Saturday, August 30, 2008

Labor Day -- The Last Day of Summer

Labor Day now always reminds me of my childhood summers growing up in a small town -- Oswego, Kansas. While Labor Day always seemed like the last official day of summer, it officially started with Memorial Day. The city pool opened on Memorial Day and it was the center of my summer existence. My mother would take me shopping the week before in Joplin, Missouri to buy my new summer uniform -- the swimsuit. My mother also took me to Neva, the local beautician, to get my summer pixie cut. (Kind of like a summer buzz cut for a boy, but she left me a little bit of hair!) On Memorial Day, by noon, I'd be waiting on the driveway dressed in my new bathing suit. Some years, I can remember standing out there in my swimsuit with an old towel hanging over my neck (we didn't buy beach towels!) extremely disgusted in the 60 degree rain. My mom had already informed me that the pool opening was cancelled due to weather, but I was hoping for divine intervention.

My summer life soon fell into a pattern after Memorial Day. Mid-morning, I'd walk the three blocks to 'downtown' Oswego to exchange my books at the red brick (donated by Carnegie Foundation) library. I'd then stop by McClellan's Drugstore to sit on the round revolving stools at the soda fountain and drink my nickel cherry Coke. Sometimes I'd wander to the Five and Dime to check out the assorted toys and candy, or I'd walk three blocks on down Fourth Street to visit my grandparents and check if my grandmother had baked one of her banana or coconut creme pies. If my cousins were visiting from Kansas City, we'd have a race with my grandfather on his way to the bakery to buy the daily loaf of fresh bread. He'd drive and we'd run alongsidethe car. He'd usually let us win. LOL

This is the bakery a little bit before my time.


But I was ALWAYS back home by 11 a.m. to start suiting up for the main event. Around 11:30 a.m., I'd hop on my trusty blue and white Schwinn to make the ride up the street to my friend Celeste's house. I'd wait while she finished her lunch and favorite game show on television. We'd then mount the bikes again and take the backroads to the city pool, down a curving hill by the 'hollows' and back up a steep gravel road that led into the city park. The Oswego park sat on a bluff above the Neosho River. The pool was one of those WPA projects with a nice stone bathhouse. We usually arrived before 12:30 p.m. and were the first in line waiting for the 1 p.m. pool opening. Then the entire afternoon, until around 4:00 p.m., was spent at the pool. (Unfortunately, I'd never heard of sunscreen at that point in my life.)

The Trusty Schwinn

All the fun was in the simple things. At night, we'd run all over town catching lightning bugs in a big mayo jar to see who could make the brightest lantern. Some evenings, we'd hop on our bikes to chase the DDT mist that was spewed from a sprayer towed by a city truck. I distinctly remember the city worker stopping to tell all of us kids to back off because the spray was NOT good for us, but we'd always resume the chase. At least one night a week, I'd man right field on a girl's softball team (right field always gets the most talented players! LOL). I dreaded game days because we were not supposed to go swimming because it would supposedly sap all of our energy for game night (but I usually tried to sneak in a swim at the pool anyway). I was a voracious reader and also consumed all the teen romance novels from the library shelves.

Fourth of July was always a bit of a depressing day for me. It was hump day -- a reminder that summer was halfway gone. Actually, the Fourth started early, as soon as the Little League opened their annual fireworks stand. We set off Blackcats and bottle rockets for at least a week in advance of the holiday. My grandfather built us a little cannon. We'd substitute crushed pop cans, etc... for cannon balls and use firecrackers strung together for the fire power. On the actual evening of the Fourth, my parents would have a large BBQ for friends. My dad's specialty was barbequed chicken and my mom was known for her potato salad and baked beans. All of us kids would try to get the Christy's toy poodle to drink beer from a bowl and play hide and seek all over our block until it was time for the homemade ice cream. Afterwards, we'd all head to the football stadium for the town fireworks display. It was all so big and exciting back then!

Later in July, my parents would load the family car for the annual family vacation. One year it was Colorado, another year California with all points in between (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Great Salt Lake, San Francisco, etc...). No matter what their financial situation, my parents always managed to take us somewhere for a week or two each summer -- New Orleans, Washington D.C., Texas, etc.... I marvel at that now because it must have been a struggle at times.

New Orleans French Quarters

After the county fair in mid-August, it was all downhill from there. School started early in Kansas -- usually before Labor Day in the third or fourth week of August.

Labor Day was usually a family event. My mother, a schoolteacher, was already back to work, so too busy to put on a large party. My parents would usually pack a picnic basket and some old tire innertubes into the car and take us to Noel, Missouri to float the river and picnic.

Those were the fun days of summer!

Oswego's Fanciest Home -- The Deming Mansion

Since we're far away from family now, we usually spend Labor Day with friends. Since moving from Seattle, we usually barbeque at our house. This year we'll include a childhood friend and her husband who've recently bought the house down the street from us, and some other close friends from our old neighborhood in Seattle who just happen to live a few miles away from us now.

Since we live in the Phoenix area now, Labor Day no longer signals the end of summer. I wonder if that 'no white pants, white belt, and white shoes after Labor Day rule' really applies down here? Ha!


couzin frank said...

Did your family ever stay at
GINGER BLUE? It was an 1920's era resort on the bank's of Elk river just NE of NOEL. Rustic cabin's built into hillside above main lodge on river.Stayed there several times in mid 80's.Have recieved several christmas cards over the year's posted from "NOEL".

Beck said...

Frank, my parents LOVED Ginger Blue. That was a spot they frequented with their friends in the late 40's and 50's. They took us there to eat a few times as kids, and also stayed there with friends in the 80's to celebrate old times!

Moongrl722 said...

Beck, I love your blog. I have been wanting to work on one since Bob's board is gone (am I allowed to say those words here?) LOL but have been busy making sea glass jewelry.

We used to go to Ginger Blue, also. (I grew up in Tulsa). Isn't that funny?? I remember sitting on the back porch overlooking the river in the evening. This is way back in the early 70s.

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