Last fall, a cousin of mine clued me in to my hometown paper looking for stories about growing up there back in the fifties. Several of mine have already been published and the most recent one sparked a lot of feedback. A dear friend and I recently had a chat about it.
Titled “Sunday Mornings,” it was a glimpse into 1950s family Sundays. Granted, they weren’t everyone’s Sundays, but they were mine. Even in their uniqueness, though, they were similar to Sunday mornings for so many of my neighbors as new Americans in the old neighborhood, in that old time.
Since most Americans are from another country somewhere in their history, most of us have family traditions that are largely influenced by not only that history, but by how many generations have passed since our own ancestral immigration to the U.S., and by how and why our ancestors immigrated at all.
As first generation Americans, most of my 17 aunts got married to locals and raised their own family in the neighborhood where they grew up. I saw most of them and my numerous cousins nearly every day. Sunday mornings, my family gathered at my paternal grandmother’s home, as did all her six married sons, for hot meatball sandwiches, Italian pastry, and great family time.
As second generation Americans, even my siblings and I didn’t move too far away, so even our children were heavily affected by our familial traditions, not the least of which was the continuance of Sunday morning meatballs and pastry. When my children were older, we relocated over an hour away, so Sunday traditions changed to a great degree.
Common for all extending generations, my kids grew up, went away to college, and ultimately relocated again, on their own. That’s when Sunday morning traditions really went south … well, more true to the compass, west and north. Now, with two of my four children once again nearby, we are occasionally lucky enough to capture them for Sunday morning meatballs and sweets. It’s a salute to the family gathering offered to us every Sunday in days long ago.
For any families, though, who still have regular Sunday traditions, it’s wonderful: little kids running around; adult children laughing and catching up; and traditional foods covering the groaning board. The day is still as magical as ever, but rare. My friend and I lamented over how many families don’t have that anymore.
Its causes are twofold, I think. First, it’s generational to be sure. New Americans seem to arrive from other single nations in waves. So, it seems that, as each new immigrant group arrives, they keep more to their countrymen for support and inclusion. Each group of newcomers seems to keep close to its own for that full generation or two before naturally becoming enmeshed as Americans and, therefore, more independent. The American born generation spreads out and is more likely to marry into another culture or to someone from another locale. They leave the “kibbutz” that was their childhood nest and, with their assimilation complete, they are more likely to become more geographically distant.
Still, over the last few decades, there is a second cause that impacted upon family Sundays. Sunday, in and of itself, has taken a hit. Just as Saturdays had always been relegated to those activities that weren’t connected to school, like chores, Scouting, friends, errands, trombone lessons, or dance recitals, Sundays were strictly reserved for religion and family. Even though family connections are still imperative to make us all strong, my friend and I agreed that Sunday in America, has now become just an extra Saturday.
Today, even if our next generations are nearby, there are rehearsals for something, football games or practices, Scout activities, fundraisers for groups or teams … something to demand their Sunday time. These are things that would rarely, if ever, have happened back in the 50s regardless of where we lived. There were blue laws keeping stores and many service centers closed, and neither generic leagues nor schools would dare book a function on Sunday; parents would be shrieking and probably boycotting it as well.
Yes, the complexion of Sunday has changed for most Americans, new or not. It would be a tough act to float but it would be nice if Sundays were just for making time for families again. Family Sundays used to give kids a strong sense of belonging. Sport teams and outside groups are great, but they definitely aren’t Sunday meatballs.