In May of 1882, New York labor leader Peter J. Maguire decided it would be a swell idea to have a holiday that would pay tribute to working stiffs the country over, suggesting it fall somewhere between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving as a way to break up the monotony of the same-old-job, same-old-paycheck routine.
Some 10,000 of Maguire’s closest friends in the labor force agreed, and on Sept. 5, 1882, they paraded through the streets of New York City. Picnics, political speechifying, fireworks and likely more than a few hangovers followed, and the idea caught on.
By 1894, Labor Day — the first Monday in September — had become an official federal holiday, albeit one that, marking the unofficial end of the summer vacation season, tends to sneak up on a person.
Can this be the Labor Day holiday already? Wasn’t it just yesterday we were watching the Fourth of July parade pass by? And have you noticed that the big-box stores in the shopping malls have had their snow blowers and shovels on display for some time now? What’s that all about?
Listen to the conversations in the supermarket checkout line and it becomes apparent that not everyone is of the same mind about this annual holiday. Faced with the reality that Labor Day brings with it a shortening of daylight hours, the pessimist carps about a vague feeling of approaching doom when the cold winds of late autumn will herald the onset of what he is convinced surely will be another Winter From Hell for the natives to endure.
The optimist, on the other hand, sees Labor Day as the gateway to serene September and golden October, which can be two of the more glorious months on the Maine calendar, should the weather break right. If it doesn’t, well, there’s always next year.
September-October is a time to savor the blue-sky and largely bug-free days and crisp nights that put a certain zip in one’s step. A time to undergo a healthy attitude adjustment that sultry July and August have never come close to providing.
The pessimist laments the exorbitant price of gasoline and the certainty that soon the heating oil delivery guy will deliver the season’s first load of equally expensive oil for the furnace. When he looks at his oil tank he sees it half-empty, even as the optimist in similar circumstances sees his as half-full, while hoping the pricing situation will one day change for the better.
Such considerations are not terminal irritants when the summer hordes are gone and you can have the panoramic view from atop Cadillac Mountain practically to yourself. The expense of driving is easier to bear when there is no one but you and a stray moose and her young one to savor a Maine sunrise from a scenic ridgeline highway that was clogged with the traffic of vacationers just a few days earlier.
For the kids, Labor Day signals a return to school. The little ones giggle and jostle one another on their way there, undoubtedly happy to be back with their peers after a summer left to their own devices, although you’d probably never get them to admit as much.
Come an October weekend, in a scene straight from the easel of beloved folk artist Norman Rockwell, they will frolic in the fallen tree leaves dear old Dad has raked from the front lawn. The not unpleasant aroma of burning leaves will be in the air from the crown of Aroostook to the suburbs of Portland, although probably illegally so in some of the more politically correct jurisdictions.
In the invigorating fall days to come, mundane pursuits such as repairing the roof or caulking the kitchen windows in preparation for cold weather can tilt more toward pleasure than drudgery, provided one figures into the deal sufficient time to periodically step back and marvel at Mother Nature’s impressive painting of the upland hills in vivid autumn colors.
Before long, farmers will have harvested their crops, and a state that depends heavily on the economic boost of tourism will welcome the winter cousins of the departing summer crowds. All is well that ends well.
On this Labor Day weekend, as President Obama and those who hope to succeed him in office prepare to unveil grand plans for reducing the nation’s high unemployment rate, these are among the simple things that provide continuity and for which we count our blessings.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.