It’s Labor Day in the USA on Monday!
For lots of school kids this is the last weekend of freedom from homework, from routine, and the last of the dog-day afternoons lounging in the pool, in the park or at the ocean.
For the men, particularly in the northern states, it could well be their last hurrah with the barbecue, and one of the Monday chores will be to clean the grill and roll it into the garage until Memorial Day at the end of May.
The American male to his credit, though the vogue has not cottoned on in our household, really does barbecue and not just the charring bit of it; he purchases and prepares as well. One of our neighbours, a delightful Texan of generous proportions, has mastered the art of grilling like no other man I know. His brisket is without equal, and his beans a melange of peppers, onions and secret ingredients he will not divulge. Recipes, with names like Ma’s Famous Potato Mayo Salad or Pa’s Savory Sunday Sausages, are held sacred and passed down through families. It doesn’t matter if Ma or Pa were four generations back, they were still someone’s mom or pop.
Labor Day holds some melancholy for the women too. It’s time to pack away the frivolity of summer, for every American woman knows in her heart of hearts that white is not worn after the first Monday in September. Down here in the hot southern states we might get away with white clothes for a few more weeks but most definitely not the white sandals or shoes – Keds don’t count I’m told.
And that white rule isn’t only the preserve of an aging generation. The modern miss is fully aware of the adage and while she might flaunt it, at the back of her mind her mother and grandmother’s words whisper, no white after Labor Day, honey and the longed for insouciance is spoilt by that tiny niggle of doubt.
I wasn’t brought up the with Labor Day rule but I still hear my mother’s voice saying, Sweetie-pie, one doesn’t wear white shoes, or pearls, after dark. I have managed over the years to drive the pearl rule from the forefront of my mind though it lurks, nagging, at the edges of my consciousness. I was also brought up to believe it was vulgar to wear diamonds before six in the evening – a rule not adhered too at all in Texas. But I can categorically say I have never worn white shoes after sundown, and if I had diamonds I’d flaunt them!
But whether you wear barbecue shorts or white shoes, Labor Day is a nod to the birth of trade unions in the United States. Peter J. McGuire, a New York City carpenter and Matthew Maguire, a machinist from New Jersey are generally considered the Founders of Labor Day. Their demands for job security and an eight-hour day led to the formation of labourer’s unions, an idea quickly picked up by other tradesmen. The official recognition came in 1882 with the first Labor Day Parade, a sop to the people of New York after a major strike. Oregon, followed rapidly by others, was the first State in 1897 to declare the first Monday in September an official holiday, celebrated with street parades and family entertainment.
The latter is sometimes offered in the form of speeches and rallies – the kick-off for the politicians after the summer recess and before the November mid-term elections. This year we are being promised non-political television commercials over the Labor Day weekend, boosting the image of the unions as organisations that improve the lives of working folk. A direct swipe at the Tea Party movement of the far right.
The American football pre-season games officially end this weekend. The tasters are over, and now we get down the serious business of gridiron and tail gating, that peculiarly American tradition of eating off the back of a pick-up in a large stadium carpark. I suppose people on this side of the Atlantic might see the British practice of picnicking out of the back of a Chelsea tractor, in a muddy field, while watching horses jump ditches and fences equally as bewildering. I must admit to preferring bubbly over Budweiser though.
So that’s it. The grill and the whites will be packed away on Monday night but right now I’m off for my Labor Day Weekend to eat burgers and beans on the beach washed down with a Bud!