A Month of Sundays
Growing up in New England, in a smallish town that sprang from farms, into mills, into Suburbia, there were phrases, expressions, that I took for granted. My grandmother had a pack of them. She would refer to people she knew as “Wassiname.” I thought that was actually someone’s surname. It wasn’t until I was nearly a teenager that I discovered, to my great surprise, that Wassiname referred to Mr. Pike, Mrs. Green, Miss Smith, or anyone whose name didn’t instantly pop into her head. But this is the strange part — my mother always seemed to know and understand which Wassiname was being discussed. There must have been something about context, or maybe facial expression, or hand gestures.
Another term my grandmother used readily was “The Old Tinknocker.” At least I knew who that was; even if I didn’t ever know his real name, neither first, nor last. The Old Tinknocker was a gentleman who did auto body repair. My step-grandfather owned a large garage in Boxborough. He also owned several school busses, which he parked near the garage. Going to Grammy’s house was a joy because I could play school while pretending to ride real yellow busses. The Tinknocker was almost always there, at the garage, sometimes at the kitchen table. I presume that he drove one of the busses, at least on occasion, and that he did automotive repair not only on the busses, but probably on other cars as well.
My grandmother was never the traditional grandmother. Gray hair, neatly pressed apron, baking goodies in the sunny kitchen — that was someone else’s grandmother. Grammy always worked, usually in a textile mill. In earlier days, it was reported that she would return home from her day’s labor covered with dust and fibers. Hard to believe that she survived industrial dangers, and lived to be 94!
As far as cooking, she could fry a hamburger, as long as you liked it well done. And she could boil potatoes. Her only spices were salt and pepper, of which she used both liberally. Sometimes, for variety, she would not mash the potatoes, but gently separate them with a fork and then plunk a curl of butter on top. What a picture, to watch the butter slowly melt and glaze down the white cliffs of a Prince Edward Island potato.
For a time, before Grammy re-married, she lived at our house. On Sunday mornings, when my family went to mass at St. Anne’s Catholic Parish, I would crawl into her bed and plead to stay home with her, and not go to “shirt.” You guessed it. I pictured an enormous pressed and starched dress shirt, folded as if on a store shelf, or from a dry-cleaner. I could see the patrons, women wearing colorful dresses and hats and gloves, men wearing shirts (much like the one they were attending) and ties, children all dressed in miniature mirroring their parents. I knew this image was skewed, but I always was a very imaginative, visual child.
I remember asking my grandmother if she went to church. “I go to the round church,” she would reply, with a bit of a grin. “You can’t get me in a corner.” I knew that St. Anne’s had lots of corner. So I wondered, ‘Where is this round building? Is there a cross on it somewhere?’ “When was the last time you went to shirt?” I would ask.
“Not in a month of Sundays.”
I wondered, ‘What month had only Sundays in it?’ Was it like leap year? Did it only happen every few years? Was I not old enough to know this period? Maybe it was like that comet? Halley’s? A month of Sunday’s doesn’t happen too often.
I believe my sister may have straightened me out on this detail. “How many days in a month?” she asked very deliberately. “About 30,” I answered proudly. “If every day was a Sunday, was a week, how many weeks would that be?” “About 30?” A month of Sundays is therefore well over half a year! To a child, that was a really long time. Almost like waiting for Christmas. Or my birthday.
Grammy didn’t go to church, I concluded.
Nonetheless, I was usually spared the agony of sitting still for an hour — jumping up and down, kneeling, waiting, listening, dozing, daydreaming — and allowed to stay home with Grammy. She’d make me breakfast. White toast with butter and strawberry jam. What a cook, I tell you.
Finally, my grandmother had a term for women, be they wives of her husband’s employees or co-workers at The Mill. “The Old Battleax.” How endearing! I never had a face to match any of these accolades, but now, living in the age of PC — politically correctness — I wonder if my grandmother would have tempered her tongue. I also wonder if Wassiname, The Old Tinknocker, and yes — The Old Battleax knew of their pseudonyms. Some things are better left unsaid.
My grandmother has been gone nearly twenty years now. But her quaint phrases remain part of my internal lexicon.
Sometimes I ask myself, ‘When will you finally finish that book?’ Or, ‘When will you finally seek an agent?’
Let these next 30 Sundays be my plan to reach a life-long goal: Publish a book.
Come with me on this journey. What are you struggles? How to you manage? Persist?