Labor Day, a time for reflection

Posted Sept. 04, 2009, at 7:46 p.m.

Labor Day weekend — seemingly having snuck in through the back door when no one was paying attention — is a time for good news and bad.

Here in Maine, the good news is that the holiday is a time to put up our feet and consider which ritual we enjoy more — seeing the tourists arrive in early summer or seeing them depart as we drink a toast to golden September and October, arguably the two most enjoyable months of our calendar year.

The bad news: Labor Day marks the end of the annual congressional recess, which means that lawmakers are returning to Fortress Washington, the better to inflict lasting damage upon the republic.

President Barack Obama will address a joint session of Congress Wednesday evening — one day after lawmakers return to work — reportedly to be more specific than he has so far about his proposed health care reforms. Many citizens would likely rate that a positive development. Lord knows, the republic has been crying out for details concerning this high-profile, though vaguely defined, issue for quite some time now.

If the presidential handlers want their man’s message to resonate with viewers, though, and not turn a positive into a negative, they’d be well advised to duct-tape Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to her chair. That might eliminate the distraction of the camera catching her jumping up from her position behind Obama at the rostrum to applaud nearly every other presidential sentence — an enthusiastic cheerleader minus only the pom-poms — as she did when last Obama addressed Congress.

But back to the Labor Day thing…

When New York labor leader Peter J. Maguire decided in the spring of 1882 that it might be a swell idea to invent Labor Day as a tribute to the working stiff who kept the wheels of industry grinding away — often for little pay in less-than-ideal conditions — some 10,000 workers agreed. On the following Sept. 5, a Tuesday, they paraded through New York City. Political speeches, picnics and fireworks followed and a good time reportedly was had by all.

The New York Herald observed, “Fellow workers and their families sat together, joked together and caroused together… Americans, English, Irish, Germans hobnobbed as though the common cause had established closer brotherhood.”

And indeed it had. The idea caught on. Twelve years later, Labor Day — the first Monday in September — became an official federal holiday. Organized labor, which subsequently made great gains on behalf of workers, still makes a cameo appearance at holiday observances around the country. But the day seems to have evolved mostly into an excuse for the proletariat to have one last grand fling before fickle summer slips slowly into the mists of autumn and beyond.

Although it’s a long, long while from May to December, the days grow short when you reach September. Songwriter Maxwell Anderson’s golden oldie, “September Song,” based on that premise, had it about right: We must make the most of what we have while there is still time to enjoy it. And we have much to enjoy. When the weather gods cooperate spectacularly, as they have all this week, Maine at this time of year is pretty hard to beat.

The Labor Day weekend represents a new beginning of sorts for everyone left permanently behind when summer’s tourists exit, stage right, in heavy traffic up and down the interstate highway system. We love the tourists, of course, for many reasons — not the least being that, excluding the hermit population, we are all tourists on occasion. We have met them and they are us. When they have the good sense to return next summer we will be happy to see them once more.

Still, when the Labor Day exodus commences we count our blessings. For one thing, we can have the place pretty much to ourselves again until our superb winter playground entices a hardier breed of visitor to come calling.

For another, unlike our seasonal guests, we don’t have to stuff the kids and the dog into the wagon and drive to some exotic place for our vacation. The old Yankee-ism states our case well: Why travel, when you’re already there?

Why, indeed.

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