Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day Column

When I was a kid, the sunset on Labor Day felt like the door slamming on summer.

That’s because back then, school started the first full week of September, and my nose would be on a collision course with the grindstone. 

No more baseball, all day bike rides, swimming in Horse Creek, or camping. The good times were over until May.

In those days, I knew Labor Day was approaching without ever looking at a calendar. You could tell by the angle, and quality of the sunlight. 

The sumac bushes turned the color of a Strawberry Nehi, and ripe persimmons as big as golf balls fell from the tree at the edge of our yard. Stepping on a ripe persimmon barefooted made pulp squish up between your toes and you’d have to dig the goop out with a stick and wash your feet with a hosepipe. 

Toward the end of August, you could hear tree frogs and cicadas singing in the trees. Even though the droning songs were soothing, I knew those sounds were harbingers. 

Before long, those summer sounds would be replaced by school bells, and the sound of gym shoes squeaking on hardwood floors. 

The familiar summer scents of pine, fresh cut grass, and leather baseball gloves would be replaced by the smells of new books, cedar pencil shavings, and linseed oil which janitors used to treat the wooden floors in the old school.

The carefree feelings of summer had to be stowed until the following spring, and for me, I had to get down to business. 

My mama didn’t play when it came to grades. I could buckle down and study or I could spend my life with less freedom than a prisoner serving life without parole in Holman Prison.

Labor Day was a significant day for many of the older folks around me. It was a day set aside to honor those who got their hands dirty while laying the foundation and building the backbone of America. 

It was often dangerous, backbreaking work building cities, roads, bridges, and railroads. And for the most part, the people doing the work received very little compensation. 

Labor Day was their day.

When I was about fourteen, my dad built a cabin on the Warrior River and that’s where we celebrated every Labor Day.

During the summer we baited trotlines with nightcrawlers (huge earthworms), and caught boatloads of white, blue, and bullhead catfish that we stored in the freezer. 

When Labor Day rolled around, we feasted on catfish, along with burgers, dogs, and chicken cooked over a cinder-block grill in the yard. 

After lunch, we’d all water ski until our tired legs felt like rubber. I think we all wanted to get every last second of freedom before saying goodbye to summer.

The hard part about going back to school, was the anticipation. Once classes started, it was fun seeing all my old friends which made the transition back into captivity easier.

Football helped ease the pain, and then Halloween along with the other holidays, was just around the corner.

I feel a little sad for kids today who start back to school with so much summer left. The days are still a hundred degrees, and the cicadas haven’t finished singing their song.

Happy Labor Day.

1 comment:

  1. That's a great essay.

    We don't get ripe persimmons here until October, but I know all about stepping on them barefoot.

    Even in the city I hear the cicadas and geese are leaving already, or at least flocking as I hear them flying over. I like fall. I like fall. I keep repeating that though I hate the anticipation of the day I have to turn on the heat.


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