It came like gathering clouds, creeping darkness, inevitable ills,
despised and scorned but unassailable. What had seemed so foreign just
short months ago now was upon us like a demon plague. The countdown
over, the dread now real, the days complete-LABOR DAY WEEKEND.
How could summers be so fleeting, we wondered. How might we compress
a season's measure of enchantment, joy and tumult into a single box
of memories, securely banked against the pull of time? Were these days
of magic a fleeting pleasure, or might we still recall them years hence,
when we were older, hopefully wiser, and in need of some magic in our
lives? How would we endure the coming ten months till we returned to
this special place? Oh, my God! School in a week!
The days ground to dust, dreaming of July's kiss...
The bungalow itself was no longer hallowed ground. Everywhere were
half filled cartons and neat stacks of linens, piles of fresh laundry,
mountains of pots and pans. Opening kitchen cabinets disclosed a plastic
covering-the family glasses and dishes bedded down till their uncovering
next Memorial Day. The bathroom medicine cabinet had been emptied, and
the good shower curtain, the one that all visitors had seen, had too
been packed away, leaving just the slim, slimy liner your mom purchased
anew each summer. The bedroom seemed somehow foreign. What was that
laying on your bed? Not your quilt! It was some interloper your mom
had inducted for a few nights duty, to remain then in a closet till
the next Labor Day. The drawers had been emptied, clothing and towels
replaced by small cups of moth balls, the camphor a calling to years
before, a scent to retain in your sensory memory bank for all time.
You sat on the edge of your bed, gazing dreamily and sadly out to the
woods behind the bungalow, awash with the emptiness brought by the yellowing
of the leaves, in the country still, but already missing it.
We clung to those final days like terminally ill patients might their
last gasps. And why not? Was it not like a small death, this summer's
The Labor Day Weekend was the quickest of the season. It was long
in coming, then it rushed upon us, and snap, it was gone. Friday became
Saturday in such rapid succession that we were dizzy. Our parents adjourned
to the casino for the end of summer party, and we swore to stay up till
dawn, holding tight to each other, swearing filial bonds and allegiance
for all time. We swore we'd never change, that we'd always be smiles
and laughter and fun, and we'd always return to be young and reckless
and beautiful together. It meant so much to be a part of that band of
brothers and sisters together on that last weekend.
Sunday morning dawned like a burglar stealing into our hearts. We
awoke to find our sacred lawn scattered with cars, each pulled before
a bungalow, trunks opened wide to the deposits of cartons, luggage,
bundled trash bags, pillows, pots, pans, sports equipment. Dads consulted
with each other on the finer points of "packing" and "loading". Even
though the previous two or three weeks had seen our dads running home
with "stuff", invariably too much remained on that last weekend. We
hoped against hope some of our "stuff" would have to be sent home with
another family-maybe a two-car family-so as to necessitate a meeting
later that week to retrieve our goods.
Like rainy day people, we had no sense of when it was time to go.
We wandered the grounds like survivors of a train wreck, saying heartfelt
and solemn good-byes as friends disappeared inside their family sedans
and waved out the car window as the vehicle vanished into the distance.
Our kitchens were barren now, and we ate a last meal in the concession,
or colony store, settling for what remained-a motley collection of frozen
and junk foods. Then we were given free ice cream. Either give it away
or toss it away.
As the day wore on, and our moms struggled to close up the bungalow
and our dads cursed and sweated to cram the car full of all our possessions,
we delighted in the possibility of reprieve. Might we end up staying
an extra day? Maybe...Maybe....
So we began lobbying our parents for those extra few hours of summer.
After all, the Schwartzes were staying, and the Frieds...and the Golds
and the Finkelsteins...Why rush home late in the afternoon, arriving
home after dark, and having to then unload? We could stay the night
and get a fresh start in the morning, so long as we were cautious to
depart before lunch, when the "hotels let out."
The exhilaration upon the commutation of the execution! One more night!
Dusk fell, as always, but somehow different than any before, and we
wondered if we'd been so wise. The grounds were almost vacant, a few
last families huddling together in the crisp September evening. Around
the colony the absence of burning porch-lights gave quiet testimony
to the seasons end. The silence moved over our once tumultuous grounds
like a blanket or tarp covering the scene till it next be called for
use---so far into our childhood's future that it was almost without
The sights and sounds were out of step with our season. So many friends
gone, now, we drew closer to whoever remained, defiant and resistant.
Kids we might never have spent an hour with became newly declared "best
friends", and we wandered the colony, checking out the shuttered bungalows
of absent neighbors, half wishing the night would last forever, half
wishing we'd been in the mass that had already departed.
Then, of course, the morning came. We looked across the grounds, so
empty, like a ghost town, and realized that without those people that
made it so special for us, it was just a motley collection of broken-down
shacks and weary lawn furniture.
The morning moved fast, and soon the final good-byes were all done,
and we found ourselves crammed in once again, between cartons and blankets
and pillows, much as we'd been ten short weeks before. This time, however,
the feelings weren't of anticipation and joy and elation, but of loss,
and sadness and a story without completion.
And we settled in for the ride home...dreading the first sight of
the GW Bridge, and the city, and the long, interminable wait for May.