“COMING OVER TO watch the game?” my buddy Alner called as I got out of my car, church bulletin in hand.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” I answered.
“You know,” he said, “I wonder what people did back in the old days when Sunday was just sitting at home, twiddling your thumbs — you know, before we had these big TVs and everything and all the stores had to close.”
“Alner,” I said, shaking my head, “the scantiness of your knowledge never ceases to amaze me. Let’s take a trip.”
“Why do I give you these openings?” he moaned. “Now we’ll miss the kickoff.”
“No we won’t. My power of metaphysical travel will get us back in time a couple of generations, and my theoretical simultaneity will freeze-frame the entire NFL and its legion of TV commentators.”
“Something smells good,” he said as we strolled down a Wyoming Valley street on an early autumn Sunday in the 1940s.
“It’s called ‘dinner with the family,’ ” I said. “For many of us in 2013 it has been succeeded by ‘shopping with the credit cards.’ ”
“I can smell roast chicken and pumpkin pie a mile away.”
“These folks have been through a lot,” I said. “They survived the Great Depression and the war. They know what’s valuable and what they can do without.”
“Don’t they have any – you know – entertainment?” Alner asked.
“They have big, thick Sunday papers, probably delivered by a boy pulling a coaster wagon full of them. New York, Philly, the Independent, whatever you want, he has. While mom’s mashing the potatoes, dad’s probably reading the funnies to the younger kids and doing goofy voices to keep them laughing.”
“I can hardly even find the funnies today,” he said.
“They’re a dying institution,” I said. “We live in a grim time.”
“Hey,” he smirked, “they don’t have any TV.”
“No, but they’ve got first-class radio. “In the evening they’ll listen to some of the best comedy ever – Phil Harris, Jack Benny, ‘Our Miss Brooks.’ There’s never been a mystery show to equal ‘The Shadow’ either. Try putting an invisible crime fighter on TV!”
“I don’t see many cars on the streets,” he said.
“A lot of neighborhoods are pretty much self-sufficient. They have little grocery stores, which are closed today of course, and there are clusters of shops – drugstores, variety stores, restaurants and the like – not far away. And, let me be clear about this, people used to walk to where they wanted to go, even if it took an hour or so. Besides, during the week there’s great bus service.”
“OK, now let’s say there was a problem, like maybe little Susie or Johnnie had a sudden earache.”
“Good question,” I nodded. “People helped each other back in this time. Often relatives lived close together, and there was always somebody with the right remedy.”
“Looks like party time,” Alner said, pointing to a family standing on a front porch as the dad knocked on the front door.
“In a sense,” I said. “Folks did a lot of visiting back and forth. Whole families got together in the evening or on Sunday, sometimes just because they were neighbors. There’s another lost art.”
With Alner uncharacteristically silent for a few moments, I stepped in.
“Let’s not miss the game,” I said.
“Yeah, let’s not,” he grinned. “Hey, I can tell you who today’s losers are.”
“Us! If you hadn’t picked a Sunday, we could have loaded up on chips and sodas for about 50 cents.”