Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in my parents’ home Labor Day had a whole different meaning.  Oh sure, it was the last hurrah before we went back to school but NEVER was it celebrated with a back yard barbecue or trip to the beach.  In fact, as I recall, every day was Labor Day as we all had assigned chores.  When I was 10 we moved from the Mississippi Gulf Coast back to the Pine Belt when my Dad took a job with the Pontiac Eastern Oil Refinery south of Hattiesburg.  Dad used his VA benefits to purchase a small 20 acre farm with a 3 bedroom, 1 bath home.  With additions and renovations over the years by my parents and later my brother and his family, the home grew to a sprawling 4 bedroom dwelling with 3 baths.  It was on this property that our many adventures toward adulthood took place.    

     Since my parents were raised on Farms it was second nature for them to have farm animals and a huge garden that not only stocked our pantry and freezer in the fall and winter but provided fresh produce during the summer.  There is nothing to compare with a good home-grown tomato sliced thick on two pieces of white bread and plenty of mayonnaise!

     Over the years my siblings and I had dairy and beef cattle as 4-H projects.  We liked working with the animals even though it could be a daunting task in the coldest of weather.  We were reminded however, it was our job so out we trudged to provide feed and hay to the patiently waiting bovines.  When the harvest was ready from the garden my Mother and Dad hauled in several large bushels of butterbeans and purple hull peas.  (They preferred gathering the vegetables as we kids weren’t as vigilant at the task).  ‘Waste not, want not’ was their motto and I guarantee you there was not one veggie that escaped their eagle eyes!  How I dreaded the labor of shelling butterbeans and purple hull peas by the thousands.  The only saving grace from the monotonous job was being allowed to watch a favorite television program from one of the 3…..count ‘em…. three channels!  Any grumbling by us was futile because our parents’ golden rule was ‘our children WILL work for food’!    

     Of course, we had plenty of free time to roam those 20 acres, play in the cold clear creek that ran freely through the backside of our property, climb trees and wander the wooded, hilly terrain with the carefree abandon of childhood.  Along with the fun though, we were expected to perform our duties, get along with each other and create as little chaos as possible.  If there was discord amongst us for whatever injustice one caused the other, then it was inevitable that we would be given the privilege of choosing our own switch from the giant peach tree in the back yard.  If we came back with a twig, then Mom would choose her own switch which was considerably sturdier with plenty of snap!  I can’t tell you how many times we thought about chopping down that peach tree!  Unlike George Washington and his admission of chopping down the cherry tree, we would have lied through our teeth!  (This would be yet another infraction for which we would have been soundly punished)!  Our Mother was long suffering with our occasional slips into non-conformity but when she reached the pinnacle of her patience, we were in trouble.  It was not unusual for the sake of time and argument to just line us up and administer the punishment to each of us for whatever crimes and misdemeanors had been accumulated over a period of days or weeks.  Being the oldest and holding rank for that honor, I was first in line.  I suffered through the indignity of being punished with a steely reserve and could not believe Mother had the audacity to punish me because of course, my siblings always deserved ‘it’ more than I did!  My brother was second oldest and next!  He was the bravest of the brave and was far too manly a boy to let girls see him cry.  By the time it was my sister’s turn she had screamed hysterically, run around the room several times and generally made enough noise to bring my Daddy to her rescue!  Come to think of it, I’m not sure she ever got switched much so she may have been the smartest of us all.  Her antics cost her little more than well-worn humiliation from time to time.  For those of you who may be thinking, ‘the poor darlings, wouldn’t a time out have worked just as well’?  You would get no argument from me!  However, I can testify from first-hand experience, if we were told more than once to do something and did not respond favorably, action really does speak louder than words! 

     My brother, sister and I had loving, hard working parents that provided all the necessities of life for which we are most appreciative!  They nurtured us, taught us the value of a day’s work and that labor was indeed a part of the process of growing into productive adults.  Whatever connotation you place on Labor Day, celebrate at work or play with those you love as the memories you make will be woven into your hearts forever.

Live and love well!