The Labor Day Weekend

Growing up I lived in a handful of different towns.  My family was transferred from one town to another as my Father was transferred for job positions within his company.  Most of the moving occurred in my younger years.  From 1963 and the fourth grade (and Mrs. Walsh, the teacher who would get a bright red spot on her temple below her pure white hair when she yelled at me…) to the spring of 1970 and the end of my first junior year in high school (yes, there were more than one) I lived in western Massachusetts in a beautiful town called Longmeadow.  From the summer of 1970 and the start of my second junior year in high school until I headed out to the University of Michigan in 1980 for graduate school (see, the five years of high school paid off!) we lived in a great town on the east coast of Massachusetts, south of Boston and north of Cape Cod, called Scituate.  I miss it.  My brother and his family still live there.  I miss them too….he’s my younger brother so I’m constantly buttering him up with compliments in case he has to take care of me when I get old.

Scituate was, and still is, a charming town with great beaches, a town harbor full of real fishing boats (I eventually became a sword fisherman on one of them….another story for another day) and other pleasure crafts of all sizes.  Great lobsters (the real lobsters, you know, the New England type) can be caught just off the rocky shoreline and the sea is dotted with colorful lobster buoys, the harbor full of rugged lobster boats.  And there’s “the spit”…a peninsula of sandy dunes and sea grasses where the North River, coursing from the inland towns, meets with the ocean.  In my time the spit was a great place for summer night beach parties in that you had to walk a fair distance through the sand dunes to get to the “party zone”, away from houses and the local road… “Scituate’s Finest” weren’t enthused about making the trek to enforce the law!

The summer season in a “beach town” along the eastern seashore was and is an event.
Beginning with the Memorial Day weekend at the end of May, the summer cottages would begin to open up for the summer families and vacationers.  By late June the schools were let out for the year and summer was in full swing with the beaches crowded, the harbor active, the town busy and the cottage rentals full.   The 4th of July was always an epic event full of mid-summer enthusiasm,  festivities, great barbecues, fireworks, American flags and bunting showing  national pride draped everywhere.  Real “Norman Rockwell” living.

But to me Labor Day was the most significant holiday of the summer because Labor Day Weekend marked the end of the summer season on the east coast, for all intended purposes.  In Scituate there was always a noticeable difference in the crowds along ‘Front Street’ down by the town’s harbor before Labor Day and after.  The exciting events of the summer that entailed days and nights on the beach, the summer carnival down by the harbor, beach parties, 4th of July extravaganzas, days fishing with Dad out on his boat, the “Cod Squad” (wish I had done a lot more of that)…they all ended with Labor Day and the start of the autumn season.  High school and college resumed right after The Labor Day weekend and the free-spirited living of the summer came to an end….in part to be replaced by school parties, ha!!

After I graduated from college, older but not particularly more mature to any significant degree, the Labor Day weekend took on a bit more significance as I sat on the beach with my friends drinking cold beers, barbecuing hot dogs and celebrating my role as a worker.   I was self-employed and with a buddy we operated a small landscape business employing
my younger brother, his friends and a few of our friends in the summer for lawn mowing.  The fact was we worked, had jobs and made a basic living, paid rent and taxes, so we had cause to celebrate.  It felt good.  We would hang out at Sea Monster Beach, the name the locales gave to Mann Hill Beach after November 16th, 1970 when a 15-meter long (49 feet) sea creature washed ashore in the night creating panic and awe in the town.  No local official could identify what kind of sea creature it was and it stunk to high heavens.  Oceanographic institutes from around the world inquired and samples from the monster were taken and shipped for research.  Eventually it was identified as a “Basking Shark” (only eats plankton) and was buried deep in the sand on the beach where it landed….forever to be known as “The Scituate Sea Monster.”  But I digress.

In common with most of our national holidays Labor Day has far more significance than the majority of us place on it.  As gleaned from Wikipedia on the internet: “The first Labor Day in the United States was observed on September 5, 1882, in Boston, by the Central Labor Union of New York, the nation’s first integrated major trade union.  It became a federal holiday in 1894, when, following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike (a violent railroad strike of 1894 begun in Pullman, Illinois), President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with the labor movement as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. The September date originally chosen by the CLU of New York and observed by many of the nation’s trade unions for the past several years was selected, rather than the more widespread International Workers’ Day.  Cleveland was concerned that observance of the latter would stir up negative emotions linked to the Haymarket Affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot, a demonstration and unrest that took place on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago ), which International Workers’ Day had been observed to commemorate.   All U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the territories have made Labor Day a statutory holiday.”

As originally proposed the form for the celebration of Labor Day was “a street parade to exhibit to the public ‘the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,’ followed by a festival for the workers and their families.” Throughout the country labor organizations often feature political themes, appearances and speeches by candidates for office, especially in election years…which seems to be every year now-a-days.  Celebrations include picnics, barbecues, parades and public gatherings.

The holiday represents important and historic movements and roles of this country’s workers in the struggle for fair pay, health, safety and well-being.   No matter what side of today’s debates between labor and management one chooses, the efforts celebrated by Labor Day are honorable.  But the underlying current to so many of us, whether right or wrong, is that it signifies the end of the summer.

Now as a  27-year resident of Southern California Labor Day Weekend does not particularly represent the end of summer to me here…the warm weather lasts well into October and we have no children to shuttle off to school (“the most happiest time of the year” some parents tell us!!).  However I do plan on my own personal labor celebration.  I have been self-employed for the last 20 years as a private consultant.  I have been my own boss/manager and worker/laborer.  I have threatened union strikes when I have made myself work weekends and nights on end, and have embraced myself as management when I have continuously won “Employee of the Year” awards.  I have negotiated with myself over the bargaining table for better wages and health benefits, but have accepted the recent reductions in wages and health coverage I, as management, have placed on myself due to the economy.  I have struck a comfortable balance in my relationship with myself as manager and worker bee.

So, in celebration of the holiday, my wife (who works diligently at her job year after year) and I are going to a gathering at our friends’ home this Labor Day.  They are working during this labor holiday to entertain us.  Other friends will be there working during this labor holiday to prepare specialty dishes for the guests.  The yard, gardens and home will be meticulously beautiful as our friends will have worked the past weekends in preparation of the celebration of the labor holiday.  Our friends, as hosts, will be working to ensure we are comfortable, have drink in hand, food on plate and are enjoying ourselves.  And afterwards, even though we will offer to help clean up in a very surficial way, we will climb in our cars and drive home while our friends work at cleaning up from the gathering on this labor holiday.

One thing I have learned over the years.  Labor Day weekend is a celebration of the worker…and the end of the summer.  It’s a much more relaxing celebration when others are working to put on the celebration.  Can’t wait for it to begin!!

And all kidding aside…it will be wonderful to celebrate with our friends and spend time together with some we don’t see as often as we would like.   We appreciate the effort everyone is putting into the event.  It’s a lot of work.

G’day friends, see you next Friday morning.

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