Surprisingly, we saw our first koleas (Pacific golden plovers) on the Wailua Golf Course two weeks ago, a sign of summer’s end. Two pairs of the migrating birds were scouring their territories between the eighth and ninth holes, no doubt trying to “beef up” with a juicy worm after the nonstop flight of some 5,000 miles from Alaska.
I say “surprisingly” because most bird books say the kolea arrive in October, along with the humpback whales. But there were the graceful tan and beige birds, running their distinctive sprints, then flying short hops only to land and be on the move again. And it wasn’t yet Labor Day, yet their numbers increase daily. They have read signs that winter is coming.
The Labor Day weekend usually tops off summer season, even in Hawaii, and with the kids back to school already in August. The louvers of island homes are still opened wide, the fans run full blast, a dip in Lydgate pond feels like a lukewarm bath, and it remains firecracker hot here until just before the sun drops to the horizon. That first September three-day weekend translates to family time, picnics in the park or grill-outs in the back yard.
The graphics of commercial art, television and comics have been embedded in our minds: hammocks swinging between trees with dad relaxing from his usual labors and job-jar pursuits around home, or maybe he’s shown greeting-card style: casting a fishing pole, or teeing off on the golf course. (What about working mom? How is she relaxing?) As I write, I’m getting a mind’s eye visual of Dagwood conked out on a lumpy sofa, the newspaper at rest, a collapsed tent over his sleeping form. (Where is Blondie?)
Whatever our vision may be, the main idea is that we followed the tradition of honoring hard-working people, including ourselves, by recognizing the holiday — with, or without, the day off.
It’s been a long time since I took history and civics. I brushed up on the history of Labor Day via the Department of Labor website and its quickie tour, showing archival documents and images.
It seems that since the very first New York City parade and picnic staged in August 1885, Labor Day has been a time for families to relax and have fun.
Here are some things I learned while researching Labor Day:
w Setting aside Labor Day actually led to the concept of “weekend.” Before that, the average American worker spent 61 hours a week working.
w Municipal ordinances passed to promote and ensure a holiday during 1885 and 1886 in New York eventually led to the first governmental recognition, a state bill introduced into the New York Legislature.
w Instead of New York, the first bill for the creation of a Labor Day holiday to become law was passed in Oregon (February 1887). New York followed, along with Colorado, Massachusetts and New Jersey. By the end of the 1880s, Connecticut, Nebraska and Pennsylvania also enacted state legislation.
w By 1894, 23 other states officially honored workers by adopting the holiday.
w The Territory of Hawaii joined the crowd in June 1894, when Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September an annual legal holiday in the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.
So there you have it, from the first big Labor Day parade and picnic through the years and waves of legislation to the creation of a National Holiday, with increasing emphasis on workers, freedoms and rights. America’s high standards of living and production derive from the vital force of laboring men and women.
Let’s celebrate our achievements as workers, the contributions we, our parents and grandparents, made to the well-being and forward movement of our community, our islands, and country, as well as our strength and prosperity. Let’s show our gratitude in the Hawaiian tradition, offer up an “Aloha ke Akua,” a personal mahalo for life in this island home. Let’s stop and “smell the pikake” and spread some aloha however we can, not only on the designated holiday, recently past, but today and throughout the year.
Do we need a proclamation to plan a picnic and/or get-together? (Not!) Mmmn, pau hana I can smell those hamburgers and hotdogs now, get a whiff of the brown sugar and molasses of the baked beans, and see the butter melting on tender sweet corn. The Mainland’s traditional picnic foods at times replace or mingle with various fusions —“local” foods. So, hey! Bring on the somen salad, the “laulau,” some grilled fish, and perhaps a generous scoop of macaroni-potato salad. And hopefully, one of our several good friends named Jim will whip up his famous haupia pudding as the top-off to the feast.
Dawn Fraser Kawahara has been a Kauai writer and promoter for 30 years. She found her home and heart on Kauai in 1984 when the fourth of her children was almost raised. A former writer and department editor for The Garden Island, she launched and continues to run her TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations – Kauai as part of DAWN Enterprises.