I often wonder what happened to the children’s hour. I remember it well from when my sister and I were children.
It wasn’t a time on the clock. Longfellow described it beautifully when he talked about it being somewhere between the dark and the daylight. That’s when it used to happen with us and our family.
Sometime after supper, after we had “learned our lessons” but before it was bedtime, the family would spend some time together. In the winter when it was dark early, we would often play board games such as “Sorry” or “Snakes and Ladders.”
Once in a while we would play “Rook,” the minister’s card game, so-called because it didn’t have the sinful suits: clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades. These were the devil’s cards and were used to gamble
Gambling was portrayed as an even greater evil than the beer parlour, which was right up there with houses of ill repute.
We had never seen a house of ill repute and weren’t quite sure what it was. Had never seen a beer parlour, either, but were quite convinced of its sinful nature. Far as I knew there wasn’t one of either on the whole of New World Island.
Sometimes during the children’s hour, our father, if he was in the mood for it, would sing to us or for us or for himself. Sometimes it was obvious it was one of these. At other times it would be a mixture of all three. It didn’t matter — we loved listening to those songs at the close of the day.
One that he loved was “In the gloaming, oh my darling/When the lights are soft and low/And the twilight shadows falling/Softly come and softly go.”
My father was an incurable romantic. Another of his favourites was “The Rose of Tralee.” When he got to the line “Yet ’twas not her beauty alone that won me,” my mother would break in with “Yes, I daresay!” My father would look annoyed for a moment and then carry right on.
Most of all he loved Irish songs, including the old IRA “war” songs such as “Will my soul pass through old Ireland.” I learned “A Mother’s Love Is a Blessing” at his knee. He was especially fond of those two Irish balladeers Foster and Allen. When I learned they were coming to Grand Falls-Windsor later, I knew we had to take him.
There was one he used to sing to me long before we ever heard of Foster and Allen: “I’ll take you home again, Kathleen.” I glanced across at him while they were doing that number. He was gazing raptly at the singer and his eyes were wet with tears. Somewhere along the way my father’s spirit was imbued with the soul of an Irishman because he could sing like one and be emotional like one, and when necessary fight like one.
It was during those hours, too, that he would tell us stories of adventures at sea on his schooner or some other ship, or fishing and hunting. He was a born storyteller, and I remember when people would come into the manse after church on Sunday night, he would hold everyone enthralled. And when my father wasn’t at home, our mother would tell us stories of growing up with her sisters in Great Brehat and later when the family moved, St. Anthony.
And so it would be with us in that last hour before bedtime. Listening to our father and mother tell stories and he singing, and she saying in a gentle, amused voice, “Yes, I daresay!”
It wasn’t this Longfellow or Norman Rockwell picture every night, of course, but more often than not it was, and so much so that my sister and I remember it well some 60 years later and are so grateful for it.
I wonder what’s happened to the children’s hour. I like to think that once in a while, even now, parents and children make a an effort to spend a little time together, learn from each other and enjoy each other’s company. And it doesn’t have to be “between the dark and the daylight.” And it doesn’t have to be singing and telling stories.
No parents on Earth were more aware of the need to spend time with their children than we were with ours. But we couldn’t always manage the romanticized ideal I remember from my childhood.
We did different things. Sometimes we all went fishing. Sometimes we boiled up by the side of a brook. And sometimes we went gathering manure for our garden. Somehow I don’t think our kids would see that today as making it into a Norman Rockwell painting.
If you don’t have a children’s hour, it probably isn’t your fault or theirs. I’m trying to visualize my father singing “Danny Boy” while Pat and I were busily texting our friends or talking nonstop on a cellphone. It could not have happened. You can’t break into their world which exists in another dimension midway between them and the people with whom they’re trying to communicate.
So, what do you do? I know some parents have banned cellphones from the supper table when the family is likely to be together. not for punishment but to facilitate conversation. When our grandchildren are here. OH refuses to allow texting while people are talking. The point is that there should be a time for families to interact together without interruption.
Does “a children’s hour” matter these days, or are we fighting a losing battle?
From what I observe, it matters more than ever. It builds a lifelong bond between parents and children, creating values and attitudes that last a lifetime. Besides, it isn’t a battle, you know, it’s a loving engagement.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale.
His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.