That's the day we would be excused from school to attend noon services and wouldn't have to come back. I had friends who developed a sudden interest in the Episcopal Church as Good Friday approached, but if any were able to wring a note from their parents to get out of school, our marathon service that day quickly disabused them of any notions of switching denominational allegiance.
As Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley reported on Ash Wednesday last week, a growing number of Protestant churches in Mississippi now mark the season of Lent in some way, certainly much more so than when I was growing up, and most schools close on Good Friday. But in the 1960s and '70s, Lent was, in the minds of most of our youthful friends and acquaintances, one of those oddities that made us so peculiar in their eyes.
Of course the way they heard about it most was in our very unbiblical calling of attention to the great sacrifices we were making with what we were "giving up" for Lent. Usually it was something like gum or candy or soft drinks, and there were those of us who made great show to our friends of not indulging in such worldly pleasures for a time. Somehow I think we missed the point.
Be that as it may, all in Lent was not sacrifice. At our church in Meridian, every weekday morning we had a 7 a.m. communion service before school but it was followed by a mammoth breakfast of pancakes, eggs grits and toast prepared by the men of the church. If you made it through the long period of kneeling in church on an empty stomach without keeling over, it was a great earthly reward.
Lenten complications abounded, particularly when it came to social matters. In our observant home, attending parties or engaging in unnecessary frivolity during Lent were frowned upon. It is the season of sack cloth and ashes, after all.
Unfortunately, friends of other faith traditions didn't stop scheduling parties at their homes or dances at the teen center for 40 days and 40 nights. Lenten observance came square up against social acceptance, and original sin being what it is, social acceptance usually won out. But not without a parental lecture.
There were even debates among those of us within the liturgical churches about Lenten observances, as a conversation last week with Daily Journal features editor Leslie Criss called to mind. She asked if when growing up I was taught that your Lenten discipline could take a day off on Sundays, which are not part of the official 40-day count of Lent. No, that was for softies, I said.
Now I've had clergy friends since who've been very emphatic in the other direction: All Sundays are feast days, "little Easters," they say, so it's OK to abandon your discipline once a week.
Actually, I'm glad my parents didn't cotton to that theology because I'm afraid it would have meant too many Sunday stomach aches brought on by marathon chocolate binges or other such excess associated with whatever I'd given up the rest of the week. Maybe they were of the no-Sunday-break school of thought because for several years they gave up their smoking habit for Lent and knew that falling off the wagon once a week would be the end of it.
My parents eventually quit smoking for the rest of the year as well, but I'm sure it was their Lenten abstinence that helped convince them they could eventually give it up entirely. That was a definite improvement in their lives; I'm not sure I ever gained much from the minor vices I avoided.
But then, as we were taught repeatedly, Lent is not about self-improvement but about removing the barriers between us and God, about self-denial as a means to finding one's true identity.
All of that is good and essential, of course. But when you were a kid growing up in a culture that didn't know what Lent was all about, I'm afraid theological lessons weren't always what we gleaned from the season. It was more about the occasional exhilaration - as well as the frequent complications - that come from being different. With the difference now fading, maybe I can finally get the point.
Lloyd Gray is editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at 678-1579 or email@example.com.