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The Sunday visit

In our fast-paced society, a few holdouts for the sit-and-chat tradition.

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Last Sunday I made a visit to some new neighbors down the block. No specific purpose in mind, just an opportunity to touch base, sit at the kitchen table, have some tea, and chat. As I did so, it occurred to me how rare the Sunday visit has become.

When I was a kid in the New Jersey of the 1960s, Sunday visits were routine. Most stores were closed, almost nobody worked, and the highways, as a result, were not the desperate steeplechases they have become today. My family normally traveled eight city blocks to the home of my grandmother – the same house my father was raised in – where the adults would sit on the front porch in lawn chairs while we children played stickball or hide-and-seek. Every so often I'd take a breather on the stoop, where I'd pick up fragments of adult palaver and articles of wisdom.

Everything under the sun was fodder for conversation. The weather, taxes, the state of the world, the weather, food prices, the wild nature of the current crop of children, the weather. But there was also the esoteric, like the time my great-uncle Stanley, remarking upon the legacy of John F. Kennedy, noted that President McKinley's funeral had also been sad. McKinley! That one sent me scurrying to the Encyclopædia Britannica.

There were other destinations for our Sunday visits. My great-aunt Hattie, who lived in an apartment above a fruit-and-vegetable store and had a dancing parakeet named Peetie; our relatives just over the border in Pennsylvania, a clan that included 12 – count 'em, 12 – cousins; my great-grandparents who lived in a tenement near the Jersey City waterfront and spoke only Polish; and last, the holy grail of Sunday visits – my uncle Gene, the only member of our extended family who had managed to accumulate significant material wealth. He had a palatial home on a New Jersey lake – the antithesis of our small brick house scrunched in between two other small brick houses on our densely packed Jersey City street. Sunday visits to Uncle Gene meant unlimited swimming, fishing, and toad-hunting – nirvana for a city kid.

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