Life’s Labor

Monday Morning Musings:

“It is summer-gone that I see, it is summer-gone.

The sweet flowers indrying and dying down,

The grasses forgetting their blaze and consenting to brown.”

From Gwendolyn Brooks, “A Sunset in the City” 

 

“Therefore—we do life’s labor—

Though life’s Reward—be done—

With scrupulous exactness—

To hold our Senses—on—”

Emily Dickinson 

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Dawn comes with a song colored in a blush of dusty pink

whispering secrets

I am light

glowing honey gold

through rose-tinged clouds.

I am sound,

the buzzing drone

of a cicada,

the eager chirping of a sparrow

looking for love.

Look–

Listen–

soon come the shadows

black in the moonlight–

soon comes the silence,

save the skittering of night creatures

over dry brown leaves.

***

It is a week of reflection

abjection and affection

 

glowering grey

and love that stays

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true in hue

though the world’s askew.

 

Hurricanes and guns,

the loss daughters and sons

 

to senseless violence

and no defenses

 

do we have for either wind

or fury underpinned

 

by those in power—

but here in a bower

 

a garden of flowers

we sit for hours.

My mother naps

as the sparrow flaps

 

his wings to no avail–

though he chirps and flails

 

the lady sparrow ignores him

as he follows from limb to limb

 

and along the concrete wall

calling, calling to all

 

“I am here,

my beauty, appear!”

 

On this Labor Day weekend

we labor and bend

 

to the inevitable end

of summer and life, we send

 

thoughts outward with the breeze

we tease

 

joy for moments when we can

flowers, family, pets, wine—and

I remember how my mother worked

and didn’t shirk

 

her duty to home or even nation

bucking rivets, no vacation

 

I’m sure, she tells me of a woman there

who stands up for her—the righteous everywhere—

 

when the haters hate

six million dead does not set them straight.

 

Still, she worked all her life

in stores, as mother and wife

 

and after. An aunt worked sewing

and I wonder, not knowing

 

what the factory was like,

and if they ever went on strike,

 

but my mother got to borrow her clothes

and so, it goes

 

she met my father who lives in her dreams–

he lives on in seams

 

stitched with invisible thread

in memories real and false, but we tread

 

lightly because what else can we do–

as we sit under a sky of September blue

 

knowing that autumn is coming,

but the moon will keep humming,

 

and we will labor, love, and play

life beyond us will go on, each day

 

green or barren, this earth

laboring, revolving, giving birth

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to new possibilities, hopes, and fears

in endless cycles over thousands of years.

 

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Today is Labor Day here in the U.S.  The Mormon Temple near where my mom lives has a lovely little garden square that is open to the public.  We enjoyed wine and cheese at Tria, where on Sunday’s they offer specials that they call “Sunday School.”  My mom recently told me that a woman defended her when a man or men uttered anti-Semitic slurs at her–while she was working as a “bucker” for riveters during WWII.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Long, Summer

Monday Morning Musings

“By all these lovely tokens

September days are here,

With summer’s best of weather,

And autumn’s best of cheer.”

–Helen Hunt Jackson, “September”

Sunday morning, and I’m in the car. The windows are open to the cool breeze, the sun is shining brightly, and Bob Dylan is singing.

“When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right”

–Bob Dylan, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”

And I think, “OK, Summer, just travel on then. Don’t think twice, it’s definitely all right–because this September morning is truly glorious.” It’s a beautiful morning and a beautiful day, and to quote another American classic, “The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye.”

Yes, I know that technically it is still summer. The autumnal equinox falls on September 23. But the sun comes up later now, and it sets earlier. The early morning bird chirps are giving way to the honking of geese as they fly in V formations across the clear, azure sky. (Were you wondering why they fly in a V? Here you go.)

And today is Labor Day in the U.S., which marks the unofficial end of summer. It is a time that many celebrate with barbecues, picnics, or a final day at the beach or pool. At the same time, people prepare to return to work or school. It is day that looks back to summer and forward to the fall, a combination of melancholy and excitement, a bipolar day.

Labor Day was intended to honor “the working man.” Never mind that women have always worked—and labored in ways no man can experience. Labor Day was first observed in 1882, when a New York City labor organization, the Central Labor Union, a branch of the Knights of Labor, held a parade there. Over the next few years, Labor Day holidays were celebrated elsewhere. In 1894, Labor Day became a federal holiday. In the summer of that year, President Grover Cleveland sent in US army troops to end the Pullman Strike, which had stopped the railways. At least 30 strikers were killed and more wounded in the ensuing violence. Within a week after the strike was so violently put down, Cleveland signed the legislation making Labor Day a federal holiday. The September date was chosen to distance the holiday from May 1 (International Workers Day), which was associated with the Haymarket Riot in Chicago (May 4, 1886) and protests by labor unions. (Here is a short article on Labor Day. And another.

