Another Labor Day
By Linda Helmich
Charles Hastings hoisted the flag into position on the post of his front porch, same as he’d done hundreds of times before. Just as it unfurled, the wind picked up “Old Glory” and snapped her a few times. First, Lieutenant Charles Thomas Hastings stepped sprightly back and saluted, as he was trained to do.
Sitting on the steps, his grandson, Charlie, watched with wide eyes. At six years of age, Charlie thought everything “Papa” did was magical, and the story that would follow was something not to be missed.
It was Labor Day, sunny, but unseasonably chilly. A recent cold spell had already caused many of the leaves of the old maples to turn, and that bit of rain the day before had stripped them to the ground. But, there would be no rain today. That would be good for all of the cookouts planned for later in the day.
Charles had gotten out one of his warm flannel shirts to wear, even though it was only early September. He didn’t seem to be able to stand the cold as well these past few years as before; so he just kept them kind of handy in the bottom drawer of the bureau, even in summer.
His daughter Susan, Charlie’s mother, kept him pretty well supplied with shirts gifted at Christmas and his birthday. She took care of him in other ways, too, sending over home-cooked meals a couple of times a week, and then having him over on Sundays and holidays.
Esther would be glad to know someone was taking care of him. Oh, not like she did when she was still alive, surely, but he got by all right. No one could make a strawberry rhubarb pie like Esther, tart and sweet with a nice flaky crust. Just the thought of it made his mouth water. He figured it had been fifteen years ago since he had tasted that pie, but, well, life goes on.
“Papa, Papa, tell me a flag story or a story of when you were a brave soldier,” Charlie interrupted the old man’s nostalgia over the past. Charles chuckled at his grandson’s enthusiasm. What a joy that boy was to him in his old age!
“This is Labor Day, not Memorial Day, son” he corrected.
“What is ‘labor,’ anyway,” Charlie wanted to know, “and why do we celebrate it?”
So Charles and Charlie went up and sat on the porch, old man and young boy, pondering together. They talked about how hard work and the grace of God had made our country great, about the blessings of living in the “land of opportunity,” about immigrants who had overcome amazing obstacles and about dreams — dreams that come true with old-fashioned roll up your sleeves and do it work.
At last, Papa asked, “What do you think, my boy, shall we salute the flag and do a bit of labor by raking up those leaves?”
“Yes, sir!” Charlie responded, militarily snapping his little hand up to his forehead, just like Papa.