure. The fact that there are so many alternatives today has shredded that choice.

Let me be truthful, I thought the dissolution of official Sunday to be a godsend, and I hardly advocate a return to the Puritan Blue Laws of my native Massachusetts. But today, a holiday as much a cross between business annoyance and college athletic marketing, I was thinking how the roles of holidays, weekly or annual, have changed. Before people were performing comparable activities that gave the phrase Sunday dinner a resonant ring. Today, holidays are like any other when separate lives can be pursued.

I had long ago lost the kids who were playing Game Boy in the back seat. I thanked them and their folks for Christmas, and walked into the halfway house, filled with kids to whom the phrase Sunday dinner meant nachos in front of the Broncos game. I’m old, but lucky.

Happy New Year.