Back when I went to school, we did not start until the Tuesday after Labor Day…

By Christopher Green

Football didn’t start until after Labor Day. It was a clear delineation between summer and fall even though the official start of fall was still at least two weeks off.

It was an interesting time for me, this gap between summer and fall. On the one hand, I was anxious to get back to school. I love to learn, always have and probably always will. It keeps my mind engaged in such a manner that I can occupy myself quite nicely, thank you very much.

But on the other hand, there is the allure of summer, the endless days of reading in the sun, talking to friends and yes, partying down with people I enjoyed being with. And the fact that with each new school year,  I grew more and  more weary dealing with tin plated authoritarian figures who singled me out as a troublemaker just because I spoke my mind.

We will open your mind, all the hip school signs were proclaiming, except if you question us in any way.

By the time I was in high school, my mom and stepfather had bought a boat, a floating cottage, really, and they would spend much of the summer doing whatever adults do when there are no kids around.

Both of them had suffered through and survived bouts with cancer, my mom, and heart disease, my stepfather. I felt in my heart that they deserved to go out and play as much as they could simply because of all the health issues they had gone through.

(Please don’t be fooled by my seemingly benevolent attitude. It also kept them out of our hair for good chunks of the summer.)

They also had the money to enjoy themselves and it proved to be a blessing for us. You see while they were gone, we had the run of the house.

It was also somewhat of a haven as I remember one soldier who went AWOL because he did not want to serve in the mopping up of the war in Vietnam; he took refuge in our house for a while. Kind of like a modern day underground railroad.

Did I mention we had a swimming pool?

Our house was at the end of a cul-de-sac, not your normal suburban cul-de-sac, but one created when the spur of I-90 that connected Cleveland to the great East/West Highway was carved out and then left fallow while the two abutting segments were built.

No traffic for six years. We had a paved place to party that was so visible to be almost invisible. You could see far in all directions and so could escape or stop doing what it was you were doing before trouble descended. My sister, who had a horse on the property, would ride Cinders back and forth. I don’t think I ever remember seeing her as happy as she was back then.

From early May until the end of October, our house was a place to party, gather and just relax without having tiresome adults hovering over us.

Perhaps I should explain the layout of the home. It was a long, very long ranch style home. When you came in the side door you entered a very large old style kitchen. It had a in the wall sliding door that effectively cut the kitchen off from the rest of the house.

My mom made that kitchen into a very comfortable place. We had a large old-fashioned table that easily sat eight people. It was great for cards or, in some rare cases, cutting up large amounts of pot into saleable packets. But most of all, it was a place to gather.

After the kitchen, you spilled out into the more formal area of the home, the dining room, the living room and the formal entry.  Off the living room was a three season room that separated the pool area from the home.

The three bedrooms were next and then the house opened up into a great room complete with its own entrance and a refrigerated wet bar.

It was a house built for a party.

I remember in the summer after my senior year, my mom let me have a party. The house was overrun with kids of all ages and there was a good vibe, as we said in those days, throughout the house. She even let me have a keg.

After the party was starting to run down, this guy came up to me and said “Green, this is the best party you ever had.” Now my mom was standing right next to me and she gave me that glare that only a mother can give a child.

Busted.

For about a month after that, she kept me in check by coming home at erratic times. (Remember we were not all connected back then as we are today.)  But I guess her life was far too good out at the boat, so, the scrutiny abated and we were back in business at Party Central, 1295 Bassett Road.

From that point on, even when my folks were home, the house was a gathering place. My friends got along well with my mother and stepfather. My mother loved the attention from our friends and felt it was probably better to have us here in a safe environment than out on the wild suburban streets.

One of my old friends, Jack Davidson, stopped over for a bit today and articulated what many of my friends probably felt about my mother. Jack said that my mom was an adult who was not quick to judge, but was also accessible and, more importantly, would listen.

I think that is where I got the idea of for today’s post. I like that all parts of my life give me fodder for this blog. Jacks’ visit reminded me of all that my mom went through.

Most of my friends had an adversarial relationship with their parents while mine was just slightly different. Different enough that all our friends called my mom Getchie, and she wore that as a badge of honor.

I guess my mom was the Mrs. Cleaver version of the American Mom as played out in the early to mid 70’s.

Perhaps it was because of her battle with Cancer that made her realize that life was too short, too precarious to be bogged down with incidental behavior. She loved life and wanted to be engaged.

She was a religious person and sought comfort in the Catholic Church. It was a part of her life, but her religion never dominated her life. Even when she knew her time was running out, she had made her faith such a part of her life that it just came naturally.

I think that is why I am able to deal with my disease, my conditions in a matter of fact way.

Labor Day reminds me of my mother. It was this weekend, this last weekend of the summer, which usually drew us all together, many times at the boat they docked some thirty miles to the west.

My mom’s summer was also running out and she was getting herself ready to get back to teaching.

It was nice, this floating symbol of middle class comfort. My mom and stepfather worked hard in order to enjoy the comforts they had. They were also lucky, as many people are who attain a good life seem to be.

I know this is rambling and running on.

But I am thinking of my mother, of what she meant to me, as I grew older.

I don’t think she was all that comfortable with us as babies and children, but as we grew into teenagers and young adults and we started to share some traits she was comfortable with, we grew closer together.

All I really want to say with this post is that I loved the life I led back on Bassett Road in Westlake, Ohio. It was idyllic in many ways. We dealt with health crisis and wretched emotional discomfort. We dealt with failure and triumph. We learned, for better or worse, how to be adults.

As Jack reminded me earlier today, I can and often do look back at that time of my life with a certain fondness that is strong enough, for better or worse, to define my life.

I can deal with my illness because I saw how my mother dealt with her cancer. She was full of grace and I never once heard her complain or ever once ask why me. Even though I am sure those dark thoughts swept across her all the time as they now do with me, she never let it show.

Her constitution was strong enough to battle those demons and present a strong face to the public.

After all, I think she figured, who really wants to hear you bitch.

Thank you Gretchie, for making late summers a time of wonder and new beginnings for me. And thank you mom for showing me how to deal with adversity, not that I always do, with dignity and grace.

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3 Responses to Back when I went to school, we did not start until the Tuesday after Labor Day…

  1. Beth Dawson says:

    Thanks for the beautiful column.I think we all have attributes we associate with seasons…sometimes we just fail to realize it until we get the chance…

  2. Larry Durstin says:

    To me Labor Day is the most melancholy of holidays (I hated going back to school, even as a teacher) You are lucky to have such warm memories. It seems the more you dig back, the richer your life has become. That’s a good thing.

  3. Liz Schulte says:

    Another great column, Chris. Your mother is likely proud of all you’ve accomplished. I wish I had met her, she sounds like a wonderful person.

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