Every Sunday was pretty much the same when I was a little girl.
Our family went to church in a tiny country church built by family members long-dead before I was born. On a good Sunday, we had twenty or thirty people in the church. Because we were part of a charge (or circuit) of churches, the preacher came only on the first and third Sundays. The other weeks, we only had Sunday School and singing. It seems to me, the Sunday School superintendent may have given a devotional reading those other Sundays as well.
On cold Sundays, my Grandad got up early to go light the stove at the church, so it would be warm for the congregation.
On warm Sundays, it was a scary treat to go to the old outhouse. I felt old-fashioned, sort of like I’d stepped into a Little House novel. It was also spooky to think what bugs or other critters may be creeping around that little-used outhouse.
Most of my memories are of my Sunday School teacher, Miss Ruth. For a long time, she and I were usually the only ones in my class, an area off the main stage separated by luxuriously thick red curtains. We read through the quarterly and I learned how to pronounce all those odd Old Testament names of people and places. One-on-one, I received a solid foundation of Bible learning.
Along with some cousins and another family or two, my two brothers and I were the only children in the church. On Easter and Christmas, more children came for the Christmas bags of fruit and candy and the annual egg hunt, which had some eggs filled with gold-foil-covered chocolate coins and some eggs filled with real silver dollars.
I vividly remember getting in trouble for giggling and flapping my arms while singing “I’ll Fly Away.” Probably my brother Jeff dared me to do it. I’m sure it was his fault I got in trouble. It always was.
After church, every Sunday, we hurried home to change clothes and then we went to my grandparents’ house — my father’s parents. Their house was up on a hill, and until I was twelve we lived at the bottom of their hill. When I was twelve, we moved five minutes away to live beside my other grandmother.
My dad is one of twelve children. And most of my aunts and uncles and cousins lived right there in our county, within ten minutes of one other. All of us gathered for Sunday lunch up on the hill. I don’t even remember what all we ate. I just remember the table full of food and the people filling up the dining room, living room, and family room. In warm weather, we spilled onto the back porch. I do remember taco shells accidentally fried in degreaser instead of oil, but I’m pretty sure that was a Friday evening meal and not a Sunday lunch.
We played with toys in the back hall, forcing everyone to step over us to get to the bathroom. Or we played Red Rover in the back yard. My aunt was in college at the time and she’d lead us in elementary-school PE games. Sometimes my high-school aged uncles would have the high-jump bar and puffy landing mat, borrowed from the high school, and we’d watch them show off practice. Our young uncles would tease us, holding us over the edge of the tall porch and pretending they’d drop us, calling us silly nicknames they made for each of us, or playing uncle with us until we thought our wrists would break.
I remember games of football in the back yard (and a broken collarbone when my brother landed on a really skinny cousin the wrong way). I remember playing hot-hands with my cousin Walter until I thought my hands would burst into flames. I remember races up and down the hill, playing house under trees, and picking fresh strawberries that weren’t really ready to be picked. I remember sitting in the floor listening to heated discussions about local politics and high school football. I remember taking walks with a big group of aunts and girl cousins, and finding a five dollar bill lying along the road. I remember motorcycle rides down and back up the hill on the back of my uncle’s motorcycle. And I remember a whole bunch of us cousins piling in one uncle’s Jeep Wrangler and riding through country roads with the top and doors off. That was long before the days of seat belt laws and carseats.
Every Sunday, late in the afternoon, we would leave that grandparents’ house and head over to my other grandparents’ house. I can close my eyes and be transported back into Grandma’s kitchen with the beef roast spewing forth in the pressure cooker on the stove. Still to this day, every time I make a beef roast –for just a minute — I become a little girl in my grandma’s kitchen.
My mother is one of two children, so this family dinner was much less-crowded: Papaw, Grandma, Great-Grandma, my uncle, aunt, and two cousins, and my parents and us three kids. I remember playing outside in the play-house my grandpa made for us. I remember walks through the woods, which seemed huge and endless at the time but have shrunk considerably as I’ve gotten older. I remember picking up green apples from under the apple trees. I remember cutting paper off the giant roll of butcher paper to color on. I remember playing with Trixie Belden paper dolls on the sunporch. I remember playing charades and making up skits with my cousins to perform for our long-suffering parents. I remember ice cream and Hershey syrup in the dead of winter, a treat reserved for Grandma’s house.
I remember playing in the attic and calling down through the floor vents, thinking we were somehow tricking our parents. I remember when Grandma got a microwave and then, every week, left some vegetable in it to be found after dinner was cleaned up and coffee was being warmed. I remember one rare occasion when we managed to convince my grandma (then in her late 60’s) and my great-grandma (probably 90) to dance to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘N Roll.” They did their little jig there in the living room while we doubled over laughing, shocked that they really agreed to dance.
Sundays were the best days. Even as a teenager, I enjoyed going to my grandparents’ houses and being with my family. I can still remember my cousin Walter leaning over the side of his desk in our Junior English class and asking, “Are you going on the hill this Sunday?” I think some of our classmates thought we knew of some cool secret hangout named “The Hill.”
I guess, in a way, we did.
When we lived in Virginia (an hour and four hours away from our families), a friend asked why we traveled so much. It’s because I want these same sorts of memories for my children. Though we don’t live close enough to build these memories every Sunday, I want my children to love family and have a pocketful of Sunday-Growing-Up memories to carry with them through life.