I am not Italian, so my Sunday memories are not those of a 4-foot, 10-inch nonna standing over the stove, stirring her “gravy” for hours, the entire house redolent with the aroma of tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices.
Instead, my Sundays consisted of dutifully going to Sunday school, then coming home to melted cheese on English muffin halves (my mother thought it classier than plain grilled cheese), and then either going visiting or having people come over to visit us.
That’s what families did in those days. Sundays were days to go “visiting.” It didn’t matter if the same grandparent or aunt and uncle came every week, it seemed the adults always had something to talk about and were never at a loss for words, even if they were well-worn words with stories told and retold week after week, year after year. Somehow with each retelling, the details changed, the people’s names were altered, and even outcomes were modified, but the grownups seldom tired of those kitchen-table stories. Children, however, were never included in those conversations, but were always expected to be polite, meet and greet, get hugged, kissed, pinched on the cheeks, and told how big we were getting, which always baffled me because, just how much can you grow from one Sunday to the next?
No matter. The visits were as predictable as the people who visited, the stories that ensued, and what they brought. Always, the visitor brought something. Today when visiting someone’s home, many bring a bottle of wine, but back then the number one “Sunday visit gift” was a box of candy. For one thing, a box of candy in the ’50s wasn’t all that expensive, and everyone delighted in picking out their favorites. Cholesterol, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease hadn’t been invented yet, so those who didn’t know any better, got their “highs” from nougats, chocolate cherries, and sickening sweet fondants passed ’round the kitchen table.
Sunday visits also meant “Sunday best” when it came to attire. If the visitors had come directly from church, they were already well-dressed — men in suits, dress shirts, and ties; women in suits or dresses with hats, shoes, and gloves to match. Even if they hadn’t come from a house of worship, but from their own house, they were still well put together. Jeans? Sneakers? T-shirts with delightful slogans on them like “Our Oysters Really Suck.” No! If you were going visiting, you dressed.
In the 1950s, family life was a family affair. Most everyone had a two-parent household since divorce was not common and carried a certain stigma. You were supposed to get married and stay married, even if you were miserable. It’s just the way things were. A “proper” man had a wife and kids; it was expected by his boss, his neighbors, and the family that came to visit every Sunday.
Many times those visitors stayed for Sunday dinner, and unlike today, the whole family sat down to eat together, even the children. Mom did all the cooking — it was part of her job, as was cleaning, laundry, and raising the children, while the man went out to work. There was no eating in your room or in front of the TV. You were expected to wash your hands, sit up straight, eat what was on your plate without saying “ewww!,” and not interrupt the adults when they were talking. And when Aunt Rose asked you how school was, you were expected to answer politely and not roll your eyes. In the ’50s children’s eyes didn’t roll.
After dinner, everyone would watch TV, the whole family watching the same show, because chances are, there was only one TV in the house. Maybe you had a radio in your room, but it was probably just a transistor your parents got at the local bank when they opened that new account.
There were no cell phones, texting, video games, computers, stereos, or other devices to occupy your time and keep you from communicating with the rest of the family, so you communicated; and that’s how kids got to really know their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. You didn’t roll your eyes when you heard the same story over and over again. Instead, you sat back and opened your ears and your heart, because it was sweet and simple ... and absolutely wonderful.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-539-7762.