Welcome to the Unofficial End of Summer! In 1894, the US Federal Government deemed the first Monday of each September as a holiday to celebrate the contributions of various labor organizations to the US economy. So, to all of you worker bees out there, hustling day in and day out: You da best! Grill a burger and put your feet up today, because it’s back to work tomorrow.
It’s a little ironic that we close out a season dotted with vacations with yet another day away from work. It’s almost like a pre-appreciation day for all the endless days of work and drudgery that are ahead. Maybe Labor Day should be swapped for Presidents Day, which falls in mid-February, that time of year when daylight hours are scant, your toes are permanently frozen, and the necessary task of pulling back the covers in the morning just so you can go to work seems completely insurmountable.
While these are strange days in the life of our government, I am doubtful that they’ll be turning their attention to my thoughts on the timing of the Labor Day holiday. And I do love a holiday, no matter what it’s relevance to me and my life (can’t wait for Columbus Day!), so, yes, let us celebrate all thing Laborious!
Labor Day is kind of like that last little bit of ice cream in a cone. The summer has been great, and you don’t want it to be over, but you’re also a little bit full, and things have gotten rather melty and messy. It’s time for a wet wipe and an early bedtime.
When I was growing up, my family spent most of our summers at Lake Greenwood. Most Friday afternoons (or earlier, depending on work schedules), we would throw a bag of essentials into the car and head southwest for our little weekend getaway, sometimes passing another family member on the road, also on their way to the little cabin by the lake. Often, we would stop off at a convenience store to grab a few bags of junk food, because everyone knows that time spent on the water is the perfect excuse to let good nutrition fall by the wayside. Us kids would be responsible for feeding ourselves most of the time from Friday to Sunday, and we used the opportunity to fill our bellies with potato chips and Little Debbies, washed down with ice cold Cokes. The perfect fuel for our growing arms and legs.
The Lake Life Cycle was on repeat for us most of the summer—like it or not. As I got older, I sometimes felt jealous of my friends back home, swimming in their pristine swimming pools, while I spent all day treading water, trying desperately to not let my toes get stuck in the muck of the muddy-bottomed lake. Instead of playing Marco Polo, I played little games of Dodge the Scary Pointy-Nosed Gar Fish, or the pulse-pounding Is That A Stick or a Snake?
“Oh, hey there scary garfish. Ummmm, you can’t swim with us.”
After a couple of days subsisting on salt, sugar and whatever fish were caught and fried by my uncles, we would gather up our toothbrushes and wet bathing suits and pile back into someone’s car for the journey back to Greer. The ride was always a quiet one, and more often than not, we drove through a mean summer storm that would force a slowdown on the two-lane straight-shot road that took us through Laurens, Enoree, and Woodruff. Once we got home, we would drag our tired legs and overnight bags into the house, along with maybe the remains of a HoneyBun or two. Our cheeks and shoulders were crispy from all the sun we’d gotten, and it might not be until later than night while lying in bed that our ears would give the satisfying pop that would release that final drop of warm water.
I’m admittedly waxing nostalgic about this little cabin by the lake. It’s really not much more than a shoebox by a mudhole, but the lazy days we spent there are a large part of the person I am today.
I recently asked my grandmother how she and my grandfather came to own that little cabin which houses so many of my childhood memories. It sounds like it was a result of many months of wheeling, dealing, cussing, and arguing between my grandfather and one of his distant cousins. After the cousin relented on some terms, he and my grandfather closed the perfect real estate deal, which is to say both parties left the table a little unhappy with that they got. I wonder if either of them had an inkling of how long that little cabin would serve as a blessing, and at times a burden, to so many of us. It’s not until we are adults that we recognize how much hard work goes into having fun, and I now feel that I am about 30 years too late in thanking my grandfather for the relentless toil in keeping up this place, and providing a new set of memories to great-grandchildren than he never had the chance to meet. My babies, who now stuff themselves with potato chips and Rocky Road Ice Cream, and kick their strong legs in murky water, are the fruits of the labor of so many people who have come before them. (Now we only have to wait 30 years for them to thank us.)
The first summer after my grandparents purchased the little cabin happened to also be the summer my mother was pregnant with me. I imagine her, with a beach ball belly inflating a bit more each week, stepping carefully onto my grandfather’s boat, trying to find a way to get comfortable and beat the summer heat. And because I’ve seen it many times with my own eyes, I can imagine my grandmother there, standing on the bank, hands on hips with a worried expression, yelling, “Slow down! Not so fast! Don’t stay gone too long!” She must have been extra fretful that Labor Day when it had to be obvious that the beach ball couldn’t inflate anymore, but Mom still insisted she could go on the boat ride. Summer wasn’t over yet. Just one more ride.
Don’t worry. The story doesn’t end with me being born off the back of a boat, although that would be a good one to tell. I’ve never been one to show up to a party on time, so my arrival wasn’t until the next day. Sure, the summer was over, but the real party was just about to begin!
We have to call Labor Day the Unofficial End of Summer because we Southerners know that officially, there are still several weeks left to sweat. But there is a definite change in the air. The wind that blows now is not the hot wind of July, feeling like a furnace. And when it blows, the leaves have a rustle that you couldn’t hear before. The shift we feel is more than just the end of vacation, or school starting back, or football fever. The very air we breathe is changing into something different, and it’s what our parched bodies and hot brains need right now.
When we’ve had a good summer, it’s a little sad to see it wrap up. We want to stand on the bank and yell, “Slow down! Not so fast! Don’t stay gone too long!” But seasons change, in life and in nature, and it comes time to move on to the next one. Each season has its labors and its fruits. So, for now, I say goodbye to summer, but ask it to not stay gone too long.