Labor Day holiday: A love/hate relationship

ESCANABA – Sweat, sore muscles, growth, changes, and a ticking clock. That about sums up Labor Day.

Most women have a love/hate relationship with this the first Monday in September. Now I’m not trying to be sexist here, but men think of great food, barbecues and a long weekend.

Women traditionally see it as a reminder of calluses, accomplishments, childbirth, changes, and the end of summertime.

If you ever had to pick stones out of a field, peel poplar with a spud, pick beans for the cannery, use a wringer washer, or work on a railroad section crew, then you know about labor.

Upper Michigan is all about hard work. From the crosscut saw and snow shovel, to the fishing nets and tractors, a hardy breed of people thrive here.

Labor Day officially became a holiday in the United States in 1894. During the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s, American laborers could work 12 hour days, seven days a week – even children. The conditions were often very dangerous and unsanitary, and the pay was very minimal.

Labor Day was established to improve the workplaces and honor the workers.

There is a somber seriousness about Labor Day weekend. Jobs are, of course, a very treasured commodity here in the U.P. It is a good feeling to come home at the end of the day tired, but having a sense of accomplishment.

So, we get a nice long weekend on the first Monday in September. We celebrate it with parades, picnics, camp-outs and backyard barbecues.

The choke cherries are ripe, green apples hang low, wild hazelnuts are ready for harvesting, and the deer velvet starts to harden. Goldenrod and wild aster flowers decorate the road for Labor Day.

The northwoods are often caught in a bubble of hot, humid air in early September. The canner and the simmering sweet corn add to the heat of the season.

A new school year is ready to begin. A son or daughter’s feet have grown another size larger. A baby hops onto a bus for the first day of kindergarten. A son goes off to college. Those are some of the somber moments of Labor Day weekend.

The summer yesterday was so young, filled with new baby animals and plenty of promising shoots of plant life. Now the hard work of harvest is almost here.

Five years ago, on a Labor Day weekend, I found myself leaving my young children and heading off to the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis. I was going for treatment of a serious blood type of cancer called multiple myeloma. I remember the heat, the smell, and all the sounds of the big city.

After many months of treatment, prayers, doctors, and physical therapy, my disease is in remission. It feels so great to be able to work again and bike, swim and work in the garden.

So, for me, there is a love/hate meaning to the Labor Day weekend.

To all of the people who have to set the alarm clock for work, this holiday is for you. Share some golden sunsets by the apple trees with your loved ones.

Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of north Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published each week in Lifestyles.