After finishing a morning of church, after clearing the dinner table and washing all the dishes, my two brothers and I saw Sunday afternoons as free time. Our parents saw it differently. Sunday afternoons, they said, was when people went calling. None of them were invited. They just showed up. This meant all the toys and games had to be hidden away in closets and drawers because whover dropped by was like a bootcamp drill instructor who would inspect the house–or so we were told.
So, we sat around in the freshly vacuumed living room waiting for the doorbell to ring. We read approved books that would look good if they were suddenly set down on the coffee table when guests arrived. No comic books. No dime novels. Nothing that had been banned in Boston.
Ding. “Oh Christ. it’s the Bakers and they brought their daughter Chrissy with them.” Every time the Bakers came over, Chrissy’s attitude was, “I don’t want to be here.” “The feeling was mutual,” I wanted to say, in fact did say it by pretending she wasn’t in the room.
Mr. Baker (George) asked me the same question every time he brought his rich Episcopalian family into our humble Presbyterian home while his wife Prissy made eye contact with any dust bunny she located.
“How’s school, Malcolm?”
What I said: “Fine.”
What he said: “Good, good, Chrissy’s going to be the valedictorian, lead cheerleader, the May queen, the student council vice president, and the apple of every teacher’s eye.”
What I I wanted to say when Mr. Baker asked about school: “Well, George, I don’t know because I got expelled several weeks ago after getting all the cheerleaders pregnant.” Then he would shout, “Hey, half pint, you didn’t miss your last period did you?”
I smiled just imagining the scene playing out that way. My smile faded when I contemplated a shotgun wedding and subsequently joining the Episcopal Church. Yet, it might have been worth it had it caused all the right people to shun us on Sunday afternoons so we could get on with our lives instead of sitting around pretending we were reading Faulkner and Shakespeare.
I never got lucky, either with Chrissy or stopping people from calling and ruining what could have been a wondrous Sunday afternoon of cowboys and and Indians or Monopoly. I hear that the good Lord rested on Sunday, but we were never allowed that option. The Bakers might ring the doorbell at any moment afterwhich we would lose an hour of our lives while they discussed ships and sealing wax with our parents. Or, if the Rays came over, it was cabbages and kings
Years later I read in the newspaper that Chrissy went to prison for proteting the Vietnam War in an unsavory fashion. The Bakers, bless their hearts, never mentioned it.