What does Labor Day mean to you?
It’s a holiday that can be looked at in many different ways. Perhaps a paid day off work, a town celebration, the end of summer or a look at autumn just around the corner. I can connect in many different ways with this first Monday of September annual holiday.
Labor Day – a day set aside to honor the American workers. It became official as a federal holiday in 1894. We have so many great, hardworking Americans, merely giving them a day off of work seems to be not enough. But, it’s still a day off work — take it and run with it.
Labor Day brought a new meaning into my family’s life four years ago this September as we celebrate our granddaughter, Charlie Hugunin’s birthday. Talk about a labor of love! That is how we spent our day off four years ago, waiting for Charlie to join our family.
But, actually, the holiday goes way back for me, when I was growing up in Camanche, located in eastern Iowa, right on the Mississippi River. Labor Day truly did signify the end of summer on the river. The day after Labor Day was the first day of the new school year.
Growing up in a small town, during the early 1950s, was probably not much different than any other small town in Iowa. When I started school in the ’50s, Camanche had a population of under 2,000 people. It’s more than doubled in size since then, but is the town that I call my hometown.
Anyway, back to the day after Labor Day.
Getting ready for the new school year was so different than current day getting ready for the new school year. Yes, lots of years separate the beginning of a new school year, and not just the fact that school starts so much earlier now and the way we get our children ready for a school year is so different.
I remember having a very small list of school supplies that needed to be purchased. Remember any of these things: A Big Chief writing tablet, the Pee Chee portfolios, the pink peach erasers, the LePage glue bottles, the Dick and Jane books, song flutes, Play Time watercolors and how about the Milton Bradley Phonetic Word Wheels?
I remember going shopping for my brand new saddle shoes, the black-and-white ones. I loved those shoes. We had a dress code and had to wear dresses; mine were mostly homemade because my mother knew how to sew.
First-day-of-kindergarten supplies consisted of bringing to school a pencil box. The pencil boxes I remember in my classroom were cigar boxes. Not sure where mine came from because no one in my family smoked cigars.
Also had to bring a lunch box and a rug to take a nap on.
We were given a big fat red pencil. The one that did not have an eraser on the end of it. I wonder if that was a way to tell us young writers not to make mistakes because they weren’t going to be erased away. We also were given our very own box of eight big fat crayons. I still don’t understand how that worked. We had tiny hands at the age of 5 and it was difficult to maneuver those colors and try to stay in the lines.
I had a difficult time learning how to cut with scissors using the blunt-nose ones we had in the classroom. But one thing that I will never forget was the biggest jar of white paste that I had ever seen before. We were each given a small jar and our teacher (who all believed was some sort of God) would fill our jars with the white magic sticky stuff that smelled good and yes, I did taste it once in a while, just to make sure it was still good.
When asked what my favorite subject was, of course I would say recess. After all, we had two a day. We got to go outside and play on the playground. Since I was a girl, and we had to wear dresses to school, we had to stay off certain playground equipment. You know, the boys on one side and the girls on another.
I mentioned that I often felt like my teacher was some sort of a God. There really wasn’t a formal relationship with my teachers. But I knew that certain things, like talking back, was not tolerated. And for those who even thought that they could talk back to a teacher, the discipline was writing the same sentence 100 times over and over on the blackboard during recess.
Our report cards, which were sent home four times a year in a manila envelope, to be signed by our parents and returned back to the teacher, consisted of being scored on reading, spelling, science, health, music and art.
Getting to school each day consisted of my brother, Mike, giving me a ride to school on the back of his bicycle. It was a safe, peaceful time in our lives and no one cared that we were riding double on a bicycle. It was also very safe to walk to and from school alone. Heaven forbid these days allowing small children to walk to school alone, or hitch a ride on the back of a bicycle. And I need to add that we didn’t wear bike helmets back then. I am a firm believer that in the day now, if you have wheels under your feet, you must have a helmet on your head.
We received a great education and without having homework. The homework didn’t come into the scene until we were in junior high school. How did we ever manage that? Good question, I don’t have an answer for it.
Our annual field trip consisted of walking to the nearby city park and having a picnic at the end of the school year. We each brought our own sack lunch, but I kind of remember ice cream after we ate lunch.
Yes, the day after Labor Day had a huge significance in our lives back then. It really was a quiet, peaceful time in my hometown.
May I add that the worst problem in school was someone caught chewing gum.
To the blackboard: I will not chew gum in school….100 times.
Lynn Marr-Moore is a resident of rural Kelley and a contributing writer for the Nevada Journal and Tri-County Times.