I stood in my red, hooded zip jacket. My mother had bought it at Riff’s department store for school, but said I was allowed to wear it to the parade that morning as long as I did not get it dirty or go rolling around in the grass. You see, the chill had crept back into the air. It was as if summer had received an eviction notice overnight, and the crisp morning air was giving us a preview of the coming attraction of winter. Leaves were even beginning to fall, and I kicked them with my feet, punishing them with the bottom of my shoe for letting summer come to an end so quickly.
People had lined the streets, and off in the distance, I could hear the sirens of the fire trucks telling us they were getting close. With my hands shoved in the pockets of that red coat, I would wait patiently for a few minutes, and then extend my head out to see how much longer I would have to wait. Until of course, someone yelled at me to get off the road.
I just wanted to see him.
It seemed that I had been waiting for days to spot him. Yes, it was always fun to catch the candy thrown from the fire trucks, or see the decorated bicycles. But I was waiting to catch a glimpse of HIM.
The army cadet band passed with uniform movement, and I wondered how they could move like that and create music at the same time?
And then I saw him. Coming around the corner with that saunter only he could pull off, wearing the pointed paper hat proudly. He walked with his fellow workers, all wearing those paper hats, made from the very paper they themselves created in the mill.
And then, my Dad would give a quick smile and a wave, and continue his proud march with his fellow workers to the end of the parade route.
The morning would be followed by family gathering at our house, tons of food, and my father barbecuing hamburgers until they could no longer be identified as food, but rather closely resembling the charcoal briquettes that created the heat beneath the grill. He was too busy telling stories and entertaining to be distracted by making the food…edible. No matter who tried to help, he would never relinquish the apron or utensils, he just kept on talking…and spraying water on what could now be described as flaming black balls. My mother always had so many condiments and sides, and I never made the connection until years later as to why she went to so much effort. She was compensating for serving her guests a carcinogenic, blackened, dried out ball on a bun. I remember fiddling with the pile, trying to see if there was one burger beneath the smoldering pile that survived the mayhem.
That is how I remember Labor Day. My Dad was a rock star in my eyes, marching around the corner with pride, as we as a town celebrated the hard and grueling work they all did to take care of their families and to produce a much-needed product. None of them had easy jobs. I remember looking at my father’s hands when he would come home, permanently stained with the grease and God knows what that he worked in each day. And, as a little girl, I would ask him, “Dad did you wash your hands before you came home from work?” And he would smile and tell me yes, but that kind of work doesn’t always come off with soap.
Without so much as a word, he taught all of us the value of hard work, of a job well done, and the importance of taking pride, knowing that you gave your very best. But he also taught us, with his spray bottle and flaming entrée, that you worked hard so you could come home and enjoy what really mattered in life.
To all the workers out there on this Labor Day, thank you for your hard work and the pride you take in a job well done. And for the rest of us, living in this reality television, “selfie” taking, brand buying, fame obsessed world. May we never lose sight of the fact that the real celebrities are those who set the alarm, and get up each morning, doing what needs to be done to provide a service and to take care of their families.
Hope your burgers are cooked just right today,