photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

In some households, the perfect Sunday apparently translates as a young couple, socked feet on a coffee table, lounging on a taupe sectional strewn with newspapers.

When I was a young parent, all I did with a Sunday paper was clip coupons, when I wasn’t searching for matching socks (for the children and Sunday school, not for my feet on a coffee table). The Sunday tradition I most envied was that of a friend whose husband took their kids to Krispy Kreme so she could dress for church in peace. At church, I refereed the struggle between my daughter, who was determined to put her hands on the collection plate, and her two older brothers, who were just as determined to thwart her. And it must be admitted that sometimes I attended the church of St. Mattress of the Springs. Still do.

As a child, the perfect Sunday was playing Monopoly all afternoon with a friend, getting so rich that we had to make more money from construction paper. Sunday’s weekly supper luxury was steak, baked potato, and a salad with avocados, eaten in the den on folding trays. My parents ate alone in the kitchen, which they probably considered the ultimate Sunday luxury, too.

“Leisure is the time for doing something useful.”

Sunday is a day of rest. Rest equals leisure. And leisure, well, “Leisure is the time for doing something useful,” Benjamin Franklin wrote. Once a year, always on a Sunday, my father removed and polished the brasses from all over the house — doorknobs, hinges, chest pulls. My husband has spent Sundays past building a retaining wall, a backyard fort, and a doghouse, useful activities all.

My perfect useful Sunday is one spent cooking. Soup that requires an hour of chopping. Spaghetti that requires five hours of attention. Baby back ribs that require six. The occasional loaf of banana bread or pan of granola. Food that makes the house smell cozy, lived-in. By dusk, the kitchen is clean, the freezer full, and there’s still a couple of hours to read until it’s time for Masterpiece Theatre.

A Sunday is a sigh: I made it through the week. It’s also an inhale of preparation, a minor New Year’s, when intentions and resolutions feel manageable. And if not, the real beauty of a Sunday is that it always comes back ’round again.

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Susan Stafford Kelly was raised in Rutherfordton. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Carolina Classics, a collection of essays that have appeared in Our State, and five novels: How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. Susan has three grown children and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Sterling.