The only good thing about Sunday when I was a kid was apple fritters—cooked in my mom’s deep-fat fryer then covered with maple syrup and, the final touch, a dusting of powdered sugar. Beautiful. Glistening there on your plate.
It wasn’t work to my mom. She loved every step, ending with placing the plates in front of her impatient children. We were frozen in anticipation. Forks spring-loaded. Waiting. She’d keep ‘em coming as long as we wanted to eat more. My record was 12.
The best apple fritters are still hot, fresh from the deep-fat fryer, screaming, “Eat me! Eat me now!” It’s an intelligence test. Are you going to be a stupid kid and introduce the hot fritters to your fritter hole? Or are you going to stop and think, look before you leap, as your parents were always cautioning you? “What did you think Wet Paint meant, for godsake!” they’d cry.
The fritters are going to burn if you can’t wait for them to cool. But think: The sweetness of the maple syrup. The crunch of the crust. You decide: It’s going to hurt but it’s going to be worth it. You blow ceremonially on the fritter on your fork as if about to enact some fraternal rite. That’s going to have to suffice for looking before you leap. You pop in the first fritter and bounce it around your mouth between chews. “Hot! Hot! Hot!” you say with a mouthful of fritter.
I had my whole adult life in front of me to do advisable things.
But at that point—more, please.
I asked my mom for the batter receipe the other day and she didn’t skip a beat, laid it out entirely from memory as if she’d been expecting me to ask, sooner or later.
Heat deep-fat fryer to 375 degrees
Beat two eggs
Stir in 1/2 cup of milk
Sift together 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt
Beat in one teaspoon of salad oil.
God, when’s the last time I had apple fritters? Real apple fritters. Like Mom made on Sundays, the Day of the Fritter. Not some bullshit shat out by Corporate America. Something microwaveable and mass produced. Where can you get apple fritters around here? That’s the problem with growing up. You leave apple fritters behind, forlorn on the trail of your lived existence.
And my Sunday shoes—that was the other good thing about Sunday morning. It didn’t matter that they were uncomfortable—creased everywhere my feet of flesh didn’t naturally crease. Every Sunday morning, I’d shine them.
My mom got me a little shoe-shine kit. Wiggle off the lid on the tin of black polish. Pip. Spit carefully onto the polish. Then mix in your spit with the brush until you get a good covering on the bristles. Careful. That’s too much. Rub the polish onto the shoes, fitting your left hand into each shoe in turn so you could polish with your right. Let it sit for a bit. Sink in. Then buff it out with the bigger, softer brush. The faintly medical smell of the polish rising into your nostrils as you worked—restorative. Life was becoming new. Finally, take the buffing chamois and vigorously rub the shoes till they gleamed.
Those are some cool shoes.
Then . . .
“Why are you wearing that, John?” my mom would groan about some article of my clothing or perhaps the entire ensemble when I would present myself for inspection on Sunday morning. “We’re going to church! People will think you were raised in a barn!”
I’d change whatever it is she didn’t like, halfassedly, and she’d look at me, folding her arms and putting a finger to her lips.
“Come with me,” she said and she’d take me to her bathroom, wet my hair and force it to bend to her will. It wasn't my hair. It was hers—in that, she'd get the looks, not me, if I showed at church up looking like a waif or an idiot.
My dad made a point of being uninvolved in preparations for church, as he was when we were prepared for anything. He was the Provider. She was the Preparer. A recital. A wedding. Parent night.
“There!” she’d say as she tossed the brush on the counter and turns to go. “We’re going to be late again because of you. Again.”
I look at myself in the mirror. God, you look like a dork!
After the apple fritters and the shoes, Sunday was pure downhill. Church. All the rules! Do unto others. Do not take God’s name in vain, which meant all swearing, really. Let your fritters cool. Two hours of stultifying boredom until you explode out of the sanctuary and rip off your clip-on tie.
Free at last!
Not so fast.
It was hard to maintain the delirium. You knew what was looming. The start of the school week. That would sober you up. At the school, the janitor probably was already stoking the machinery that would slowly grind away our impudence and make us fit more snugly in our molds.
You’d be playing some game with a friend and your movements would become increasingly listless until . . . what’s the point?
“I think I’ll go home now,” you’d say, dropping the dice or whatever and getting up.
As you’d climb over the backyard fence to your house you’d think, “If I don’t go one step further could time possibly stand still?” Like the Twilight Zone or something. What if I found a magic stone that was secreted away specifically for me by some fantastic traveler from the future? Or I stumbled onto some portal to another reality? Shimmering and throbbing like a cosmic amoeba, like on Space Ghost. (After the popularity of the live-action Batman show in 1966, superhero cartoons were all the rage. They even had Batman and Robin make a guest appearance on Scooby Doo.)
At a certain point before dinner, you’d have to begin your school prep—in my case, after your mom reminded you. Laura didn’t need to be reminded. She probably planned out a week’s worth of outfits. Me, I’d wear the same underpants all week left to my own devices—or, for want of underpants, a swimsuit. After dinner, to corral your wandering thoughts and get them in even single-file rows for the school week, the three TV networks had conspired with parents to ensure all the shows Sunday evening were edifying or educational or inspiring. Vivifying. The two biggies were The Wide World of Disney and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
I’m not saying I didn’t like the shows. I did. What scrape was Marlin Perkins going to get himself out of next? Maybe unraveling a boa constrictor from his mid-riff, like wriggling out of his burial shroud.
And how would he find a way to take whatever he was doing and turn it into a segue for selling Mutual of Omaha insurance products?
“Of course, just as the wildlife refuges and game parks provide protection for the country's many animal species. So too can we always rely on the affordable and complete protection provided by Mutual of Omaha.”
And, of course, there was always a lesson to be learned on Wild Kingdom about life at large.
“Although we tagged the magnificent moose, and caught the elusive mountain goat, we brought back no trophies. Our only trophy was knowledge, not antlers over the fireplace. And knowledge surely is the richest prize man can seek in the Wild Kingdom.”
No, I enjoyed the Sunday night shows. It was just that I knew I was being had. Sunday night shows were like a tonic administered to induce compliance, draining the luster from the dreams we’d dream that night in advance of the school day.
When the TV was finally shut off, your fate was sealed. Abandon all hope. You’ve got a big day of school ahead of you, your mom would say, as if that was good news.
Well, I’d get to see my friends, people who cared about being cool and applauded my ham-handed attempts at coolness. Look at the bright side.
Besides . . .
This is where I’d reach into my drawer and retrieve the lone apple fritter I always saved from Sunday morning, a last act of deep-fat-fried defiance before I’m stripped of my liberty.
Take that, Board of Education!
Now . . . Make it last. Chew each bite 25 times, not because it’s something your mom had drilled into you but because this lonely fritter was all that separated you from the school week. It’s not the same as when it’s hot, but once you’ve lapsed into slumber, you’re good as property of the military educational complex, a point somewhere along a bell curve. All this schooling’s going to kill me!
Stop resisting, Marlin Perkins would say. After all, knowledge is the richest prize any man can seek. All this schooling will be good for you. Edifying.
Right. What kind of adult would I be after all this brainwashing? As I laid there in my bed, I thought, I bet I won’t even eat apple fritters at all anymore—hot or cold—because I’m watching my waistline. Or they give me gas or something. Back in the day, you would have eaten more of a given food if I had known it would give you gas.
Now look at me. An ass-kissing conformo-drone—guaranteed to engage in only advisable behaviors until you’re on your death bed and you croak for, please, just one more apple fritter before you pass.
And make it nuclear.
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