Labor Days I Remember


I don’t recall many Labor Days as a child.  Growing up, those carefree summer days of Midwestern humidity melted together into one big holiday. One day, I was celebrating the end of school.  The next, I was headed back, pencil and notebooks in hand, wondering how summer skipped by so quickly.   My first recollection of this weekend as a Holiday always sends my mind back to the Labor Days spent at Purdue University.  Those weekends were some of my best.

When I attended Purdue, 1977-1981, classes started the week before Labor Day.  This meant the first full weekend back on campus, was three days of welcome.  It was my first weekend of regained freedom. College summers in Wabash, Indiana were long drawn out affairs with nothing going on.  The parents still held the reins and fun was pulled in.  Labor Day was the kick-start to the freedom of campus living.  On that particular weekend homework was a distant thought, classes having just begun. The next few days sprawled in front of me seemly endless.

Those Labor Day weekends began with slowly waking to sweat beginning to form as the heat, which truly never left over the night, began to rise.  For a few moments I would lie still on the upper bunk and listen to the hum of the many fans whirring in the windows of Windsor Hall.  Soon the day was calling and the excitement of discovering friends I had missed since last May, forced me from my bed and down the hall to shower.  By midmorning the dorm rooms were so stifling everyone spilled outside.  Frisbees were flying, Doobie tunes were blaring, and cheap beer was flowing.  Three full days of getting back into the groove of life on The Purdue University campus lay before me. There were girlfriends to confide in, boys to drool over and a full year of weekend parties to anticipate.  I took full advantage of these first few days and allowed the Purdue campus atmosphere to once again seep into my pores, returning me to college life.

Eventually, the weekend would wind down, sometime on Monday.  Some students, anticipating classes on Tuesday broke from the parties early.  Others kept going late into the night, neglecting sleep before the rigors of classes began.  For me, falling asleep to the laughter of fellow students meant the start of another good year.    Summer never had a better ending and smoother transition into the fall.

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The Cicada Song


As a young girl, growing up in Indiana, I knew that summer was drawing to a close, not by the date or a change in the temperature, but, by the arrival of the cicadas.  Without warning, as a long humid day began to sink into night, we would become aware of their humming song.  My mother would state; “Six more weeks until the first frost.”  A lesson she learned long ago from her father, who was a farmer.  This proclamation did not always hold true, but my siblings and I grew to understand, with the arrival of the cicadas and their song, came the end of summer.

The rhythmic song of the cicada is a comfort to me.  Each buzz in a late afternoon can send me back to a time when the bottoms of my feet were tough enough to run across stones.   As a kid growing up in the sixties and seventies, my sisters and I didn’t wear shoes once it got hot, we ran barefoot.  Back then, I knew summer was truly underway when I could dash through the neighborhood and not notice if I was on pavement, grass or a rock driveway.

Cicada songs bring a relaxation to my shoulders as I recall endless, sultry days spent swaying in the upper branches of a tree reading a book and trying to catch a breeze.  Or, I remember lying on the grass watching cloud formations in the soft blue sky of late summer.

With the song of the cicadas comes the abundance of summer vegetables.   Fresh sweet corn picked from my uncle’s farm and still warm as we husked it.  The pleasant feel of butter dribbling down my chin as I smacked my lips together and tasted the salt mixed with the sweet of the kernels.  My mouth drools with delight at the thought of sun ripened tomatoes, plucked from the vine just before being cut.  Once we ate those acidic orbs, there was enough juice left on the plate to slurp down.  We often made a meal of corn, tomatoes and green beans.

The cicadas sang along as we churned our own ice cream.  They seemed to lead the anticipation as we waited for the milk, sugar and cream to freeze.  And they would laugh at us, as our eyes almost rolled back in our heads when we ate the freezing cold dessert too quickly.

But my favorite comfort from the cicada song was their humming that grew louder and quieter with the rustle of a breeze as I lay in bed, my mind still racing, but my body exhausted from a day of play.   Even now, as summer wanes and the cicada song begins, I find comfort in my many memories.  And I look forward to crawling into my bed and listening to their lullaby as I fall asleep.