School terms in the U.S. used to begin the day after Labor Day, although weirdly, many now begin in August. This is the first time in 37 years that my husband will not be entering his school on the day after Labor Day. In his former district, it is still the first day for students. As a public school teacher, my husband has also been a member of the teachers’ union. Yes, the union that our governor has said should get “a punch in the face.” Many Americans have forgotten that it is because of unions that we have child labor laws, eight-hour workdays, work breaks, and other benefits.

Labor Day is also the title of a book by Joyce Maynard made into a movie with Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. It is both a coming-of-age story and a romance. If you read the book or see the movie, be prepared to dream of peach pie. Really. (Here’s the recipe used in the movie. I would use all butter for my crust.)

So what will I be doing today on Labor Day? Well, I’ll be working, of course. After all, I have deadlines to meet. But there will be time to eat some killer nachos and watch a movie with my husband, too. Perhaps I’ll bake a peach pie, as well. It’s a holiday. I will labor, but I won’t forget to enjoy the waning summer.

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The Sweetness of New Beginnings

 

 

I spent part of the past weekend baking challahs for Rosh Hashanah. Here in the United States, Monday was Labor Day, and many people here consider Labor Day weekend the unofficial end of summer. We’ll be having a small family dinner on Wednesday night, and a big extended family and friends’ meal on Saturday night at our house. In addition to the traditional staples–challahs, apples, and honey–we’ll have pumpkin-yellow split soup, brisket, noodle kugel, and many more luscious dishes–including apple cake, baklava, and maybe something chocolate, too, for dessert. Because chocolate is always appropriate and sometimes necessary. We might even have a kitchen disaster for extra excitement. There will be a variety of dishes to satisfy both meat eaters (did I mention a turkey breast, too, in case someone eats meat, but not beef?) and vegetarians (who needs brisket and turkey breast when there is good bread, soup, kugel, and vegetables?), and sufficient quantity (see above) to satisfy my own fears that there might not be enough food for everyone to feel totally stuffed and ready to vomit by the end of the meal. There also has to be enough food to send everyone home with leftovers. Yup, I’m not religious, but culturally, I’m the stereotypical Jewish momma, at least when it comes to holiday meals.

 

Challahs cooling on the counter

Challahs cooling on the counter

 

We had an extra freezer in our basement that broke at the beginning of the summer. I told my husband there was no real necessity to replace it because we don’t really use it that much. Then a couple of weeks ago, I told him in a panic that I needed a freezer to store all the challahs I bake for Rosh Hashanah. True story.

 

It seemed odd at first to be baking and preparing for the holiday on a warm summer afternoon when its seems more of a cool weather fall holiday to me. You might think I could adjust the menu for warmer weather, but then you don’t know my family. We don’t just have food traditions–we worship them.

 

But as I’ve been thinking about the end of summer and the start of fall schedules, the timing of the holiday seems perfect. Here in the United States, most schools have just recently started their fall terms or will soon do so. For my family, it is a fall of new beginnings. Our older daughter started graduate school last week. Our younger daughter just started her first grownup job as a high school English teacher. Since her Dad teaches math in the same school, this job is extra special to them both. It’s a one-semester position, which means they will cherish their temporary carpool and colleague status all the more.

 

During this past weekend, my mother was in the hospital. It appears to be nothing too serious, but her hospitalization is a reminder that she is 91-years-old, and it makes me reflect at this new year on the fleetingness of life and the need to live it to the fullest.  (Add resolution to avoid clichés in future writing.) As we dip our apples in the honey this year, I will look at the faces of my family members and friends, and I will consider all the wonderful things in my life and all that makes it sweet—from family and cats to books, TV shows, movies, theatre, and reading the morning newspaper while drinking that first morning cup of coffee. To seeing a beautiful sunrise and feeling satisfied at the end of the day that I accomplished the work I set out to do. To finishing a killer workout at the gym and appreciating that I can still do it. To hearing laughter and to crying tears of joy.

 

As much as I love good food, I love sharing it with family and friends even more. I need to remember to make time for them. I will remind myself to meet my deadlines (oops!), but to remember to play and laugh, too.  I will cherish my family, friends, and my pets. I am thankful for all of you who take the time to read my blog posts. I wish all of you a sweet, healthy, and happy New Year. Don’t forget the honey.