Labor Day is Hard Work

Endings are bittersweet. Traditionally, Labor Day is a chance for us to spend the afternoon in the backyard, grilling burgers and hot dogs. We can see most of our neighbors doing the same thing in their yards and the smell of our neighborhood is delicious. The kids join pick up games of baseball and basketball, depending on their age, as the neighbors wander next door chatting with a cold drink. The traditional holidays are a way for us to transition into the next season. Daisy and Marie-Claire were running between the yards playing tag with Junior and Jack Frost. Francis and Steve were standing between the two yards keeping a watchful eye on the grills. I could see Chloe from time to time doing the same thing I was doing, bringing items from the kitchen out to the table in the yard. It was like a play and we were all the actors.

The food is the same every year, and serving corn on the cob is a must. I can’t imagine who first had the guts to eat corn on the cob; you have to literally husk the ears to find it. But it wouldn’t be summer without it. I like to gently simmer my corn with lots of salt in the water. Timing when to start the cobs is tricky since I depend on Steve to let me know how close the food is to finishing and he uses imprecise timing words like pretty soon and almost. He can cook outside but he couldn’t use those same tactics in a kitchen. I sometimes have to go out and move the food around myself to check on it, but I dislike smelling like a grill, and only try to check one time. I made my traditional potato salad early in the morning so that it had time to chill. I had a pot of baked beans on the stove and ready with a large chunk of bacon fat poking out of the top of the beans. The table was set with the plastic ware and a big chilled pitcher of lemonade was already waiting on the table. I was worried about the corn because I had purchased some new cute holders and wanted them to steal the show.

I called out to Steve and interrupted his conversation enough to make him check one last time on the burgers and hot dogs. He told me they were ready and I brought out the last of the condiments and put the foods in serving bowls. I called out to the kids to get washed up and they helped carry out the last of the food from the kitchen as Steve mounded up the hot food in buns. I pulled the ears out of the water and held them with a hot pad to place the holders in the ends. I laid them each in their special look-alike corn plates and slathered them with melted butter. I carried out that tray last to impress my family.

Steve didn’t really notice the little corn plates but the kids loved them. Daisy and Junior dug into their corn first while I fixed their hot dogs. Steve got lots of praise for his delicious food and we ate and talked as our neighbors around us ate and talked and enjoyed their family dinners. It probably seems silly to get so much delight out of corn-shaped plates, but I like the little touches. After the meal, we sat and talked about the upcoming change in seasons and doings. Steve joked about his three students and having to go to meet the teacher night at college. Junior offered to go with him to hear about my progress. I disappointed them both by letting them know that no such thing would happen. We cleaned up the plates and I worked on getting dessert ready. An end of summer meal wouldn’t be right without some ice cream. I sliced four good pieces of neopolitan out onto plates using a serrated knife on the package. Topping each with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and whipped cream and a cherry made it very festive. By the time we were finished, the little melted pools of uneaten ice cream made a rainbow on each plate.

Tomorrow would be an early day for all of us, so the children went in to prepare for bed with more than the usual grumbling. Even that is a tradition. I was tired and very ready to go to sleep but Steve and I sat out in the backyard with Chloe and Frances as we sipped cocktails and enjoyed the last of the evening. Traditions are important; neighbors are important too. The sun gradually set and the air turned cooler; a reminder of what was to come.

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