Bad Day


Minor issues that would not normally upset me, or would cause a small amount of frustration before I moved on, have lingered with me all day.  At a celebration for the three ski team girls who graduated this spring, I didn’t take any pictures.  Never mind that we all had such a great time pictures weren’t really thought of until too late.  An appointment this morning went all wrong.  I realized that I should have sent a greeting card for an event, but the thought never crossed my mind until it was too late.  All minor issues that have grabbed my emotions and tangled them into a knot of regret.  It seems I am having a bad day that I can’t shake.

I am in a low place, and maybe this is the reason, why.   I find myself reflecting on my relationship with my mother.   I worry, that I hurt her feelings without knowing it.  My mind rambles back through my teen and young adult days.  Did I do and say things that were callous?  Was I so wrapped up in myself I forgot that Mom was a person with feelings, too?  I know I did.   I wonder how many times she forgave me and I was totally oblivious to her grace.  Today, even though it is silly, I’m struggling with these regrets that weigh heavy on my heart.

With each step of my life I have realized, as many woman do: my mother did the best she could.  When I only had two young toddlers, I could not even imagine how my mother handled three, along with three older children.  When my girls and I struggled through the teen years, I often reflected on my feelings about how mistreated I felt by my mother.  With age comes the vision of hindsight and with that, the realization Mom was probably struggling to know how to handle my teenage anxiety, just as I struggled with my girls.   I did come to one conclusion: Mom could have been more forth-coming with hugs.  Perhaps, some acknowledgement of accomplishments would have been nice.  I hated being told there were so many kids at the high school far worse off than me, when all I really wanted from Mom right then, was a hug and the words, “I love you.”   I carried that resentment with me for many years.  I believe that same resentment helped me to be a different and, hopefully, more loving mother to my girls.

We often learn from our mistakes.  But, as my mother used to tell me, “I hope you are watching and learning from your older sisters mistakes.”  I did watch and learn; not only my sisters’ but my mothers’.  Because, as Mom believed, each generation should learn from the old and carry that knowledge into the next.  Thanks, Mom.   I love you.

Richer


Yesterday afternoon I saw an eagle fly.  I know there have been many lines written in songs about this, because they are going through my head right now. My favorite singer, as a young girl, John Denver sang, “I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly.”   I can agree, it was an amazing sight and I do feel richer for the experience.

There is a spot on the Great Sacandaga Lake where you can go by boat and spot an eagle’s nest.  Late yesterday afternoon my hosts took us for a boat tour of the lake.  They were pointing out the nest when one of the eagles appeared overhead and soared on magnificent wings that had beautiful markings on the underside.  The eagle lazily drifted in circles above us, giving us a wonderful view.  Then, just as suddenly, the mate appeared.  The two eagles danced overhead, wings stretched out, swerving over the treetops and back out over the water.  We spectators in the boat sat in awe and enjoyed the show.  This was a sight not many people get to enjoy and we all remarked how lucky we felt.  The eagles’ huge bodies seemed almost small against the massive cloudless blue sky and the towering pines of the shore line.  But we could feel and see the grace in these birds with each down stroke of their wings and the gentle way they glided on the enormous length of their wingspan as the rose and dipped on the air currents.  One of the eagles landed in the expansive nest built into the top branches of a white pine tree.  The other eagle left our view, perhaps in search of food.  We all turned to each other, the thrill of what we had just witnessed still etched on our faces.  “That was amazing.  What a gift to be able to see two eagles flying.”  With that thought still lingering on our faces and in our minds, we turned the boat to head back home, our tour more than completed.

Time for me


I went to sleep last night listening to loons calling.  It is a long call that sounds almost as a flute fluttering through several notes.  The sound echoes over the water and disappears slowly through the mountains.  It is late August in the Adirondacks and that means the weather is cooling.  The air is clear and dry, the nights require a sweatshirt.  One of my favorite times of year.

This summer, like many before it, has slipped through my hands.  When the last weather front came through, knocking back the humidity and dropping the temperature, I knew summer was on its way out, here in upstate New York.  Consequently, I took advantage of a standing invitation and yesterday arrived at The Great Sacandaga Lake in time for a swim before cocktails.

