Jenny Sturgill

Sundays are different. At least that's how I saw them growing up in a small rural community. Every day was the same except Sunday. It was a different day, and I felt it the minute I awoke. It was as if a hush had seeped over the community during the night, like mist rising after a summer rain, saturating everything in its path. Even the dogs slept in and greeted the day with a long stretch and a half-hearted growl.

The clock vanished on Sunday; time went unmarked. Routines took a different time slot, as though someone had shaken up all the pieces of the day and let them fall as if they were puzzle pieces spilled onto the floor.

Even the sun's rays seemed different on Sunday, filtering through the treetops, dotting the grass with light and cool shadows, its radiance going unnoticed any other day. Rich colors brightened the houses, trees and mountains, as if they were vivid pictures painted on canvas.

Women climbed out of bed early and prepared dinner for after church — lunchtime being the dinner hour where I grew up. Pots sat on the stove full of steamy mashed potatoes. The women popped open canned jars of green beans and added a hunk of jowl meat for flavor; they sliced plates full of juicy, ripe tomatoes, fresh from the garden, and baked pans of flaky, mouthwatering biscuits. Heaping bowls of cabbage slaw sat in the refrigerator, made with real mayonnaise, waiting for whoever might wander in after church to eat.

We were poor, so Grandma did the best she could with our Sunday dinner, making do with beans and potatoes and store-bought cookies for dessert.

The Sunday smell of fried chicken weaved its way through my open window along with the scent of honeysuckle and the music of singing. Old familiar hymns twined over the tree canopies and floated out over the community and on down the river, dissolving into the distance. Up the road, on a flat piece of dirt carved out of the mountainside, stood the church. A plain, white painted building, the steeple rose from its rooftop, reaching up to heaven.

In silent fascination I watched as parades of families filed by our house on their way to church dressed in their best clothes, their minds occupied by devout thoughts.

Women wore hats and gloves to match their Sunday dresses. Little boys trotted along, their faces scrubbed clean of yesterday's grime and dirt, their hair slicked back with hair oil, shirt tails tucked inside pants pressed and creased sharp enough to slice meat. Little girls wore white Mary Jane shoes with lace-trimmed socks and colorful crisp dresses that stood out around their knees from the many crinolines underneath. The sun dazzled as it reflected from their bouncy, freshly shampooed hair. It was especially then that a haunting feeling stirred inside of me.

We didn't attend church, but we heard preaching from our small black and white TV. If you were sick or just wanted to be saved, all you had to do was touch the screen and Jesus would heal you or save you, whichever you needed at the time. The preachers asked for prayer requests wrapped with donations of any amount of money to help their evangelism. "More would be better," they said.

After church, the congregation filed down to the river to witness the rebirth of Christians through baptism with water. I could see them from my window. They were a congregation filled with the Holy Spirit, their faces radiant and glowing as if something magical had overtaken them. Men, women, and sometimes children waded out through the murky, waist high water to meet the outstretched arms of the preacher, prepared to wash away their sins. Strong robust mine workers lay passively in the preacher's arms, trusting him to lean them back gently until the waters parted and closed over them before he raised them as new creatures in Christ. The congregation whispered, "thank you Jesus," some wiping away tears, others shouting "praise The Lord." Some raised their hands to heaven, eyes shut, rocking back and forth. Even as a child watching from my window, I knew this must be a real transformation of one's life.

Everything closed on Sunday. The roads were empty, mowers silenced, voices hushed, and work ceased. Fathers emerged from behind squeaky screen doors to toss a ball or push laughing little girls in swings. Folks gathered on front porches to discuss their gardens, talk about who was pregnant by whom, who said what, and, of course, what the weather would be doing.

Late afternoon found men in rocking chairs, hats pulled over their eyes, arms folded across their full bellies, buttons stretched to their limit. They dozed, still wearing their white shirts and ties, while children played on the steps or under the porch. Old men played checkers in the cool shade of towering oaks. Late in the afternoon, the lonesome sound of a train whistle echoed from the tracks across the river.

Out to the side of the church was the small cemetery. Enclosed by a capable iron fence, it was a cold reminder that this world is not our home. Tombstones, some big and bold, others small and modest, stood at attention before our maker. Often I'd slip through the gate and wander through the tombstones brushing back the overgrown weeds that hung like sleeping ghosts over the names of the deceased. I'd pause and wonder who these people were, what they did, and how they died, somehow fascinated by the names of young children and babies. Some graves had remnants of old faded half-blown-away flowers and I couldn't help feeling sad for these forgotten folks.

Mrs. Johnson visited the cemetery every Sunday. She was a woman stooped from too many loads of sorrow, clutching a bouquet of wild daisies for her son's grave. She had an unraveled look about her, like an old sweater that's coming apart, her body willowy, legs thin and slightly bowed, her face solemn, with strands of grey hair escaping from under her Sunday hat. She'd kneel beside the grave of her boy, his youth stolen by a tragic automobile accident 20 years before. Mrs. Johnson spent the biggest part of the day there kneeling, praying, and talking with her son.

To the left of the blacktopped two-lane road, the general store slept, rocking chairs still and empty on the porch. The jars of pink bubble gum, red striped peppermints, and all sorts of penny candy lined the inside windowsill unopened. A few times I had a penny my Grandma had given me for a piece of the pink bubble gum. That was my favorite. I liked to see how big a bubble I could make before it burst all over my face. Once in awhile Mr. Kneel, the storekeeper, would slide me a peppermint candy across the counter when he thought Mrs. Kneel wasn't looking. On Sunday the door was locked, the screen door silenced. A red "closed" sign hung at an angle on the rusty screen door.

Mr. Kneel lived over to the side and down the hill from the store. He made several trips there on Sundays. Still wearing his white shirt with a sliver of white sock peeping from under his black Sunday pants legs, his keys jingling from his pocket, and his shiny black shoes crunching the gravel, he'd amble toward the store for a customer with a desperate need for milk or bread that couldn't possibly wait until Monday.

God gave us Sunday to step outside the world and be free from the demands of life, a chance to focus on things that matter and make life worth living. Now, in my heart I can still hear the sound of the old familiar songs, mild and sweet, taking me back to those times in my childhood. Even today, there's something in a Sunday that makes it special, makes it different from any other day of the week.

There is something in a Sunday!

Copyright by
Jenny Sturgill

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