When I was a kid, I used to think that Labor Day was about mothers in labor. Of course, as I got older, I learned the real meaning behind Labor Day. I’m not sure I ever lost that feeling of confusion when wondering why we weren’t honoring mothers giving birth to their babies that grew for nine long months in their bellies. Being the oldest daughter of eight children, I got to witness many of my siblings growing within my momma’s belly; all that was involved in the days following the birth of at least five of my siblings; and, in one case, her cries of pain as she gave birth to my youngest sister. I knew all of it was a labor of love as well as a labor of pain.
It wasn’t until I had my own child that I understood more fully the role of a mother, that labor wasn’t just giving birth but also nurturing and raising, and that I wasn’t built near as strong as my momma was. Labor means to exert one’s powers of body and mind, especially with painful or strenuous effort (Merriam-Webster). That pretty much sums up giving birth, but it also describes a good part of my momma’s life from child to adulthood.
Even though I think of my momma on 9/11, her birthday, I think of her especially on Labor Day. That little girl in me from long ago still sees her in labor, not just giving birth, but making meals, baking in an oven in the ground, washing laundry on a scrub board and then hanging it on clothes lines. I see her in mind’s eye scrubbing floors, staying up with sick children, and stretching meals farther than they should have been stretched, but making sure we all didn’t go hungry.
I remember the holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, when she would get up in the early hours of the morning while we still slept. The kitchen, and then the rest of the house, would fill with the aroma of bread, cakes, turkey, potato salad, pies, gravy and more. Once we were all fed, she then spent hours cleaning up while we played or napped. On some holidays, we would go to the playgrounds or parks. Momma would pack up ice chests and baskets with all the food she could find. We played hard and we ate good.
So, on Labor Day, I think of her and all the mothers out there, who labored in love as they cared for their children – in the days when we knew nothing about the labor of making a paycheck or bringing home the bacon. I realize we have a holiday for mothers. But, on Mother’s Day, I think only of the love I have for my momma. I do not think of the hours of labor she spent clothing us, feeding us, crying with us, or caring for us.
In the later years, Momma worked in the packing sheds helping to pack watermelons. It was a hard job, one I did not want myself as I knew I did not have the strength she had. And, still later, she along with my dad worked 12-hour shifts at a local gas station. It was a strange arrangement, altering their care for us, so that we were not left alone. Imagine eight teenagers all alone.
I could go on and on with more, and detailed, examples of my momma’s strength, endurance, and labor of love. Her story is a full and vibrant one, but it is filled with lots of pain and strenuous effort.
So, on this Labor Day, I wish all those who have worked hard in their life, and who have contributed to make America the great land that we live in, a day of rest. May they take the day to do something fun and relaxing and get away from the routine or stress of their work. And, I wish my momma a day free of strenuous labor. May her day be filled only with love, joy, and peace.