Did you go shopping Sunday morning? Today, it’s legal in North Dakota. The Peace Garden State has joined the nation in allowing unrestricted retailing on Sunday, the last state to do so. It’s been a long time coming, but it was inevitable. Society, particularly the society of the faux “North Dakota way,” has changed. Mercantilism of the 24/7 variety is the norm. The notion of reserving one day a week for rest, family, friends, worship or merely vegging out seems quaint at best, unAmerican at worst. Still, something is amiss.
I was among those advocating for an end to North Dakota’s last-standing blue law, the Sunday retailing prohibition. But I was reacting to the ecclesiastical thugs who decade after decade bullied a malleable Legislature into imposing their religious prejudice on the state. That’s not the same as advocating for a secular day of rest. Sunday, of course, emerged as a day of rest from traditional religious practice. But in time it became a weekly holiday of a sort, not exclusively a day to go to a Christian church. Indeed, churches long ago diluted the mandate of Sunday morning worship with evening services on Saturdays and Wednesdays.
I understand the arguments for Sunday sales: It’s a business owner’s choice to open or not. Sunday retailing prevents no one from attending church. The old law was rife with loopholes and hypocrisies. Don’t want to shop on Sundays? Then don’t. Fair enough.
Still, it seems out of kilter. Conflicting generational perceptions? Maybe. Oldsters cherish memories of Sundays reserved for family, outings in parks and, yes, the casual comfort of morning church. That stores were closed was not an imposition. It was an evolved societal accommodation that placed more importance on traditional community and family values than on the priorities of the commercial class.
Today, North Dakota is in sync with the other 49. Nevertheless, something once fundamental to a better way of life is gone. It’s a loss. My guess is that supporters of Sunday retailing feel it, even it they won’t say so.
Best book I’ve read this summer: “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson (Vintage Books, 2004). Subtitled “Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed the World,” the non-fiction popular history is as compelling as any of the genre. Its two-track saga is dazzling and horrific. Historical non-fiction can be dull, but in Larson’s hands, a true story unfolds like a good novel: a triumphant American accomplishment intertwined with serial murders so awful it’s difficult to believe the facts.
Set in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair, one thread of the book is the story of visionary architect Daniel Burnham, whose drive and brilliance created “The White City,” the fair that stands as the most spectacular of world’s fairs, before or since. But during the fair, another story made headlines that rivaled news of the fair. Within his portrait of the GIlded Age, Larson tells the chilling story of H.H. Holmes, a charming charlatan whose depravity is mind-boggling because it’s not fiction.
As the cliche goes, it’s a page-turner. Enjoy, but be prepared for disturbing reality.