The Sundays Of My Youth

This past Sunday was a crazy day for me. For me, so many activities are always pushed to Sunday as a result of my work commitments throughout the week; church, weekend d.i.y. projects around the house, cleaning the house, household maintenance issues, shopping expeditions, preparing meals, car repairs, etc. I always try to cram so much into one day, that by Sunday evening, I am usually BEYOND exhausted!

Sundays were so different when I was a kid in Duquesne. Sunday morning always meant going to 9 o’clock Mass at Holy Name. Of course, once I became an altar boy, things changed since I might have been scheduled to serve Mass at any of the four Masses scheduled each Sunday.

Low MassThe first two Masses were scheduled specifically to coordinate with the shift schedule at the mill. For the men working “Daylight” (7 am to 3 pm), Holy Name offered a 6 am “Low Mass.”  The workers that had worked “Night Turn” (11 pm to 7 am) were able to attend the 7:15 Low Mass. The 9 am Mass was the Children’s Mass. Student’s from Holy Name, as well as any school age child in the parish were invited to sit together in the pews at the front of the church. Although I am sure there were incidents of kids misbehaving, for the most part, one glare from any of the nuns that would guard and patrol the group would squash any “uprising!” Just like the first Mass of the day, the 7:15 and 9 o’clock Masses were also Low Masses. The final Mass of the day was at 11am and was celebrated as a High Mass.

Now, to be perfectly honest, as a wee altar boy, the difference between a Low Mass and a High Mass was that we would light more candles and it lasted longer. I didn’t know why it lasted longer, but I usually blamed it on the choir. In researching the information about the two different Masses, I discovered the following:

Low Mass (called in Latin, Missa lecta, which literally means “read Mass”) is a Tridentine Mass defined officially in the Code of Rubrics included in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal as Mass in which the priest does not chant the parts that the rubrics assign to him. A sung Mass in turn is a Solemn or High Mass if celebrated with the assistance of sacred ministers (deacon and subdeacon); without them it is a Missa Cantata.

The worst Mass to be scheduled to serve in my mind was the 6 am service. Having to get up so early did not go over well with me. I don’t remember being uncooperative, but I’m sure I gave my mom a hard time about having to get up so early.

lucy04After our family had attended mass, our Sunday’s rolled out the same way for as long as I could remember. After we returned from Mass, Dad would always begin his Sunday morning ritual of preparing some over the top breakfast for all of us. Mom would kick back on the sofa and begin reading the Sunday paper while sipping a cup of coffee. Dad’s breakfasts ranged from perfectly prepared pancakes, to bacon and eggs, to a special concoction that he would create and call “soft-scrambled eggs.” His creation was slow cooked scrambled eggs that contained lots of milk to keep the eggs creamy, and chunks of fried Spam! Whenever he would be making that, my cousins Paula and Karla were always right there enjoying it with us. I was usually assigned toast duty, and would be responsible for preparing a mound of buttered toast that would sit in the middle of the breakfast table and be up for grabs for anyone.

We rarely had to deal with the distractions on Sunday that we deal with today. Stores weren’t open for the most part, a few gas stations might be open, grocery stores were closed and people were generally forced to spend time with their families. Although my dad might have a project to complete around the house, he would always try to get it done on Saturday so that he could have Sunday free.

A visit to my paternal grandfather’s house was always on the agenda on Sunday. NO matter when we visited, food was always involved. We were hunkys, what did you expect! We would usually eat lunch or dinner at Grandpa’s house. Somehow, there was always enough for everyone who showed up. It was like the Volk’s version of the loaves and fishes! There always seemed to be the hunky staples of soup, ham, stuffed cabbage rolls and kielbasa available throughout the year. We never tired of the food and being able to enjoy it with my aunts, uncles and cousins made it even more special.

At some point during our visit, my dad and his brothers would excuse themselves and gather either in the kitchen or on the porch for some hunky “libations!” Always beer and always whiskey.  Shots and beers were the only beverages that crossed their lips. Inevitably, my mom and my aunts would get ticked off at the fact that they were drinking, go out and yell at them and then give up and return to the kitchen.

