Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d waked and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know , what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
—Robert Hayden (1966)
In Robert Hayden’s poem, “Those Winter Sundays,” the speaker looks back on his childhood and remembers his hardworking father, a man who made many sacrifices for the well-being of his family.
I love that this poem opens with the line, “Sundays too my father got up early.” In Christianity, Sunday is recognized as the Sabbath, the seventh day of creation when God saw that all the work he had done was good and rested. Sunday is the one day we don’t have to work because God made it holy, yet this man rose from his bed in the wee hours of the morning even on Sunday and labored—chopping wood, tending the fire—so that his family could wake up to a warm house.
Of course, at such a young age, the speaker couldn’t properly appreciate his father (“Speaking indifferently to him”). How could he understand the aches and pains that went into providing for a family?
What did he know? It’s a question we should ask ourselves; one we should ask our children as well. This current generation has a serious entitlement problem. They expect things to automatically be given to them, even when they don’t deserve it. Who knows, maybe our parents said the same thing about us, but it breaks my heart when I see children disrespecting their elders.
That “old bag” marched for your right to sit at the front of the bus. That “wrinkled fart” took on bullets for democracy knowing he would come home to signs that said, “For Whites Only.” That “stupid bitch” faced hate and persecution to become the first African American to graduate from the all-white high school you now attend with Asian, Hispanic, Native American, Muslim, and black, as well as white students. You wouldn’t have the luxuries you take for granted if it had not been for these brave men and women.
But what do they know “of love’s austere and lonely offices?”
Today for Black Poetry Writing Month, let’s pay homage to our elders. Let them know we appreciate their sacrifice. While they don’t always need our gratitude because they’re motivated by love, it’s nice to hear a thank you once in a while. Tell them thank you.