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Saturday, August 30, 2014

From lazy, hazy beach days to reality in one day

Dean Shalhoup

Remember when the Wednesday after Labor Day was always the first day of school, no matter what?

If I’m not mistaken, no kid, at least in these parts, ever dreamed of seeing and smelling the inside of their freshly scrubbed and painted neighborhood schoolhouse until Labor Day came and went, even when it fell on Sept. 7, the latest it can be. ...

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Remember when the Wednesday after Labor Day was always the first day of school, no matter what?

If I’m not mistaken, no kid, at least in these parts, ever dreamed of seeing and smelling the inside of their freshly scrubbed and painted neighborhood schoolhouse until Labor Day came and went, even when it fell on Sept. 7, the latest it can be.

Ah, Labor Day, what I like to call the Jekyll and Hyde of holidays.

On the one hand, it’s the day set aside to celebrate, honor and say thanks to the millions of hardworking men and women whose labor built everything we’ve needed and enjoyed starting where Mother Nature left off.

But on the other hand, it’s a holiday tinged with a tad of sadness, even gloom, for its reputation as the “unofficial end of summer” – not to mention its role as a solemn harbinger of books, pencils, shiny shoes, long pants and dresses.

That I referred to nothing of the high-tech persuasion gives away my, shall we say, maturity, and explains why I recalled with such fondness the era when starting school in August was about as foreign a concept as every school kid having a metal “book” with a small TV-like screen that magically worked without any wires.

While almost everyone can relate to the sort of bittersweet nature of Labor Day, I’ve always insisted my Labor Days were something like bittersweet on steroids.

Imagine being a kid, say, elementary school and maybe early middle school age, blessed with parents who saw to it they and their kids could count on spending two full weeks every summer in the heart of their beloved south coast of Maine.

That was little sis and me, thanks to Mom and Pop’s shared love of coastal Maine – specifically, Wells Beach. While little sis would go on to embrace lakeside life, I guess I inherited the seashore gene, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Hey, lakes are great for a lot of reasons, but gimme the ocean anytime.

But I digress. Those two weeks, for better or worse, were always the last two in August. Not peak summer, but there was something really cool about seeing your friends go away for a week or two and come back, their lake or beach or whatever vacation over while mine was still to come.

Thereby, the great Labor Day paradox. Since Pop always seemed to be old friends with the people we rented from – the late Frank Nutting, the well-known Hudson selectman and fire chief, comes first to mind – our traditional last-two-weeks-of-August vacation often came with a little bonus: an extra 48 hours.

Every year, right around the middle of our second week, I remember asking Pop, “So, can we stay till Monday?” “Don’t know yet. We’ll see. Now go swimming, or walk the jetty or something.”

Like almost all rentals, ours was Saturday to Saturday. So if someone wanted to rent the place for Labor Day weekend, they’d come in as we departed on Saturday. But if there were no takers, Frank, being the nice guy he was, would tell us to stay until Monday if we wanted.

Whether Mom and Pop really wanted to stay or not, I’ll never know. But what I do know, in retrospect, is they always said Yes, thank you, because even if they would have just as soon had a couple extra days at home for “vacation recovery,” it was more important for them to see their kids’ faces light up when they told us.

As little kids do, I had the foresight of a hyperactive gnat; to this kid, thinking ahead meant asking at noontime what’s for lunch. Which meant that extra 48 hours – a window of time that now comes and goes before I know it – seemed like another two weeks. And as for Labor Day, well, it might as well have been as far away as Christmas Eve.

I guess I forgot from year to year how excruciatingly fast those 48 hours zipped by. Heck, the drive home (two hours if Mom drove; two-and-a-half if Pop drove) lasted longer. My six-hour school day at good old Mount Pleasant lasted longer.

If I dared grouse about being slapped back into reality a mere day and a half before school started, Pop would grin a little: “Well, you wanted to stay.”

I’d limp through the unpacking process, entertaining visions of robust, white-tipped swells of ocean rolling over my head, whiling away the hours on endless strips of soft, sun-drenched sand or those group excursions on foot to the little basement-level store filled with penny candy and dime ice cream cones we swear we heard calling our names.

Chores done, I’d dial up a few pals (that’s how we called people on the phone back then) to announce my return and hope that at least a couple of them wanted to get together and do something on our last day of freedom.

Sure, they said, but it would involve the shoe store, the department store or the barbershop – perhaps all three. What the heck, it’s better than walking in circles and watching the clock like a doomed man. “Yeah, I’ll go with ya; have your mom come pick me up on the way.”

Suddenly I wasn’t alone; downtown (this is pre-mall era Nashua, remember) teemed with kindred spirits, plenty of kids I knew and more I didn’t, struggling to keep their long, first-day-of-school-eve faces off the ground.

Suddenly that nagging pall lifted; I wasn’t alone. I didn’t know it, but I was attending my first support group.

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).