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Joan Knows: Labor Day means the beginning of a new school year

Labor Day is one of those sweet holidays – no gifts, no decorations, no costumes, no colored eggs, etc. Dependably the date is always the first Monday of September yet the weather is more like August.

Mister Z who is hyper-curious has an imposed limit of one question a day.

“What’s the story on Labor Day?” 

In order to avoid repeating myself, I encouraged him to ask me again on Friday.

 Well, the first Labor Day was way back in the 1880s, a time of turmoil and riots as workers began to organize into unions. Historians cite two men named Maguire – Peter  and Mathew – as instrumental.
Canada already had a labor celebration day. As the movement to recognize workers progressed, the momentum went from local jurisdiction to statewide and eventually to the status of a federal holiday in 1894.

Now you know, Phillip!

Back in the good old days,  there was a community-wide presence of that sweet holiday.  Posters in stores up and down Main Street heralded the usual carnival. Spin the wheel and win  a ham or some bacon; ride the miniature train; saddle up on a real pony; experience the thrill of the Ferris Wheel; and play bingo with real kernels of corn. 

Those were the days when school started the next day.  Shopping for girls meant winter items such as a coat, boots for snow, saddle shoes, skirts and blouses.

Jeans? Not proper. 

Sure it was hot, but no air conditioning needed, they said.

No bus rides from the west side to Haines; walk from the east side to the high school.

We had no backpacks.  Loretta Hahn and I would sit on my steps and watch the long blue line of “Mounties” who each had an armful of cleverly stacked books.

Made us wonder if we would look more studious if we could drag home some books, too.

Labor Day was the bridge away from swimming and sun bathing to the colors of autumn, crunchy leaves and the annual appearance of the “Injun Summer” illustration in the Chicago Tribune.

All hope had been abandoned by Chicago baseball, yet there were still holiday double-.headers.  

“Let’s play two” proclaimed Ernie Banks.with optimism.

 As a long time educator, it seemed to me that Labor Day was the beginning of a new year.
If so, let’s profess our optimism and play two.

• Joan Arteberry is a longtime resident of St. Charles. Her columns are featured in the Kane County Chronicle’s Neighbors section every other Friday. Write to her at

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