Sundays were sacred. Stores were closed. People didn’t go fishing. Most folks went to church and those who did not knew which church they were supposed to go to.
Saturday was not sacred, but it was a special day. Saturday afternoons were the time to go to town to buy groceries and other necessities. If possible, people enjoyed some treats and enjoyed the movies, an hours-long session of cinematic entertainment.
Often, Saturday mornings were also set aside from ordinary labor. Farmers worked hard the other five days for a day of relief on Saturday. They might go fishing early that morning and still be free to go to town that afternoon. It was a good time for taking a serious bath. Some mornings the family had to catch up on chores that were left over from the work week: splitting stove wood, mending equipment, checking up on clothes for Sunday. Sometimes during tobacco season, rainy weather would force a farmer to miss his usual “gathering day” and move on to Saturday instead, but it was an unhappy half day of work.
It was Saturday afternoon to which everyone looked forward. If haircuts were needed, an early start was in order. The treats — fountain Cokes and perhaps an ice cream treat for the ladies, lots of ice cream for the kids and milkshakes for the men — these were typical but not exclusive.
The highlight of the afternoon was the picture show scheduled early as possible. The favorite feature was the cowboy (aka Western) movie. Frequently seen was Johnny Mack Brown, who went to Los Angeles as a star player on the Alabama team that shocked the nation by winning the Rose Bowl and returned to star in scores of B movies. There were also the singing cowboys, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, once a member of the marvelous singing group, The Sons of the Pioneers, who appeared in many of these movies. There was another full-length feature, not western in setting, most of which were B grade. Still, they were better than a cotton patch.
As the TV hucksters say, “But wait. There’s more.” Youngsters — and some oldsters — greatly enjoyed the cartoons, sort of the icing on the cake. Then there were the newsreels, particularly significant during World War II, although some were more propaganda than news. There were previews of coming attractions. If there was money for popcorn and drinks, an afternoon at the picture show was totally fulfilling for kids from the country. For this they willingly did farm work for all who paid them cash.
Often there was not time for adults to do everything they needed to do and take in the movies. If so, they bought groceries and other needed supplies and visited with friends while the children were at the picture show. No, the youngsters were not in any danger of being kidnapped or molested.
If money was tight, some owners of grocery stories were happy to barter for butter, eggs, a cured ham or a live chicken. Most purchases were of staples: flour, salt, sugar, coffee, tea, condensed milk, things that could not be produced on the farm. In fact, these local merchants could not afford to offer a wide selection of products any more than their customers could afford to range far beyond the necessities.
At the end of a very good afternoon, my father sometimes swung by the ice house, where block ice was made and sold. Placed in a washtub and wrapped in burlap as insulation, that big hunk of ice might be destined for duty in an ice cream churn on Sunday afternoon. It was not visions of sugar plumbs but bowls of ice cream that danced through my head that night.
Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.