The following article by David Strange originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 5 Jun 2013. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
It is already nearly forgotten, in all the rush of modern life.
But just a few decades ago, Sundays and Wednesdays were much different in Bullitt County, and much of America.
When I was young, there was something called "The Blue Law," and there were "workless Wednesdays." Individually and combined, these forced a slower pace of life, or maybe just reflected that slower pace of life.
The Blue Law was really a series of laws that basically closed most all business on Sundays. The roots go back at least to 1650 England, but the term is first recorded in America back in 1755.
The gist of the Blue Laws were rooted mostly in religious teaching that the seventh day of the week was to be kept holy, was to be a day of rest and church. Research also suggested that a "day of rest" is simply a healthy idea. Whatever the real reason, once upon a time, there was almost no commerce on Sunday.
On Wednesdays, most businesses closed as well, at least for half a day.
And, come to think of it, most all business also closed down by six o'clock for all the other days. I remember people joking about how our small rural communities "rolled up the sidewalks for the night" after six. And that was indeed pretty much the case. It's almost hard to imagine today, but on Sundays, on Wednesdays, and in the evenings everything closed, and people went home.
I guess it really was a different time, not so long ago.
Yet it was really no big deal when everyone did it, and everyone knew it and planned for it. On Saturday, for example, everyone just knew to gas up the car for Sunday.
Everyone might as well be home for supper; there was nowhere else to go.
It was just the way it was.
Saturday was the big day in small-town America, and that was one reason that the stores closed on Wednesday. Businesses like the Hardy and Mooney Auto Parts store had their busiest days on Saturdays, as people came in from the farm for tractor parts, and weekend mechanics searched for parts as they worked at home on their cars. While in town, the family would do the shopping and maybe get a bite to eat. The boys would get a haircut and the ladies would get their hair fixed up for Sunday services. And all would share stories and catch up on local gossip.
For a small store, this presented a problem. Most country businesses in those days were operated by their owners. A "Mom and Pop" store was often truly that, with the owner and maybe the family doing all of the work all of the time, with just one or two hired helpers. So, if the store was open morning-to-night six days a week, there was no time to do the home chores...to have a family life.
To keep work time close to forty hours, stores resolved the problem by being open on Saturdays, and being closed on Wednesdays, making a five day work schedule. Some would do half days of each, closing at noon.
There has been a religious reason for workless Wednesdays as well. Many churches had, and still have, Wednesday evening prayer services. So businesses would close early so everyone could get home to get ready for church.
Norma Hart Young remembers, "Everyone attended church on Wednesday night, sometimes you had a "Potluck Dinner" before church service. It was definitely a slower pace of life and in my opinion a better way of life for all."
Being off on Wednesday also allowed business owners to go to the city to restock their shelves. And of course, being off on Wednesdays presented other opportunities.
Such as golf.
To this day, Wednesdays are widely thought of as golf day for businessmen, sometimes called a "bankers' holiday."
To this day, many medical offices, banks, and brokers are closed on Wednesday, in large part due to the old tradition of businesses in general being closed on that day.
I have also been told that during World War Two there was a movement to close shops on Wednesdays to conserve gas and materials for the war effort.
But times change whether the change is wanted or not.
As our communities became more "citified," as more and more homes had both spouses working a distance from home, people began to demand more convenience.
In most communities, we can now shop and do most business almost around the clock, seven days a week. Yet that has caused some unintended consequences. Life has speeded up because it can. Both spouses work; pretty much have to. Increased stress is quite evident in most people nowadays. There is no time to pause; no time to rest. Even off time seems to be a rush to get out and do things.
The increased work hours of modern stores requires more workers, and thus provides more employment, but it also requires people to work at times when they would not have before. Even I, who feels strongly that one should not work on Sunday, eat out every Sunday at a restaurant, and often stop at a store, which, of course, requires someone to be working on Sunday at those places in order to be open for my convenience.
Most of us love the convenience of modern business, but somehow we lost something as well. I sometimes feel nostalgia for the slower time when everyone knew that business stopped at 6 p.m., and everyone could just go home.
The Sunday "Blue Law" has pretty much faded away, due to constitutional challenges and just a more common desire for more convenience in a busy society. Sunday is now more of a running and chore day, than a day of rest. I do believe that more people mow grass on Sunday now, than go to church.
About the only remnants of the old Blue Laws are in alcohol sales, and that is rapidly changing as well, incrementally adding a few more hours of operation at a time.
Changing times. Changing viewpoints.
Over the years, as I served on various volunteer Boards of Directors and committees, Wednesday evening was taboo for meetings. Despite the pressure to find a night when all the members were not already at some other meeting, Wednesday nights were kept sacrosanct because someone might go to church. Mostly that is still the case, but recently I have seen more and more meetings being scheduled for Wednesday nights.
Convenience is a good thing. I think most of us like the increasing opportunities and pleasures of modern "citified" life that is growing in our community.
Allow me a bit of nostalgia for a time not so long ago; almost yesterday, really. A time when the pace of life was slower because it had to be. Because people chose it to be.
A time when one could not go to a store at midnight, but everyone knew it was OK to just be at home instead.
Images of Days Gone By
Copyright 2013 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.