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Sunday afternoons

Is there anything more depressing than a cold mid-winter Sunday afternoon?

Sunday morning is fresh and clean, a time for a newspaper and coffee -- and some fuzzy slippers. The phone stays quiet as decent people of all philosophies and creeds respect the need for a morning of rest.

Sunday evening can be productive. With the weekend follies over, it feels good to get a head start on the week.

But that time between, Sunday afternoon, can be a downer any time of the year.

As a small child -- the runt of the litter, in fact -- my stomach knotted up on Sunday afternoons in anticipation of another week of Darwinian struggle on the playground against neanderthals twice my size.

How I survived, I don't know. I was not the fittest.

As a high school student, Sunday afternoons were when I realized I had to read a poem for English and write a two page paper on it by morning even though I hadn't the slightest idea what the poem meant and neither did my parents.

Adolescent Sunday afternoons were also when you realized that the Saturday night you had planned for all week by begging for the car, lying about where you were going, hoping at long last to win popularity and acceptance -- was sort of a bust.

College Sunday afternoons were when you realized you had 435 pages of fine print to read by morning from a textbook written by somebody who had obviously never even tried to have fun on a Saturday night.

You also realize on college Sunday afternoons that you're too tired to read those 435 pages because you stayed out half the night before to win popularity and acceptance, a silly exercise that was a lot more fun when you had to lie about where you were going in order to get the keys to the car.

Young adult Sunday afternoons are spent dreading Monday at the worthless $8-per-hour job that your $50,000 in student loans bought you.

"I have a Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in English literature!" you scream over the din of the dishwasher in the back of the restaurant.

"Break another glass and you're fired!" yells back your boss who dropped out magna cum loaded from Podunk High.

As you enter your late 20s, Sunday afternoons are a time to be plagued by doubts about your behavior at the dinner party the night before, or at karaoke up at the Rusty Bucket.

I mean, why did I have to bring up Mervin's first wife in the presence of the third? Does she even know she is the third? Should I call and apologize? What if she answers?

In middle age, Sunday afternoons are when you take a three-hour nap and wake up wondering why the sun is rising in the west. It takes two segments of 60 Minutes to shake out the cobwebs and then it takes until two in the morning to get to sleep again.

So, Sunday afternoons can be rough. But it is in the heart of winter when those who suffer from seasonal crankiness, as I do, can be dragged into the real depths of melancholy.

I think my grandma had Sunday afternoon melancholy, too. But resourceful as she was, she solved the problem.

Her solution? Surround herself with people at three o'clock every Sunday afternoon. We had to go over to her house for Sunday afternoon coffee no matter how cold the weather, no matter how busy we were, no matter how much we would rather be taking a nap.

Sunday afternoon coffee -- which Scandinavians know means open-faced Cheez-Whiz sandwiches, cookies, rhubarb sauce, a plate of pickles and enough coffee to float a ship -- was a sacred duty. Grandma took roll.

It always irked me that Grandma was so inflexible. What if I was in the middle of a good book? Nope, coffee's on the table. What if I had a friend over? Bring him along. What if I am still full from noon? Eat anyway.

It only recently occurred to me that Grandma had found a solution for Sunday afternoon melancholy and we were part of it.

By making coffee and snacks, rousting Grandpa off the couch and filling her kitchen with people, Grandma fought off her Sunday afternoon blues without drugs or doctors.