Sunday, September 1, 2013

Labor Day Memories

Back in the day, school always started the Tuesday after Labor Day so for us the Labor Day Weekend was summer’s last hurrah. Knowing that it was a long way before the Christmas Break, we would always make the best of the weekend.

In our family, Labor Day was Dad’s day since, like most families back then, he was the sole breadwinner. This was our chance to show him how much we appreciated his working. Sometimes this would lead to disastrous results with the kids trying to work the grill while Dad lay back in the lawn chair with a cool one in his hand, trying as best he might not to criticize our efforts. But alas, many times he had to wrestle the spatula from one of our hands and rescue the burger or the steak that was about to face a fiery immolation by an overzealous cook. Even then, relaxing on his day, he taught us life lessons in proper grills-manship. I might add, that we also learned the lesson on how to wash the sand off a steak that despite our best efforts, hit the beach. Now if that was a hamburger, it was a different story, it was left to Maggie, our family Collie who was all too happy to clean the burger up while rolling her eyes around in ecstasy. I admit to being guilty of dropping one or two completely done and good burgers just to see that she got her part of the Labor Day Celebration.

When high school rolled around, Saturday of Labor Day weekend was the appointed day for the back to school beach bash. The week before, word would get out as to which beach and what hour the party would start. We would pack up coolers of Coke and Pepsi, bags of chips, hotdogs and hamburgers with all the “fixin’s” and head out. While I had been in touch with my buddies most of the summer, usually by the end of summer, it had been several months since we had seen most of the girls in our class. I don’t know how they did it, but the girls all seemed to blossom more each summer than the boys did. Maybe it was the swim suits. Some of the girls would come to the party in suits with fish net midriffs and some would actually wear what we called bikinis. Note gentle reader that these were not the bikinis that the movie stars and models wear today; they were modest two piece suits suitable for family wear. But still we were teen aged boys and those swimsuits revealed more skin than we ever saw before. We knew then and there, that it was going to be a fantastic school year.

Like high school, classes during my college days never began before Labor Day. So that was the last big family gathering before heading off to campus. That made it more poignant, I would not see my family again until Thanksgiving. The Saturday beach parties were gone, victims of classmates now scattered to colleges and universities all over the country. So it was usually a quiet cookout at our house or one of my relative’s homes surrounded by cousins, aunts and uncles.

The last Labor Day weekend before starting college was special for me. I was the oldest of my siblings and cousins so I was the first of my generation to face being 300 miles from home. That weekend, every conversation was more intense; every toss of the football in the front yard more special. I knew deep down that for me, this was a pivotal point in my life; that things would never be the same. And in fact they weren’t. In less than three months time, I would do my first radio show, beginning a career in broadcasting that would last over 50 years. That next summer, I would spend most of the time aboard the USS Little Rock on my Third Class Midshipman’s cruise seeing England, France and Holland up close and personal. I would hear this incredible radio station, Radio Caroline, pirate radio while steaming towards Cherbourg France. That experience alone did it for me. I knew that broadcasting had more appeal than a naval career. And finally, by the time the next summer arrived, I would have completed my freshman year of college at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC which was to become my home in adulthood. Yes, Labor Day Weekend of 1963 was the last Labor Day Weekend of my youth.

As an adult working in radio and television, holidays were not normal for me. Meeting the schedule demands in broadcasting meant that most of us in the operational areas gave up many holidays in order to keep the station on the air. Labor Day became one of those days when the office staff would not be in and the skeleton crew on the air would have quiet mini-celebrations as we found time when records were playing or the network news was on the air. Back in the 60’s and 70’s we would get paid at a double time rate for working on holidays but that meant giving up family time. These days, instead of compensation in overtime, the folks who work on holidays are given “comp time” or days off to match the hours they worked on the holiday. Big deal, no one else in the family is off when they are. So, this weekend when you listen to your favorite DJ on the radio or watch the anchor person read the news on TV, stop a minute and think about what they are giving up to keep you entertained or informed. They are there because they are performing a service to the community and for the love of the work.

So, tomorrow, Labor Day 2013 I will be in the studio at WUSC-FM playing those oldies for everyone on their way to the lake, pool or bar-b-que. Don’t feel sorry for me, this is my Labor Day tradition. When I play your favorite tune, just hoist a cool one and say “Rock on, Rick!” Oh MY!

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