Sundays, when I was a child, we went to church. No matter what, all year ’round. During the hot days of summer, church was a sweltering time. Sunday dresses were scratchy and uncomfortable. Church-going demanded the wearing of shoes, unused on every other summer day. All women and girls wore hats.
The pews were full; there was no movement of air. The priest in his layered vestments was red-faced with the heat, though electric fans situated on each side of the altar were aimed directly at him. The temperature didn’t seem to shorten the sermon by a single sentence.
When we were finally released from that hot chamber, we lingered on the steamy pavement while our parents shook hands and greeted friends; my Dad always took time to scold the good Father for the length of the service. Finally, we made our way across the main street and down the side road to our station wagon. The front windows were rolled down to let in a little air as the car moved forward.
We made a brief stop, to drop off a small basket of laundry to a house on Court Street. It was the house, I think, of one of my mother’s aunts. The laundry belonged to Magabelle, an elderly family friend who lived a short walk from us. We waited in the car. Dad walked up the sidewalk to make the exchange, one basket of soiled laundry for another of clean, folded clothes.
Then, home. Out of the car and to our rooms to kick off shoes and exchange church clothes for summer shorts and tops. Down to the kitchen, then, to help with breakfast. We always fasted before Mass, so Sunday breakfast was always after church. Because it was close to noon, it was always a hearty meal that would tide us over until suppertime. Mom would hand out assignments: peel potatoes; butter toast; set the table; pour the juice. By the time Dad returned from his visit with Magabelle, the meal was ready.
After breakfast, once the table was cleared and the dishes washed, dried and put away, the day was ours. This was not a day for housework. House-cleaning and laundry took time every other day of the week, but not on Sunday. In the late afternoon, another meal would have to be prepared, served, and cleaned up after. By evening, the garden would need to be watered. The afternoon, though, was ours.
Memories of those hot summer Sundays involve all of the senses. I can picture our yard, with its patches of sun and shade, small fruit trees, big willow trees, swing set and sand pile. I can feel the hot sand underfoot, the cool, tickling blades of grass, and the warm, rough texture of the garden. I remember the taste of water from the hose, peas fresh from the vines, and the tiny bit of sweetness from the base of clover flowers.
The scent associated with summer Sundays is the smell freshly-mowed grass. The sound of the lawnmower was a backdrop to the giggles of children, enjoying the freedom of a hot summer afternoon.