The Sunday Drive and Pictures 10 & 11

While Lifelongernewyorker did not walk five miles to school — uphill both ways — she did grow up a while ago.  Things were different, as these pictures suggest.

First, the occasion: Nothing special, just a Sunday drive.  That meant that, shortly after church and breakfast (rolls and butter, as I recall), my father would say, “Who wants to go for a drive?”  The question was probably more ritual than real inquiry: of course we would go for a drive.

The cousins kept their church clothes on for the Sunday drive.

We girls kept our church clothes on for the Sunday drive.

With my two sisters and cousin (part of many such excursions before her parents left Brooklyn for Long Island soon after this photo was taken), we piled into the ’55 Pontiac. I’m not sure if I was still, at about three years old, sitting in the “child seat” — a contraption that hooked over the back of the front seat and featured a small plastic steering wheel so the kid could pretend to drive. Designed for distraction, not safety, you can think of it as the 1950s death trap for tots. If not, as the youngest and least powerful, I certainly sat in the middle, over the hump.

The destinations varied.  More often than not, we stayed close to home and went to the Prospect Park Zoo, the path along the Shore Parkway, or the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza. But my father liked to drive, so we also ventured farther afield, often to Bear Mountain or West Point.

My mother rarely came along.  As I’ve noted in earlier blogs, she had her hands full taking care of us, my grandfather and the house in general.  My father’s job was to get us out from underfoot.

The only item missing was the glovrch, or to West Point.

Why the fancy clothes?  Readers: girls wore dresses in those days, pretty much all the time. Pants were rare, and reserved for play.  You didn’t wear them to school, or to church, or to visit West Point.

So, are the differences merely ones of style? Not entirely.  Allow me to employ my teacher voice (as if I ever leave it behind), to point out the larger social, economic and political forces that have swept away the circumstances that brought us to West Point that day:

  • The women’s movement has changed what we wear, who does the driving and whether it’s mom or dad who does the cooking (or ordering out).
  • Repeal of the “blue laws,” which kept stores of all kinds closed on Sunday, gave people alternatives for Sunday activity.  Now we can shop at Home Depot in the morning and return home to work on that DIY project in the afternoon.
  • Technology, of course, means that we’d see this as a video taken on the smartphone in full color, with sound, rather than as this short still moment captured on black and white film (or fil-lem, as my father would have said).
  • OPEC and the gas crisis of the 70s pretty much killed the Sunday drive as fun family pastime.  Gas prices have never gone down, and we’ve lost the habit of heading to the car for no good reason.
  • Was there even programming on TV on Sunday afternoon besides Fulton Sheen?  So much more to do today.

I’m sure the list could go on.  What are the big forces, technological innovations and social mores that have intervened? Add a few of your own theories in comments.

And note, please: No rose-colored nostalgia, or laments about how those were better days.  Remember what’s not in the picture: my mother back home in the kitchen, cooking, ironing or maybe doing some special project like waxing all the floors. We girls got to watch the cadets, but dared not dream that we could ever be one.  Didn’t stop for a game of catch.  Got maybe nine miles to the gallon of gas. No seatbelts.  Little kids perched in deathtraps.


7 Responses

  1. Our Sunday drives brought us to Maryknoll in Ossining, NY to visit my uncle in seminary before he shipped out for 7 years of missionary work in Peru (without a permitted visit home!) They also brought us to various tri-state suburbs in what seemed like a never-ending quest to find that perfect house with the backyard and front lawn, where we could all have our own bedroom and not have to share it with 4 brothers and a sister! While I liked the pretty Sunday dresses, I was very glad when pants finally became part of the Sunday dress code!

  2. Brings back memories of my mom rushing to the bank to get money on Fridays for the weekend. No bank machines, credit cards (perish the thought!) … and the bank closed at 3 pm. At least I got a lollipop.

  3. I love to hear stories of your childhood, as my mom rarely talks about it. Rebecca just saw the picture of grandma and the girls and asked, but why is it gray? Its funny to think of all the things that a young child knows no different until she sees something else for the first time.

    • Keep in mind, though, that my childhood and your mothers are different. I really think of it as two different families. She grew up with a close-in-age sibling, an aunt and uncle and a younger grandfather. I grew up without the aunts and uncles, with my grandfather either blind (until his cataract surgery) or aging, and two older sisters who somethings seemed like two additional mothers.

  4. Until and soon after my father died when I was 7, we lived in an area of Southern California called the Inland Empire (thanks for the shout-out, David Lynch). We did Sunday drives, too, but my grandmother was the one who planned them and drove. My grandfather was a plumber and was always on call; the parts of Sunday when the phone didn’t ring he spent snoring in a recliner.

    We most often drove to Palm Springs. I know this conjures up sightings of Bob Hope and Dinah Shore and great mid-century houses. Of course, the houses were there, since this WAS mid-century. But mostly I remember lots of dryness, since this was before “city water” was used to green up the suburbs. And the most vivid memory is a stop at Hadley’s, a huge fruit and nut stand that has existed since the early 1930s. It’s still there, as a large store now, and sells products from the Hadley orchards. (Hadley lore is that the owners also invented trail mix for hikers in the San Jacinto Mountains.)

    We would bring our own lunch (usually avocado sandwiches on white bread) and then stop on the way back for honey, almonds and Medjool or black dates. My grandmother, who worked as a county librarian, sometimes also treated us to a date shake. When I think about a Sunday drive, I can still taste a cold date shake and smell the heat coming from my grandmother’s car seats. Thanks for this memory, Maureen!

  5. You reminded me how in college, I used to earn pocket money by typing term papers. Now everyone has to know how to type or they’re essentially mute. Even my 17 year old is quick with a keyboard.

  6. We also went for Sunday drives when I was a kid…and we had 4 or 5 kids in the car and my nana… Mom always came because she was the one who wanted the Sunday drive. We had no seat belts, we actually were standing sometimes. I am totally in tune with safety and women’s rights etc. and don’t wax nostalgic about everything back then, but we do have to remember that there were many fewer cars on the roads at that time and the speed my father drove at was often beaten by my big brother running down the block. Knowing that your mom was going to be home cooking dinner or sitting on the community bench with her friends was somehow heartening when you got home from school. I have to say I do look back fondly at those simpler times when taking a drive and seeing the sights and simply talking were a really nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon and this comes from a woman addicted to texting, cell phones, facebook and all kinds of gadgetry! And I miss my mom being home when I get there!

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