I was fourteen years old when my mother tried to force me into growing up. It didn’t go well.
It was Labor Day. In those days, school usually started the day after Labor Day, but this was the first time we showed up for school on the Friday beforehand. That way, I had it straight from the teacher’s mouth that Labor Day was a celebration of the laborer and a day off from working.
About 5:00am that Labor Day morning, my last day off before school would start, my mother came into my room and woke me up. My Dad was not at home. She told me to get my work clothes on. It was time to go to work. I informed her that Labor Day was a day off from labor, repeating what the teacher had said on Friday. She said, “I don’t care what your teacher said. I know for a fact that Labor Day was a day set aside for everyone to get in all of the autumn labor around the house before school starts in earnest. There’s no rest for the wicked, and the righteous don’t need it. We will labor ten times harder today than any other day, because it is Labor Day. Get up, we’re losing sunshine.”
I looked out the window and wondered how we could be losing sunshine when the sun wasn’t up yet.
The horizon was starting to glow, a hope that the sun would soon appear, by the time breakfast was over. I was shown how to remove all of the screens from the windows. We’d only lived in our new house for a year. My mother refused to allow air conditioning in the house. Thus, the windows were always open in the spring and summer. Now the screens were dirty. That summer, I had suffered from heat exhaustion playing baseball in record high temperatures, but there was no break at home. Yet, the air conditioning was used after Labor Day due to me putting the screens away. I removed all of the screens, scrubbed the screens with soap and water, rinsed them, and laid them against the house to dry in the sun. (By then, the sun was up.) That afternoon, I returned to store the screens. I then went to every window and washed the outside glass. Then I went inside to wash the inside of the windows.
Next was a deep dusting of every surface in the house, followed by a thorough scrubbing of everything in both bathrooms on my hands and knees with an old toothbrush.
My mother rearranged everything in the kitchen, cooked the meals, and inspected my work with a white glove. I usually had to do everything twice, but sometimes three times. It never went to four times. My Dad would eventually be home and the belt would come off if I failed a third inspection.
Finally, it was mid-afternoon, and it was almost time for the first showing on local TV of the Marvel superhero cartoons (released on syndication, so start times varied in each town). I had finished dusting after the final passed inspection. I ran into the den and turned on the TV. My mother screamed, “Not so fast. You haven’t vacuumed the house.” Since it was Labor Day, vacuuming the travelled areas was not enough. I had to move all of the furniture. I flew through the den, where the TV was, to move the furniture and vacuum behind each piece. As I was swinging the vacuum around to vacuum where an overstuffed chair was to go, the vacuum went in one direction and I went in the other.
I fell backward with my back across the vacuum. The vacuum had a horizontal cylindrical motor with a long hose and wand. When I got up, my lower back was hurting. I told my mother, but she was convinced that I was trying to get out of vacuuming in order to not miss my cartoon show. She hated cartoon shows, never allowing me to see more than 30 minutes each day, including Saturday. (Now, do you know why I loved visiting her mother, MawMaw, on Saturday mornings? It was the joyous bliss of nonstop cartoons from 7:00am until noon.) The cartoon may have been the reason for my haste, but I was really hurting bad. I had never had that kind of pain, so I thought something was broken. Nevertheless, I followed orders and slowly vacuumed the entire house, moving all of the furniture by myself in spite of the pain. We had hardwood floors, and my mother let me slide the things that were too heavy to lift. The nightly news was almost over by the time I was finished. The sun had disappeared behind the hills.
For the next twenty years the back hurt occasionally, but the pain was mostly forgotten. With military service, I was in good physical shape, sort of. I never went to a doctor until my hip started hurting. The doctor took one look at my stature and diagnosed the slipped disc, not needed images. When I was about fifty, the back started hurting more, making some activities difficult. Now at 65, it affects my mobility, but I still get there when motivated.
And about forcing me to grow up… It has been over 50 years since that day, and I still resist growing up.
Happy Labor Day. And take a break from your labors. If you do labor, don’t get in a hurry. Be safe. You can wash the screens next weekend.