At the turn of the 20th century, horses and carriages were the major mode of transportation. On Sundays, most businesses were closed, so it became a time for family dinners and Sunday strolls — essentially, leisurely walks. Edwardian times were an era of expansion for public parks, facilitating the Sunday stroll in every major city in the country. You’ll see walkways in parks built in the era meander through gardens, woods and squares with fountains, all to be enjoyed on foot. There, on Sunday afternoons (presumably after church services), people could see and be seen, neighbors could meet and unmarried men and women could greet each other in a sociably acceptable environment.
Fast forward fifty years later in the Boomer Era and the car was king. The population was growing and expanding into suburbs, so cars played an increasingly important role in the daily lives of the parents of boomers. Leisurely Sunday walks had all but disappeared by the time of the second World War, but now a new version was taking shape: the Sunday drive.
When we were wee boomers, most businesses were closed on Sundays and most boomer fathers were home that day. As a “day of rest” it was as in times past, a day when families and friends could get together and share a Sunday meal. It also became a day when young families could pile into the family car — which quite often was a station wagon — and head out for a Sunday drive.
Unlike the Sunday strolls of decades earlier, the purpose of the Sunday drive was not to relax, and to meet and greet friends and neighbors. Rather, it was a time for a family to share the adventure and freedom that individual transportation provided, to enjoy the day in new surroundings. Sometimes a destination would be in mind but most often, the Sunday drive, like the Sunday stroll before it, was a time to wander. In other words, you could say that boomer families would be riding around in their automobiles, with no particular place to go.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mister Boomer’s family took Sunday drives, especially at this time of year. Gas was cheap, so it wasn’t a concern. Besides, the drive usually didn’t consist of more than 50 miles, maybe 100 on occasion. The suburb Mister B lived in was on the edge of a rural area, so just beyond the city’s edge were farms and small, two-lane highways that recalled the decades before the interstate highway system. A typical drive might take the family through winding roads and rolling hills, with nothing in sight but cows and trees. Back windows rolled down completely, which was advantageous to Mister B and his siblings to stick hands — or heads — out in order to perform aerodynamic experiments. The family would often stop at farm stands to enjoy fresh peaches, and bring home tomatoes and possibly some ears of corn.
One particular drive that Mister B loved involved a highway that rode past many farms. About every quarter mile, the farmers had a small three-sided shed erected at the side of the road. In each one, the farm families would boil fresh corn. Traveling a road where another car may not be visible for miles, all of a sudden as Mister B’s dad would park, cars were everywhere. The family would go to the counter and order an ear each. Grabbing an ear from a big pot, the farmer’s wife or daughter would give it a quick dunk into a pot of melted butter before wrapping it in napkins and handing it over. It didn’t get any fresher or tastier than direct from the field to the pot! As a child, Mister B, like so many boomers, ate vegetables mainly from cans. Tasting fresh corn in this way was a unique and delicious experience. Since the whole family enjoyed the taste treat, they’d stop at the another stand — and maybe a third — and repeat the process.
Sunday drives were another characteristic of the Boomer Era. As boomer children reached driving age, could it be that their experiences of those family outings helped them form what came to be called cruising? A combination of the Sunday drive of their parents and the Sunday stroll of their grandparents, cruising was a way for driving boomers to meet and greet, talk to members of the opposite sex, and, in true modern fashion, show off their automobiles.
What memories of Sunday drives do you have, boomers?