At that point, the ladies would pour themselves cups of coffee and pull out a deck of cards to begin a game of euchre or gin rummy. The kids were busy running amok throughout the house, the basement and the yard, so we were occupied and they didn’t have to worry about us. After they had finished at least two or more pots of coffee and had tackled countless games of cards, it was time to round up the guys and head home for the evening. That wasn’t an easy task since the men were probably feeling really, really good, and would be reluctant to leave. After a few bouts of yelling by my Aunt Helen however, they would disburse and pack the Mrs. and kids into the Kaiser and head home. Fortunately, we always arrived home safely, along with all of my other aunts, uncles and cousins. I think that by Sunday evening, most everyone on the road in Duquesne and West Mifflin had been enjoying themselves in the same way, so everyone was extra careful while driving. It is amazing to think of how we all  survived as kids without the use of seatbelts, car seats, etc.

4851752925_5672b2f939_zSunday night routines didn’t waver much throughout the school year. From September through June, Sunday evenings meant getting a bath before bedtime. Reluctantly, my brother and I would march up to our second look bathroom and begin our preparations for the start of the school week.  Although it could have been a disappointment that the day was nearly over, it never was. We always knew that we still had more in store that evening as we all gathered as a family to watch some of our favorite TV programs.

We never had the myriad of channels to choose from while growing up in Duquesne. There were only channels 2,4,11 and 13 and MAYBE if you were lucky and the wind was blowing the right way, you could get channel 6 out of Johnstown or channel 9 which was broadcast out of West Virginia or Ohio, I think.


In the 50’s and early 60’s, Primetime TV shows began 30 to 60 minutes earlier than today, starting each evening in some cases as early as 7 p.m. On Sundays, the primetime viewing began as early as 6:30 p.m. with some of our favorite programs. Throughout most of my childhood, our Sunday evening viewing became tradition. Lassie, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, The Ed Sullivan Show (known earlier as Toast of the Town), Bonanza, Candid Camera and finally, What’s My Line was the litany of programs we’d follow each week. When Bonanza shifted to the 9 to 10 p.m. time slot in 1961, we were even allowed to stay up and enjoy the show with our parents. That was such a treat and a great way to end Sunday for us. Seriously, how could one go wrong with Ben, Adam, Hoss, Little Joe and Hop Sing!?!

Now, enjoy a bit of nostalgia with some YouTube clips of these fabulous shows and let us all know your favorites!

Jackie Wilson on the Ed Sullivan Show……….

This entry was posted in Church and School - Holy Name, Life in General, Miscellaneous, Movies, Music, Radio and TV, My Hunky Family, Parents. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Sundays Of My Youth

  1. Beth Pastrick Keane says:

    Sunday also had Shirley Temple Theater in the afternoon..

  2. Tony Grandi says:

    Hi Jim:
    I went to Holy Name in the 30s. I graduated in1942 and then I went to Edison in west miflin only for 9th grade and the to Duquesne High Sshool an graduated in 1947 from Duquesne High. I worked for about 6 years i Kennywood Park and started to go to Pittsburgh College and got my degree in elec engineerinjg in1952. We still go back to Duquesne/ West Mifflin to soo our relatives about 2 times ayear

    Tony Grandi

  3. Andrew N. Dyakon says:

    Living in Duquesne during those years was a wonderful experience. Life was less complex and more rewarding based on family values. Thanks, for the memories!

    • Ken Denne says:

      Hi Andy,
      Hope you are doing welll..One of my favorite students. Your Dad was not only a great pitcher but a warm and kind friend..

    • Mike Ferchak says:

      Hi Andy, We used to play in your yard at the top of Chestnut Street and once slept outside under the stars in the summer, before we moved in 1957 when we were about 7 or 8 years old.

