Sunday was my least favorite day of the week as a child. But the misery began on Saturday night when Mom would load Renee and I in the bathtub together. This always involved a fight as neither of us wanted to sit at the back of the tub where we had once seen a huge spider lurking. I hated joint baths. The rare occasions when I got to bathe alone I could take my time and make bubbling parachutes out of the washcloths and a boat from the floating bar of Dove soap. But with Renee in the tub, and me trying to scoot as far away from the spider corner as possible, there just wasn’t room for any play. Saturday night baths were about efficiency—get us in and out as quickly as possible.
Out of the tub, powdered and in clean jammies, it was time to begin the tortuous task of having our hair set. First, Mom plastered our damp locks with a pink goop called “Dippity-Do.” Then she would twist stands of hair into pin curls which she secured with two intersecting metal “clippies” until our entire heads were metal-plated. Renee sat perfectly still, smiling like a model as she anticipated the beautiful curls she’d have the next day. I squirmed. I scratched. I complained that the clippies were digging into my ears. Mom would appease me by installing strips of cotton over my ears and finish off her work with an itchy hair net to hold everything together. Then, it was off to bed.
How a kid was supposed to get comfortable on a head full of metal was beyond me, but it caused me to wake up in a foul mood the next morning. Renee was up early, flouncing around--ready for Mom to style her lovely curls—which would last about an hour in her fine, stick-straight hair. I sat by glumly, naturally curly hair invigorated by a night confined in clippies, knowing I was doomed to a "do" that would last a week no matter how much I tried to brush it out.
I found Dad on the couch in his pajamas, reading the Sunday paper. I hurried over and claimed the comic section and took it to the Private Library to read in peace. Mom was in the kitchen making bacon and eggs and called to us to get ready for Sunday school.
Ugh. Sunday school. The one day where Dad did not rush off to work and the sun always shined; the day I had to wear clothes I hated and be bored to tears in church; the one day that my favorite program, “Davy and Goliath” was on TV.
I reluctantly dressed in my slippery, lace trimmed socks and patent leather shoes, dismally pulling a dress over my head. It didn’t matter to me what dress I wore—I hated them all. Renee spun around in hers, preening and glowing, and clearly feeling pretty. I made black heel marks on the linoleum on purpose.
Mom served us soft-boiled eggs in the shell. She cut off the tops of the eggs and put them in tiny shot glasses along with buttered toast cut into strips for dipping into the yolk. As I ate, I studied my shot glass thoughtfully. It showed painted cannibals dancing around a black cooking pot that contained a desperate looking white guy who was waving his arms over his head. Around the glass was printed, “Down the hatch.” I shuddered and kept dipping.
All too soon we heard the church bells from down the street and that was our cue to leave the house. Mom handed us each a strip of bacon wrapped in a paper napkin which we nibbled slowly as we walked—hoping to make the salty, greasy goodness last the whole 3 blocks to the church. We took the side door down the steps to the church basement and found a seat in the semi-circle arrangement of chairs around the old upright piano. Though I loved to sing on my own, I did not like singing at church. When they asked for requests, I chose “America the Beautiful.”
“That is not a church song,” the teacher corrected with a frown that clearly said, “Shame on you—you know better…”
“Then why is it in the Sunday school song book,” I retorted in my head and sighed, resigned to more verses of “Jacob’s Ladder,” a song which made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Things picked up when someone requested “Do Lord.” I sang loudly, inspired that the Lord might “remember me--oh Lordy.” I thought a bit of clapping was in order for this number and so I put my hands together. The other children stared at me and a teacher, who clearly believed such displays of enthusiasm were not fitting for the Lord’s House, shook her head at me disapprovingly. Further deflated, I slumped in my chair squeaking my bare legs against the cold metal, and busied myself with the task of retrieving my damp, bunched-up socks that had gathered inside the arch of each foot. I got the distinct impression that God did not approve of children.
