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.

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