  4. Ken Denne says:

    Larry Curran and I have some bitter memories as altar boys. Fr. Bernarding was the most pious, humble priest but with a mean temper. Larry and I screwed up somehow, don;t remember, but Father came back in the sacristy and slapped us in the face.. This was in the 40;s. Had this happened in the 90;s we would be millionaires. My dad made me quit and when my two aunts who were nuns in the Divine Providence found out they were livid that I would quit..

  5. Earl says:

    Awesome post, thanks! I was an altar boy at the then-brand-new Nativity Church in Snowden Township (now South Park Twp.). The altar boys had to negotiate which one was “the book” – the one who moved the reading book from the epistle side to the Gospel side of the altar – and which was “the bell” – the one who rang the bell at consecration.

    And there must have been something about dads and Sunday breakfast. Mine became a short order cook. You could have pancakes, French toast or eggs. His omelets were always perfectly flipped. I still can’t do it!

  6. John Dillinger says:

    Doesn’t anyone remember this program that was on Sunday morning. You would have to buy a kit that fit over your TV screen in order to solve situations.

  7. Cliff Warner says:

    My memories of Sundays in Duquesne include going to 11:15 am mass at St. Joe’s . Returning home to watch Abbot and Costello movies on the TV followed by a baked chicken dinner. The chicken back then tasted so much better than the ones we can get today as did the eggs. I wonder if the difference is what they feed them now and how it affects the taste? Sunday evenings consisted of watching a program I think was called “The Streets of Fransisco” along with Ed Sullivan show. Sunday evening was always a melancholy time for me during the school year as Monday morning and school followed it much too closely. .

    • Polly Pirl Artuso says:

      I can still hear my Mother saying that meat did not taste “like it use to”…and I laugh when I hear myself saying the same thing…and it doesn’t…what they are fed certainly has to affect the way that it tastes…in Europe, all meats and eggs (best eggs ever in Ireland) taste the way that they “use to” and oh so good…the bread is better too (excepting the salt less Tusan bread!!!) because it is good for that day only…no such thing as “Wonder Bread”…

  8. Karen says:

    Love this. To my surprise my husband and I were just talking about this same subject this morning hours befor I read this. I sure miss the “good old days”.
    PS. I think we just may be related…lol. our family did the same thing on Sundays from church, dad made breakfast, went over to my grandparents, men doing boiler makers, women playing cards. Love it!!

  9. The opening credits of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color were the best part of Sunday evening, you knew you were going to watch something really great. Thank you for reminding me.

  10. Judy Winstead Foster says:

    Patty Dennis, I grew up near Johnstown, and yes, the memories are similar…great stuff

  11. Harold West says:

    channel 9 was in Steubanville Ohio channel 7 was wheeling WV 6 was johstown PA serving millions from atop the alleghennies

  12. Jeff Barlow says:

    Much before my time, but loved the stories and photos. Grandparents and Great Grandparents lived in Duquesne and West Mifflin. I was lucky to know all of them and hear all of the great tales.
    Life seemed to be happy and simple.

  13. Karla says:

    I loved your Dad’s eggs and Spam, Jimmy! MMMMMM. World Famous.

  14. Michael Bashista says:

    Great story Jim. Sounds like every Sunday I had growing up except we were Lutheran and not Catholic. I even did my time as an altar boy under Rev. Baker at !st English Evangelic Lutheran as it was originally called. Sundays at my grandparents was always great as we usually got most of the aunts, uncles and cousins in for the day also. TV was pretty much the same except that occasionally my parents would go out on Friday or Saturday & I would conveniently be asleep [one eye open] on the couch with the tv on [Chiller Theater and usual run of “scary” movies. They would have to coax me “awake” so I could stumble to bed. Sometimes having to miss the movie’s end if they got in too early. Ah those simple days!!

  15. patty dennis says:

    This brought back so many memories of my growing up years in Johnstown, Pa. Life sure was different then ~ especially Sundays…..wish our Sundays could be that way now, but I guess it would be difficult with families being so far away. Love your column. Happy Easter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s