23 April 2010

Dutch Lesson II: Sunday Afternoon

 Many western traditions have the Sunday walk - probably a Christian thing as it hinged on Sunday. In Canada, up until the early 1980s, the majority of stores and businesses were closed on Sundays...aka, there was nothing to do. After Sunday Dinner (lunch), a walk in the countryside, perhaps a drive, or even a bike ride was in order. There was NOTHING to watch on t.v either. Maybe re-runs of the Gallopping Gourmet? I don't recall.
In our house, if we dared turn the t.v on before Sunday night Walt Disney (or Tiny Talent Time if we skipped afternoon church), we were in peril, or at least FELT in peril. Of what I don't know. But it felt silkily sinful to hear the t.v's crickly shimmer when you pressed ON. Then OFF again. Quickly. glancing over your shoulder.

For dutch immigrants in Canada, particularly of the Reformed church kind, there were some restrictions over how much of the world you could let in on Sunday. TV represented the world, and for some stricter families, so did driving cars, riding bikes or anything with wheels, playing cards, or even changing out of your Sunday best into play clothes. Which reminds me. My husband's family , in its earlier stage would go for a stroll in their Sunday best in the neighborhood  - perhaps after lunch? I imagine my mohter-in-law in her Sunday suit and heels, my father-in-law in his suit and tie, and 4 of their eventual 5 kids, all in hand-made suits 

and dresses, walking about in their finery as other slobs mowed their lawns and washed their cars, watching the righteous parade go by.

The intent was, I think, to feel that it was a special day, a day separate from the rest. a day of leisure in one's finest - like some hint of paradise. And upon reflection, I think it was also to feel separate from the rest. as in others. Dutch reformed folk truly thought they were God's chosen.

 As did every other ethnic group in Canada, in their own way.
That would include Brits as an ethnic group. though they wouldn't think of it like that.

Sunday was a day of rest from business and shopping as for everyone else, but for us, it also meant not doing chores or work of any kind other than doing dishes. God rested from creation. God's people rested from creating a better world after sin mucked it up. or so the story goes.

In the Niagara region where I was, you had to do an activity that fit into the time slot of about 2 hours after Sunday Dinner.The reformed dutch thought it best to go to church twice - hem you in with a sermon on each side of your Sunday to keep things godly. And for us in the farm and greenhouse belt, this meant the second service was at 4:30pm so those particular folk could have the early evening for chores (which were accepted as a necessary evil)

Sunday afternoons at our house usually meant one thing. playing in the ravine - and we could change into play clothes. We had a ravine to the left of our back yard, and we would go down there, more often in the fall and spring (summer it was dark and mosquito-y, winter we would be tobaggoning down the hill that was our front yard) to play and explore.

I have fond memories of building lean-to forts at the bottom of the ravine leaning into the hill - made out of sticks and fallen branches and insolated with fallen leaves. we had livingrooms and kitchens. We would lie in beds of leaves inside and wait for all the crackling to stop, which it did but for the subtlest of cricks. Often my dad would be here in full force building with us, fooling around with rocks and branches in the creek. He was the biggest kid of all.

Sometimes our play time would be interupted by my mother's call for tea, which signalled the end as far as we saw it, as tea signalled church soon after. Sometimes there would be no call - perhaps a previous arrangment made between  my parents that we'd not go to church that afternoon, or my mother had fallen asleep in the folds of the Banner (the church magazine). We would cross our fingers and hope my dad would be so involved in what we were doing so as to forget about the impending deadline. sometimes he did.

My parents have since built a new home on a harbour of Lake Ontario, moving about a 15 minute drive further into wine country. there is a bit of a ravine, but it is rather steep. So if we are there, with my kids, on a Sunday afternoon, we might go for a walk after lunch if its nice. A few Sundays ago we went to a little park in Jordan/Vinleand on Lake Ontario. I took this pic above while everyone was walking the other way.

This is what we looked like on the beach. We are all looking for different things. My dad (to the right) and my two older sons were looking for skipping stones - flat, smooth and rounded spheres that you can toss in a sideways motion almost as you would for a frisbee, on the surface of the water, and you can see the stone skip on the top of the water for ages - you are supposed to count the skips. Grandpa beat his grandsons every time. This is impressive since he has Parkinson's and can find it difficult to do up buttons, but he can skip stones like a 15 year old. better actually. typical my dad. he really can't stop playing. especially on Sundays. ingrained habit.

Ez, my youngest, and I with my mom's help were looking for bright pieces of blue and green and light blue - When I was a kid and we went to the lake on a Sunday, I remember looking for these precious little stones - jewels from afar -  to have my dad say, "they're just pop bottle glass". That did not deter my fascination with these smoothed over little bright bits. And there they were again, bright litle bits, just as I had seen them 35 years ago. the deep blue bits I am sure are old pieces of Noxema jars. The green bits are from old 7-up bottles. The stones in this part of Lake Ontario are tiny, you can fit a few dozen just in one pocket. 

Ask Ezra. He could barely bend enough to sit down.

Whereas the stones around the Lake where we live nearer to Toronto, are far larger - there glass would fall through the cracks, maybe to be enjoyed in a thousand years when they are worn into small stones.

Oh to be hemmed in, 
maybe not by sermons anymore, 
or by strict rules about keeping the world at bay, 
but by an idea, a practice, that one day of the week 
should be free of work 
and meant for play. 


  1. I remember your ravine. How I loved those afternoons, hoping the call wouldn't come and we'd miss church. I also remember your parents locking their bedroom door for their Sunday afternoon 'nap!'

  2. thanks for the reminder my ultra observant friend :0 !

  3. What a wonderful post. I love the memories and the photos and the now of it all. Just wonderful.

  4. Lovely little rhyme at the end of your post. I too remember the ravine although I never played in it.

  5. I agree...more time for playing and laughing. Beautiful memories, indeed. The photos are just amazing.


  6. What a lovely story told well. A nice reminder to take a break on Sundays and play.

  7. Am new to your blog. Thank you for the reminder about Sunday!... Refreshing

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