Back when I was a kid, Labor Day meant a couple of things. The last holiday before school began. The day we remembered that working people were often treated as if they were less than human. In my home, we grew up believing in unions which fought for better working conditions, fair wages, reasonable hours, health care, days off and for the protection of children. I knew that there were some unions that were crooked and fraudulent, but they were the minority. In my family, we celebrated Labor Day, May Day and workers’ rights. Michael and I were married on May Day, feeling a bit like frauds ourselves as we watched the May Day Parade taking place on the street below the hotel where we wed. We felt like we should run downstairs and march awhile before we did our thing. Some years later, I remember how Ronald Reagan made it his business to break the back of the air traffic controllers’ union, a great irony as he was once the president of the Screen Actors Guild union. Twice. In this country, while a significant number of businesses give their employees a day off on Labor Day, about 40% of them remain open for special sales. I’m pretty sure they don’t earn extra pay.
For many years, the local Labor Day parade came straight down our block at 10 a.m. The labor unions, political parties and their candidates, the Shriners on their little bicycles, plus all manner of fire trucks and high school marching bands, strode through the typically steamy weather. Loyal friends and family members trotted along to provide water, while any number of decked-out bicycles with their funny riders, and decorated collector cars with smiling mayors aboard waved. Huge semis and cherry-pickers provided not only loud blares from their horns, but piles of candy tossed at the kids lining the streets. The candy parade. My grandsons always shared their banana Laffy Taffy with me. Pens and rulers with campaign slogans and union logos, fans and American flags were given to any takers along the route. The parade ended with a picnic at a local park. Every year, all the people on our street put chairs at the curbs in front of our houses, joined by folks from the community to share in this great tradition. But this year, whoever organized this parade changed the location. I have no idea where it took place. I only know that I was bitterly disappointed to miss this great annual community event, right in my own front yard.
This Labor Day happened to be my mom’s birthday, what would have been her 99th. She died in 2015, just shy of her 92nd. During her last few years, she’d lost some mental ground, her fabulous memory fading, to her chagrin and that of the rest of her family. With time to reflect on what the passage of time wrests from everyone, I decided to spend my free day doing what the holiday was designed to pause – I decided to work, physical work, as much as I could manage. I know I’m on the clock. Like that hourglass pictured above, my strong, healthy times are dribbling away. Being aware of the physical changes that are what everyone stares down in their own time, I want to make every effort to employ what I can while I’m still able.
I pulled out that old school push mower and tackled my hated lawn. I’m trying to take away chunks of it, useless as it is, and replace it with native plants for pollinators. I jammed my headphones in my ears, wondering why I ever thought shoving that environmentally correct piece of equipment was a good idea, while at the same time being grateful that at my age, I still have the strength to make it work. When I completed that strenuous task, I decided I’d do something a bit more sedate, like grooming my small but very hairy dog, whose shedding skills are mighty.
For all our years in our big backyard, Michael fertilized and aerated like he’d been taught as a suburban kid, who learned early that manicured lawns were a desired thing. I drove him crazy as I brushed our dogs through the years, discarding their fur all over the grass, certain that birds and other little critters would like the soft hair as nesting material. Ironically, years after his death, our biologist son, observing a cute little bird called a tufted titmouse plucking hairs from the body of a sleeping raccoon, and wrote a scientific paper describing that very idea Michael detested. He even created a new term for this behavior – kleptotrichy. I must admit I took an extra bit of pleasure tossing Lily’s hair all over my detested grass this afternoon.
Of course I’d give anything to hear Michael’s annoyance again, to experience the pleasure of working together in our yard. Being out there consistently evokes the happiness we shared in reclaiming all that space, neglected and overgrown with weeds, that we first attacked in 1978. I still grow vegetables and herbs, salvaging what I can from the scrounging rabbits, voles and squirrels, the fruits they don’t steal before I can harvest them. And the yard, so alive with so many different species of bees, wasps, butterflies, insects and birds was a part of the big plan.
Finally, after the outdoor jobs were done, I sat down to create more paving bricks for the new pathways which will take over more of that lawn space. Decorated with rocks and shells I’ve cadged from walks along lakes, on trails in woodlands and shells from the ocean-sides, I felt immersed in nature, experiencing that endorphin release that follows vigorous exercise and wipes away the aches and pains accrued in a full day of labor.
On this very full Labor Day, I got a bonus from the music that accompanies me and propels me through all my tasks. With all the years of listening and all the tunes I’ve heard, nothing is better than finding a song I’ve missed along my way. This one that crept up on me was released in 1994 and was written by Bonnie Raitt. The title is simple: “You.” The version I heard was performed by Bonnie and Alison Krauss. Out there, listening, where I’ve spent my physical energy for the day, I’m back in the sentimental space I often find when the labor somehow evokes the power of Michael and me. This song says it all, after work is done and I miss my life’s partner. Here are the lyrics and a link for your listening pleasure. I remembered a song by Roberta Flack – “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” one of Michael’s favorites. That’s what this Bonnie Raitt song did for me.
“You” by Bonnie Raitt
Nobody else can make me happy
No one could hurt me like you do
You were the only one that mattered
Then you were gone
Love had moved on
Left me alone
Thinking of you
There was never any other
You and I were created to dream
Isn’t it love that keeps us breathing
Isn’t it love we’re sent here for
Wasn’t that love we were feeling
Deep in our soul
Deeper than we know
Keepin’ me whole, out for you
There was never any question
You’ll forever on my mind
You and I were meant to be together
True hearts and the world of love is done
I might as well have been dyin’
When we were apart
When you came back
I felt the beating of my heart
You and I there was never any question
You will forever hold my heart
You and I were meant to be together
It was always you
Press above to open link.