I’ve grudgingly accepted the fact that wiener dogs want to go outside two seconds after you sit down, pillow case openings should point toward the center of the bed, and back to school supplies hit the store shelves immediately following the 4th of July. But I am having the hardest time accepting kids going back to school before Labor Day. Why do I even care?! I don’t have school age kids anymore. But when I was a kid, Labor Day weekend was the gateway for the upcoming school year and I have so many wonderful associated memories.
The weekend would start with the routine Saturday chores and errands, but there was a renewed sense of purpose and additional details that needed attention. Did we have enough peanut butter and jelly for a week’s worth of lunches? Did I have a folder for every subject in my Trapper Keeper? A final decision would need to be made on what I would wear for the first day of school. And of course, a flurry of phone calls would have to be made to confirm with my fellow ‘walkers’ what time and where would we meet up for the journey to school Tuesday morning.
After church on Sunday my neighborhood friends and I would try to squeeze in all those things that were only allowed between Memorial Day and Labor Day. We ran barefoot, rode our bikes down to the creek, scrounged up change to buy ice cream cones at The Panther Queen, and begged parents to watch us while we swam at the neighbor’s pool. We stayed out late, roaming the neighborhood until the street lights came on.
Sunday evening we’d watch The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. We’d listen to the stories of the brave people (usually kids were featured) living with and fighting muscular dystrophy. We loved watching the celebrity entertainment and we cheered on the business sponsors that would bring their large cardboard checks to present to Jerry. I waited in anticipation of the moment when the latest contributions were added to the ‘tote board’ and the orchestra played What The World Needs Now Is Love.
On Monday, Dad would fire up the charcoal grill and Mom would break out the hotdogs, hamburger patties and potato salad. We’d eat at the picnic table on the patio and then pull the jarts or the croquet set out of the garage for the backyard family activities. My dad would wait for someone else to put together the hammock frame and then announce he needed a nap, displacing whoever was happily swinging away.
And then summer was over. No more ‘summer bedtime.’ I remember being sent to bed while it was still daylight. “I can’t sleep before it gets dark out,” I would wail down the stairs. I’m sure my insomnia had nothing to do with the anticipation of the first day of school, anxiety about the new year’s teacher, or excitement about wearing my new back to school clothes. We never wore shorts or sandals to school – that was summer wear. We wore dresses or long pants and our new school shoes which we would wear each and every day during the school year. When winter came, we wore boots and had to schlep our school shoes back and forth every day. But I digress.
When Tuesday finally came and we arrived at school, we would rush from classroom to classroom reading the list of student names posted by the door. At Smith Elementary we had three classrooms for each grade. The teacher’s name would be at the top: Mrs. Patterson, 3rd grade, followed by the names of those who would be her students for the next nine months. What a thrill it was to find your bestie’s name on the same list as yours.
As many kids in the student body for school year 2019 – 2020 head back to school the week before Labor Day, I feel sorry for them. Instead of walking to school with friends, many will be dropped off at the curb by their parents; most of them already know who their teacher will be, and probably no one is carrying a Trapper Keeper. I suppose they’ll be fine. They’ll have their own experiences, figure things out for themselves, and if they’re lucky, have great back to school memories regardless of whether they started before or after Labor Day.
Now, if we can just stamp out this ‘Let’s move Halloween to Saturday’ madness! As Roseanne Roseannadanna would say, “It’s always something.”