Once upon a time, everybody got new clothes for Easter. The children would get new shoes, mother would get an Easter bonnet, and dad would buy a new suit.
Oh, how times have changed. When Judy Garland sang “Easter Parade” and danced with Fred Astaire, the world was more innocent, and the people seemed more religious.
When we bought new clothes, everybody shopped downtown, and there were so many shops. I believe there were seven shoe stores along Main Street and a dozen or more men’s clothing stores and as many women’s stores. Just to name a few of the bigger ones: Mandell’s, Trachtenberg’s, Reid & Hughes, P&Q Clothes, Ben Bruckner’s, H.A. Bruckner, the Young Folks’ Shop, Boys’ Shop, and Nadick’s. There was Spencer Shoe, Morse Shoe, Thom McAnn’s and Tongren’s.
As I write these names, I wonder how many people reading this column are old enough to remember when everybody shopped downtown. Everybody, whether they were Christian or celebrating Passover, seemed to get a new wardrobe at this time of year. The churches would be filled to capacity and everyone was dressed up.
This Easter Sunday, the churches will be half full, and while some people will be dressed for the sacred occasion, most people will come casual. We would never consider entering the House of God without a shirt and tie and at least a jacket. It was a sign of respect.
While it is not meant to be disrespectful today, it is not unusual to see women in slacks wearing sneakers and men wearing sweatshirts and jeans. I am sure God hears our prayers no matter how we are dressed, but there was a formality that, I must confess, was respectful.
How often my mother would say, “When you go to the House of God, you certainly have to dress well.” But so much has changed through the years. Religious holidays are just one of the changes.
When we went to school, if you were caught chewing gum or whispering in line, you would be punished by the teacher. Today, you need to have dress codes and the students, in some places, are into drugs and more serious faults than whispering and chewing gum.
I have been writing this column since 1991. On reflection, in those 19 years, many of the people who read my columns and remember, like me, what Norwich and all of Eastern Connecticut were like are no longer with us.
These Sunday columns, I am sure, are serving more to educate the younger generation as to what life was like 50 years ago. I can tell them, in many ways, it was a lot better. But, on the other hand, perhaps the only thing wrong with the current generation is I am not part of it.
The medicine is better. The communication is better. We never had television when we were children. To be sure, there was radio, and there was something wonderful about it that is lacking in television. We had to use our imagination.
On the radio, whether it would be “I Love a Mystery” or “Inner Sanctum” or, on Sunday afternoons, “The Shadow,” the voice would paint a picture, and we would have to visualize. The pictures in our minds, I think, often were better than the pictures they give us now on television.
Using our minds, I think, was good. Today, the children see so much television, and everything is presented in the eyes of the producer or director.
Of course, the movies have changed as well. In the old days, when the bad guys wore black hats, and the good guys wore white hats, there always was a punishment for crime. Today, it is not uncommon that in the TV shows the criminal is celebrated.
I love the night and am guilty, now that I am retired, of turning on movies at midnight and going to bed when the movie is over. The movies I watch, by many standards, would be considered dull. But I love them — the old movies, that is.
The movie I liked best last week was “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It is probably one of my favorites. The picture captures how children used to grow up playing hide ‘n seek, kick the can, running hoops down the street and staying out all day, running, jumping, and playing with other children until the street lights went on and everybody went home.
Every child had a bath once a week, on Saturday night, whether they needed it or not. They had to be clean for church the next day. Often the big families would use one tub of water for all the children. There were no showers; just bathtubs.
But, the holidays were better because there was so little, I suppose, to look forward to. We enjoyed the Fourth of July with firecrackers, but we can’t do that anymore. Christmas had a magic that has been lost to current generations. Easter was a time to get dressed up and celebrate the suffering of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
No Longer Fun
Today’s column, I guess, went in many directions. I do, along with many others, miss those holidays. At my age, I miss so many people — friends and relatives — who were part of the holidays years ago and are no more. Maybe that is my problem. The holidays now, for old folks, are melancholy, and they used to be so full of fun and anticipation for weeks in advance.
But, thankfully, there are still Easter egg hunts for the children, and in many families the significance of Easter and Passover are still respectfully celebrated.
I wish all who read this column a very happy and holy Easter.
Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, latest book, “The 9-Mile Square,” is available at Chelsea Groton, Johnson’s Flowers and Gift Shop in Norwich, The William W. Backus Hospital gift shop and Norwich City Hall.