I could tell the water temperature has already begun to drop from its record high of 82 degrees this summer; it was cool but not enough that the swim didn’t feel delightful.  There is something amazing about swimming in a mountain lake.  The water is soft, like swimming through silk, and so clear you can see the bottom and all of the boulders and rocks as you skim across the surface.  Looking up and down the lake, as I swam, I relished the view of the gentle Adirondack Mountains.  Not tall and majestic like the Rockies, but round and comfortable.  Like the arms of a mother.  Growing up, I knew I wanted to live in or near mountains.  And so, my dream has come true.  That is why, I had to do myself this favor and allow the time to come to this lake and slow down, take time to cherish the last fleeting warm days of this summer.  I did not want to look back in the middle of February and think, I didn’t get enough lake time.

A Youth Re-lived


Last night I re-entered my youth. My husband Paul and I went to a Doobie Brothers and Chicago concert at SPAC. (Saratoga Performing Arts Center) It is a beautiful outdoor concert hall. There are seats inside under a roof and then a slopping lawn for anyone willing to throw down a blanket. Paul bought us tickets inside.

The Doobies came on first and Paul and I rushed to our seats, massive beer in hand, to enjoy. Music can transcend time and as our favorite tunes from high school and college floated through the air we were once again teenagers. Paul felt himself cruising in his mother’s huge Buick, eight track tape pushed in, windows rolled down and music blaring.  I remembered listening to WLS out of Chicago, hoping one of my favorite Doobie tunes would come on and then I could shift my parent’s red and cream-colored VW van into fourth and cruise through the hot spots of Wabash, Indiana.

It felt great to once again feel so carefree even for a few hours.  The music, and the emotions it brought back, blocked all worries and cares from our 50-year-old brains.

Chicago, the band, was just as exciting.  We loved watching the musicians that were displayed in front of us, each one demonstrating tremendous talent. Man, those guys can still blow a good horn, while moving all over the stage.   It was clear to us why they were still performing after all of these years.  They were good and they loved it.

The best part of the night was at the end when both Chicago and the Doobies came on stage.   I knew, that in my lifetime, I never thought I would see both of those groups performing together.  Paul and I were wide-eyed with excitement.  The energy level just increased as the bands took turns playing each other’s hits.

The evening finally ended and we walked to our car in the cooling upstate New York August air.  We got home around midnight and crawled into bed.  Our 50 something bodies remembering what our brains did not.  But, it will be some time before I forget the thrill of once again being young.

Re-birth


I have been many things in my life. A bare-footed child playing her way through a long summer in Indiana. A shy high school student who made herself try out and get into a performing choir. A college student finding her own identity on the campus she still thinks of as home. A young wife moving across many states to begin a life where she knew no one. A daughter, sister, mother, friend, teacher. All of these different phases of my life now combine, in a scattered way, inside my conscious. As I once again re-invent myself I take some part from each of those beings I once was and, hopefully emerge re-born.
I am a mother to my daughters, but they are grown and do not need me as they once did. I was once mother to my own mom as she slipped into dementia. That was a struggle for both of us. The word mother seems to have one meaning, the female parent of a child. But, we mother’s know it has so many more. We cradle our children to our breasts, snuggle them and kiss their beautiful heads. We watch them gallop freely away from us a young children, but know they will turn back to us when they become frightened. We argue with them as teens as they try to find their own definition of themselves. And we cry with excitement and loss as we watch them walk away from us on a college campus. At that moment we know they will truly never return to us as children. I realize my daughters are adults and quite capable of making decisions. Yet, I struggle when I know or feel a decision will not be the right one for them. Still, unless they ask, I try not to voice an opinion. At this point, I have to let them learn from their mistakes. Consequently, I, as so many other mothers before have done, must rebuild the image my daughters and I have of myself.
How do we mothers go about building that new relationship with our children? I am struggling with that now. How do I define to my girls that I no longer feel the need to mother them? In my opinion they turned out pretty good. I know I cannot be a girlfriend. But, can we be friends? Can we share experiences as adults? The trial begins as I realize I must stop myself from being a mother, and they will need to stop being a child. It is a difficult transition. I don’t think I ever successfully made that with my mother. But, I want to try with my daughters. I want to establish a relationship still built on trust, but not reliance. I want my daughters to come to me for advice, but not expect me to solve their problems. I want to respect their independence, but I need them to understand I need independence too. Most of all I want to have fun. I want to laugh with them over silly things. I want to enjoy our times together. I want us to find a common ground we can be comfortable with in our new roles.