When I was a kid this was the saddest day of every year. No, not September 6th. Some times the saddest day could come as early as the 2nd of September. It didn’t really matter. It was the dreaded Day After Labor Day. (For those who don’t live in the States, Labor Day there is the first Monday in September, so, like Mardi Gras and Easter, it’s a movable feast.) Summer was officially over and it had nothing to do with solstices. The Day After Labor Day was the day we literally packed up our tent, left Nickerson State Park in Brewster, Massachusettes, on Cape Cod and headed back “home” and school. Since I went to five different schools in my first seven years there was a special dread of leaving the park.
As the last day of school approached each day seemed to be a week long filled with the anticipation of returning to the park and the summer seemed as though it would last forever. Labor Day was so far away. On that last day of school my mom and dad would be waiting outside. My mom would be driving the Ford station wagon, a woodie, and my dad would be in the old Chevy panel truck with Philbrick’s Catering in big gold letters on the side and the family coat of arms on the driver’s side door. Hitched up behind the truck was the trailer my mom and dad would stay in. My brothers and I would live in a tent. And perched proudly on top of the truck would be the 8′ pram my dad had built in the basement with a shiny coat of white paint each year waiting to join the small flotilla made up of our boat and those of the Brenners and Cullums.
In those days, the late 40s and early 50s, you could reserve your spot each year and stay the whole summer. You can’t do that now: no reservations and two weeks max. While each Fall was a new school and fighting for a place in the pecking order, summer was always the same in Area Five. Just above our camp site were the Bolducs with their daughters Suzanne and Julie and then the Larabees with their son Don and across from them the Taylors and their son Tony who was only one hour older than me. Down the slope a ways were the Brenners and their daughter Susan and the Cullums with their son Fran and daughter Jan who had had polio and was confined to a wheel chair. Up from them were the Morrises and their daughters Sara Ann and Jeniffer (oh did I ever have a crush on Jeniffer, completely unrequited). My uncle Bill and aunt Stephanie with their daughters Helen and Lois pitched their tent across from the Morrises. I always knew where I fit in in the summer.
Back then it took about three hours to drive from Watertown, just outside of Boston and where, I found out a half century later, both the Philbricks and the Eatons had settled in the 1630s, to Nickerson. As we drew closer to Bourne and the Cape Cod Canal you knew you’d left the city far behind and the wonderful scent of the pine woods would start filtering in through the car windows.
Our tent was literally just steps away from Flax Pond.
There was great fishing in that pond. There was bass, pickerel, perch and catfish, but we called them hornpout, and were they great coated with cornmeal and fried up for breakfast with blueberry muffins with the blueberries picked off of bushes just a few feet away from the camp site.
Eventually, and inevitably, the day would arrive when there were only two weeks left of summer. The last two weeks of school dragged on for an eternity, but those last two weeks of summer flew by in the blink of an eye and then it was all done.
The day after Labor Day was always the saddest day of the year.