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Saturday History: “Remember the Sabbath…”

Letty, 89, explains some of the rules that a small farming community lived by, during the Great Depression.

“Remember the Sabbath…”

Gambrel style barn

My mother was long on seeing our family living according to the law of Moses as preserved in the ten commandments. In general, those rules make sense. Our world would be less frazzled today if we shut down the malls on Sunday and cleaned up the language of the internet and the street. That is simply a comment.

Our family had no trouble with the avoiding killing and stealing and worshiping idols and getting divorces. Those things were not happening in German evangelical settings. Keeping the Sabbath seems simple enough, but what consists of keeping it holy and avoiding all work? Is feeding and watering the animals forbidden? And what about milking cows? Surely that is work, but can it be done on a Sunday? What about cooking meals? And washing dishes? And getting dressed and driving the six miles over dirt roads to go to church service? Folks talked about it on the party line because it was serious business. Our family worked out its own boundaries. Probably other families did the same.

Now and then the no work on Sunday got sticky to interpret. What if a hay crop is cut, dried and ready to put in the barn and rain is likely to come on Monday and ruin the crop? What if the wheat has been cut by a binder that left it in tied bundles on the ground on Saturday. Can it be put in the shocks to dry it on Sunday? That led to long discussions in German families and on the party lines as neighbors talked it over. Our family stuck to the no work rule. Who wanted to risk the wrath of God? The hay crop might be saved, but God had ways of dealing with people who interpreted his laws to suit themselves.  If exceptions began to be made, where did they stop? On the farm, a reason to break the rules could always be found. It was safer to avoid exceptions.

My father usually baked the breakfast cornbread. Nobody questioned whether or not he should. My mother would never have considered making bread that had to be kneaded. That was sure enough work. Dishes had to be washed because there were no extra ones- except for the bluebird dishes which were used only at Christmas.

After coming home from church, if the roads were passable enough for us to attend, my mother ate a snack and took a nap. My father never, ever took a nap. He was always plagued by insomnia, so sleeping at night was challenge enough for him. That meant that many a Sunday I had his undivided attention. He always used the time to teach me, to walk in the pasture and the woods with me if weather permitted. No wonder I once won a prize for identifying the most trees in our county. Even today, I am amazed when people do not know a maple from a hickory or a spruce from a cedar. I had the best of the best in teachers.

Besides keeping of the Sabbath, my mother was adamant about taking the Lord’s name in vain. She included such words as “darn” in her forbidden list. She could remember who used a curse word from there on. They remained on her list of folks to avoid. This attitude caused little problem since we lived like hermits anyway.

In addition to the ten commandments passed on by Moses, my mother added card playing. Not only were we not to play cards, we were never to be in a house where anyone played a game with cards. I am not speaking here of gambling. I am speaking of playing cards for fun. I never challenged her or asked her where that notion came from. I really did not care. I was too restless to sit around for very long at a time anyway. My sister and my brother followed the lead in the notion of cards being sinful. Ray taught me how to play strip poker after we met!

Thank goodness Moses never condemned dancing. That really would have messed up my life since that was my favorite activity. Ray took me dancing on our first dates. He was a good dancer. I could never measure up to him, but it was my favorite thing to do.

History of Playing Cards

Creative Commons photo courtesy of  Nicholas A. Tonelli on flickr.

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