I yawned through the Sunday school lesson, half-heartedly filling in the coloring page with an assortment of broken crayons. My favorite Bible story was never featured—the one I read often at home in the big book of Children’s Bible Stories I had gotten for Christmas. It was about wise King Solomon who had to figure out who a baby belonged to when two mothers both claimed it was theirs. King Solomon said, “Bring me a sword and I’ll divide the child in two.” [shiver] And the baby’s real mother said, “No, oh King! Don’t harm the child—let her have him instead.” And the mean other lady who was lying the whole time said, “No! Let neither of us have the child but divide him in half.” [gasp] Solomon saw right through the whole thing and gave the baby to his real mom who was willing to give him up so he could live. It was a great story with lots of excitement. I don’t know why we never got to read it at Sunday school.
At the final “Amen” of the Lord’s Prayer, I bounded up the church steps taking care to make my uncomfortable shoes smack as loudly as possible on the bare floors. We went straight to the back pew on the far right—which our Gram maybe owned. She never sat anywhere else. Grandpa was there, too, and he gave us peppermint Lifesavers and pens from his sport coat so we could decorate the bulletins.
If the music downstairs was lifeless, the music upstairs was painful. The organist attacked the piano with such vigor and inaccuracy my ears hurt. I tried following along in the hymnal but couldn’t sing the erratic melodies. My Gram didn’t sing, ever. She just sucked on a cough drop and smiled at me. She didn’t believe in “making a joyful noise,” I guess.
My grandpa slept during the sermons, though I don’t know how, because sometimes the minister was inclined to yell. It was our job to poke Grandpa when his eyes closed before he could snore. I crowded close to my Gram who kept me busy with hand games that she must have made up. One involved her holding her hand open and me, trying to poke my finger in her palm without her catching it. Another was a sort of stacking game that any number of people could play. She’d put her hand on her knee, then I’d put mine on top: Her hand, my hand, her hand, my hand. The hand on the bottom had to slide out and go to the top of the hand pile. The game went faster and faster until you forgot whose hand was whose. It was great fun. I loved my Gram’s soft hands with their big, blue veins and bright red fingernails. Playing with her was the best part of my day.
One Sunday, when church was over and we filed out to shake the minister’s hand at the back door, I asked him a question that had long bothered me.
“Who made God?”
The minister looked a little puzzled, then embarrassed. He laughed and smiled at the other people waiting in line behind me. He didn’t have an answer. I knew it: God was about as real as the Tooth Fairy. Church made people sleep and waste a perfectly good morning. I didn’t have much interest in a God like that.
Sunday afternoons were a continuing test of endurance. It was a time for adults to nap and for children to amuse themselves quietly. There was nothing on TV but golf—all the good stuff had been on while we were at church. Our neighboring playmates, the Barrys, spent every weekend at their grandparents’ farm. The only one left on the block was their melancholy beagle, Rover. The sad little dog took his family’s absence hard and would sit in the front yard, nose to the sky, howling long and mournfully the whole time they were gone. I tried, on occasion, to cheer him up, but was never successful. Rover was sure a loyal dog.
The one thing that redeemed the long morning and endless afternoon was Sunday night. The countdown began with The Lawrence Welk Show—something we kids had to endure because the adults liked it. (And because we only had one TV, black and white, that got one station--NBC's channel 7. I did have to admit, after year's of viewing, that Bobby was awfully cute dancing with Sissy and wouldn't I have fun with Lawrence’s bubble machine?) I scooted closer to the TV to watch the lengthy commercials and scant programming of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I watched breathlessly as white-haired Marlon Perkins teetered off camera to let his handsome young assistant, Jim, wrestle a boa constrictor into a cage so they could relocate it far away from a village. Then I learned that Mutual of Omaha would protect us from calamity of all kinds if we signed up for their insurance. (And they were very convincing with their Indian-chief-in-a-headdress logo. I told Dad we should get that insurance. He told me that wasn't the kind grandpa sold.) Some nights, Mom would make us TV dinners which we got to eat on folding TV trays in the living room while we watched our favorite program of all—Walt Disney! I carefully peeled back the foil and ate every bite of the pressed turkey and soggy cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes (that were sometimes cold in the middle), peas and—finally—the two bites of dreadfully hot chocolate pudding cake in the dead center of the tray. It was a feast fit for a king!
I’d made it through another Sunday. And the best part: Tomorrow was Monday and it belonged to me!