The Saddest Day Of The Year

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.

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2 responses to “The Saddest Day Of The Year

  1. Bill

    Enjoyed the read. How could your family spend the whole summer there if y’all had the take-out place at the beach?

    My dad went to work every day. He closed the catering business up in Watertown for the summer. The Snack Shack season was from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Nickerson State Park is, if I had to make a wild guess, is about 7 or eight miles from the beach where the stand was. Those towns down on the lower Cape aren’t that big. Orleans, where we moved to when I was 12 is only 4-1/2 miles wide between Nauset Beach where the stand was and Skaket Beach which was about a third of a mile from our house. In the summers when I worked at the stand I’d often ride my bike to work or walk/hitchhike. I always dreaded when old Mr. Eldridge would pick me up since he never drove over 20 mph. But he was a cool old guy filled with great stories and he never once offered me candy.

    Most of the families at the State Park were just mothers and kids during the week. The husbands were all working somewhere. Most didn’t live too horribly far away. New Bedford, Taunton, Weymouth. Most in towns south of Boston. The husbands would come down for their two-week vacations and on weekends but generally we never saw them. It was definitely a matriarchal society.

    We were the only family that had a trailer. Everyone else lived in war surplus tents like you saw on M*A*S*H. Remember this was not long after WWII and during the Korean thing. What was really cool, though, and I didn’t realize it until I was much older, the women all LOVED being there. They didn’t see that living in a tent without electricity was a hardship. It was something they looked forward to all through the cold, dreary New England winters. When I say there was no electricity I mean it. An ice truck came by every day with huge blocks of ice so people could keep their food fresh. We had camp fires and everyone had a Coleman lantern for light at night.

    It was truly a magical time and place to be a kid and I loved every minute of it.

  2. This is just a splendid post. I remember you mentioning some of these places, and the camping, in other posts. I’m not surprised – every summer I start talking about our trips to Leech Lake in Minnesota, and our two weeks in the cabin. It always was the same cabin, and almost always the same people. Such fun.

    You ought to send that photo of you with the fish to the guy who runs a site called Sheaff:Ephemera. He’s got one section called people holding fish, and that’s what it is. Photos of people holding fish. I ought to find my fish-holding photos and send them. I think I’ve caught six fish in my life, and there are photos of three of them. I guess the ones I “caught” with bread while snorkeling don’t count. ;)

    “People Holding Fish”…what a hoot! Almost as good as “The People of Walmart.”