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Labor Day Thoughts

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“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

What is it about Labor Day that is so special? Someone decided years ago to give us an extra day off in early September. What a wonderful idea! This is great for one last summer picnic, perfect for a trip to the beach, and just right for spending more time with family and friends.

There seem to be so many benefits to this three-day weekend. Labor Day is a much anticipated holiday for sports enthusiasts. It signals the unofficial start of the football season. About 99 percent of the time, the NFL plays its first official season game on the Thursday after Labor Day. It’s also a treasured holiday for the serious shopper; “Labor Day Sales” are everywhere, offering deep discounts. Many savvy shoppers can’t wait to see what’s left over at the end of the summer.

For me, Labor Day is a bittersweet holiday. On the positive side, I’m thinking fondly of some cooler and milder days ahead. I’m anticipating a few more camping trips and can’t wait to revisit some of my favorite state parks. Yet, on the flip side, I notice that September brings later sunrises and earlier sunsets- less daylight hours and more darkness. Sadly, Labor Day reminds me that summer is almost gone for another year.

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Where did Labor Day start? In order to acknowledge the contributions and accomplishments of men and women in the US workforce, activists held various celebrations in a few states in the late 1800s. The first major Labor Day celebration was held in New York City on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. An estimated 20,000 people attended this celebration, many of them workers on unpaid leave. The early festivities included a parade, a picnic, and a concert. Of course, time was designated for many rousing speeches!

It was not until 1894 that Labor Day became a national holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. Did you know that he is the only double president in history? He has the distinction of being the only president to win two non-consecutive terms. He was our 22nd president and then our 24th president! Benjamin Harrison came in between these terms as our 23rd president. It’s interesting to note that Cleveland won the popular vote in all three of his elections—1884, 1888, and 1892—but couldn’t win the electoral college vote in 1888. That year, the election went to Harrison instead.

Halfway through his second term, Grover Cleveland declared that the first Monday in September would be Labor Day and made it a national holiday for workers everywhere.
You may wonder, “Why choose September?” There is no special significance to the date, it is said that it was chosen because it fell roughly halfway between the Fourth of July holiday and Thanksgiving.

Also, did you ever hear the saying, “No white after Labor Day?” This refers to wearing light-colored clothing such as white shoes, dresses, or pants after Labor Day. Some well-off women who came from “old money” families may have instituted this rule. In the 1900s, well-off individuals dressed in lightweight, bright clothes. Men wore white linen suits, and women favored breezy dresses. They did little work, so their whites always remained crisp, perfect, and unstained—a sign of wealth! Plus, they had the financial means to take end-of-summer and early fall vacations. That meant they could show off those nice clothes as they traveled many weeks past Labor Day.

Wealth back then was a blatant divider of social class. Society dictated that those who couldn’t afford end-of-summer vacations shouldn’t try to dress the part. They should avoid wearing white after Labor Day.

Clothes separated societal classes. The average person in the early 1900s dressed plainly. They wore inexpensive, rough fabrics. They wore dark colors often, even in the summer. Darker fabrics hid the dirt and grime and cut down on washing.

Today, any color of clothing seems appropriate at any time of year. Have you ever come across someone who still likes the ancient rule? I’ve seen them! They’ve already put away their white shoes, dresses, and purses! They wear only dark colors after Labor Day. They won’t touch white again until after Easter!

The reminder of Labor Day has also jogged my memory bank. In 2004, we had a long weekend to remember because of Hurricane Frances. It’s been nearly twenty years, but do you recall what you were doing back then? I won’t forget Labor Day that year!

Hurricane Frances made landfall early on Sunday, September 5, 2004, in Stuart, FL. The storm was one of four hurricanes that impacted our state within a six-week period from early August to mid-September. Frances is the one I remember the most. She took a western path straight across the state and headed right for us!

We lost power by Sunday afternoon. I didn’t know at the time that it would be days before it would be restored. For some places, it took weeks. I recall not getting much sleep that night as I heard the wind howl and the branches crack. I was a district supervisor with the Tampa Tribune, and it was no holiday for me! I had newspaper carriers waiting in Zephyrhills. And I knew that despite what I heard, saw, or felt about the storm, there were going to be newspapers out there to deliver.

I was on the road by 3 a.m. on Labor Day morning of 2004, headed to bundle drops some 21 miles away. What was I thinking? It was pitch dark out! The only light was coming from my headlights, and I was the only car on the road! Branches and twigs blew across the pavement! Huge puddles materialized. It was still raining, and all the stoplights and traffic signals were out!

What was my job in the storm? I had to make sure all newspaper carriers arrived at their temporary bundle drops. Then I waited until each and every one of them left with their newspapers for delivery. It was an exhausting half-night. At daylight on Labor Day morning, I was thrilled to find an open gas station with working gas pumps. I was equally excited that they had a welcome cup of coffee!

My husband got us breakfast to go from a local diner. Thank goodness some places were open! There were no Labor Day picnics or cookouts for us that year. The rain stopped by midday, and we got busy. My husband cut grass and cleaned up small branches. I raked, bagged, and piled up more sticks. We spent all afternoon picking up yard debris. It was a true working Labor Day!

I wonder what this year’s Labor Day has in store. As I write this article, there is a storm brewing out there named Idalia. Hopefully, she will come and go without major damage. Then, I’ll celebrate Labor Day Monday with a trip to the flea market, a dip in the pool, and some good food on the grill! I call it my trifecta for a perfect day. A nice way to say goodbye to summer!

Happy Labor Day!

“The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.”
—-Oprah Winfrey

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