What time is it? New time or old time?

The Weekly Vista - - News - JERRY NI­CHOLS Jerry Ni­chols, a na­tive of Pea Ridge, is an award-win­ning colum­nist and a re­tired Methodist min­is­ter with a pas­sion for history. He is vice pres­i­dent of the Pea Ridge His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. The opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor. He can

By the time you are read­ing this we will have changed from Cen­tral Stan­dard Time to Cen­tral Day­light Time, and hope­fully we have all our clocks set for­ward by one hour. A few peo­ple may not have got­ten the word about the change, and may have ar­rived at church just in time for Sun­day School to be over, and wor­ship time be­gin­ning. (As a pas­tor, I al­ways kind of en­joyed it when in the fall, we went off Day­light Sav­ing Time and a few peo­ple would show up for Sun­day School when they didn’t in­tend to!)

I guess my wife likes day­light sav­ing time, be­cause it means that the dark of night comes later in the day, not ear­lier. In win­ter­time, the day is short any­way, and in De­cem­ber the sun goes down by 5 o’clock. As we get into Fe­bru­ary and March, the day has been very grad­u­ally get­ting a lit­tle longer, with the dark of night com­ing a lit­tle later. Now, with the adopt­ing of day­light sav­ing time, we get a day that sud­denly be­gins stay­ing light an hour longer. Those who like their day­light at the end of the day will be happy. Of course there are al­ways some peo­ple who are an­noyed by the time changes. My mother-in-law, Zula Pat­ter­son, Nancy’s mother, used to com­plain about the time in al­most ev­ery one of her weekly let­ters. In nearly all of her let­ters, there would some­where be the sen­tence, “I just wish they’d leave this time alone!!”

I don’t re­ally think the idea of day­light sav­ing time orig­i­nated with farm peo­ple. On the farm, es­pe­cially in the old days, we tended to go more by sun time, not so much by clock time. The day be­gan at sunup, not at some­thing-o’clock. The day be­gan closing down at sun­down, what­ever the clock said. We used to have the cus­tom of “go­ing to bed with the chick­ens.” That didn’t mean that we slept in the hen house; it meant that we fol­lowed the lead of the chick­ens, and went to bed at dark30.

There was a time in the 1950s when we started mess­ing with the chick­ens’ heads, set­ting timers to turn on lights in the chicken house so that sup­pos­edly the chick­ens would grow faster by spend­ing more hours eat­ing and fewer hours sleep­ing. That idea didn’t last very long. The timers were taken out of the chicken houses and one of them be­came my “alarm clock,” turn­ing on the light in my bed­room at 5 a.m. Many an old farmer felt that if you didn’t get up at sunup, you were wast­ing valu­able day­light, and that was a sign you were shift­less and lazy. The old farmer’s wis­dom was, “Plow deep, while slug­gards sleep, and ye shall have corn to sell and to keep!”

Day­light sav­ings time is based on the idea that we want to stay up later in the evenings, and not to have to get up so early in the morn­ing. Day­light Sav­ings time is based on city life, where peo­ple go by the con­cept of hav­ing a “job” that starts at 8 in the morn­ing and ends at 5 in the evening, and af­ter that you have time to do your own thing. That calls for more late hours in the day, and start­ing the day not so early. I used to have a preacher friend who was in­vited to at­tend a civic club meet­ing at 6 in the morn­ing. He ex­claimed, “I don’t think even God gets up at that hour!” True to form, he liked to stay up watch­ing late-night tele­vi­sion and to sleep-in in the morn­ing. He prob­a­bly would iden­tify with the fel­low whose friend in­vited him to go fish­ing. “Let’s leave at 3 a.m.” To that, he re­marked, “3 a.m.??!! I didn’t even know there was a 3 a.m.!!”

Any­way, OK, we set our clocks for­ward an hour, so now sun­down comes at 8 p.m., rather than at 7 p.m. We get up at 6 in the morn­ing, by the clock, although the old farmer knows that it is re­ally 5 o’clock. So, we go to work by the clock at 8 a.m., when it is re­ally 7 a.m., and we get off at 5 by the clock, which is re­ally 4 o’clock, so that gives us four hours of day­light af­ter work in­stead of three.

We look to the clock to tell us when we are sup­posed to be at work and when we are off. Old farm fam­i­lies didn’t think like that. They tended to think more like “what work needs do­ing around here now and when can we get at it and how long will it take?”

My mother-in-law’s back­ground prob­a­bly ex­plained why she didn’t like “mess­ing with the time.” Rather than chang­ing the clocks, she would prob­a­bly have thought the busi­nesses should just have their peo­ple come to work at 7 a.m. and get off at 4 p.m. Or, if we are go­ing to change to day­light sav­ings time, let’s just stick with it, and not be chang­ing back and forth in April and Oc­to­ber! No, wait, it’s March and Novem­ber now, isn’t it?


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