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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Labour Day Busy-ness

September 15, 1992

The kitchen of the Old Barn, 7:59 ayem, Labour Day morning.

Picture it.  Every available countertop and table is covered with pans and racks of baking in varying stages of doneness: risen, unrisen, rare, raw and quivering; anemic, pale-but-interesting, golden brown, burnt umber, and just plain burnt.  Two dozen loaves of bread, four dozen cinnamon buns, five dozen sugar doughnuts, fifteen dozen tarts and small fruit pastries, a dozen cheese-and-onion rolls, and a choco- late cake have been greased, glazed, drizzled, sugared or otherwise gussied up and the countdown is on. 

Eight big round loaves of gritty, stone-ground rye bread rest cheek by jowl on the work table, plump, poked, and awaiting oven space.  Tray after tray of savoury beef pies have been tested and found to be three-and-a-half minutes from perfect and on the shelf over the grill, additional gooey-eyed cinnamon buns grow fat, sassy, and succulent as little cells of fungi work their miracle.  To all intents and purposes, everything seems to be under control.

So why do I feel as if something important is missing, has been forgotten? 

Perhaps it isn't the baking, I think uneasily.  Did I clean the washhouse? Tidy the living room?  Wash Phil's coveralls as I'd promised, fill the juice fridge, hang some more sweatshirts?  Yes, yes, and yes.  Still stewing, I unlock the door and sweep the porch, turn on the gas pumps, pour water into the coffee machine and smile at the first customer out of the chute.  Resolutely, I smooth the wrinkles from my mind.   Whatever it is, it will have to wait.  Traditionally, Labour Day is the busiest day of our entire season and, in spite of the rain and slop, today proves to be no exception.

The first real clue to the source of my pother came in the middle of late-afternoon run on butter tarts.  "Do you have more tarts in the kitchen?  My kids just love 'em and I'd like a bunch for school lunches."  Of course, I didn't have any more, they'd been going out by the dozen-at-a-time and we were down to what-you-see-is-what-you-get, but I was able to convince the nice lady that her little darlings were going to love the apple and cherry turnovers, and look! there are still LOTS of these WONDERFUL doughnuts left (and getting staler even as we spoke although I forebore to add that.)

But even as I desperately hawked the despised doughnuts, her words penetrated into the closed shop that I laughingly call my summer-mind, and I grew dizzy and disoriented.  "School lunches," she had said.  "School!"  The word reverberated in my head.  "School!"  I whispered. That was it!  This was Labour Day. Labour Day signalled the last day of the summer holiday.  And when the summer holiday ends, school begins.

And for the first time in 28 years, no child of mine, with or without smiling morning face, would be creeping forth to school, willingly or otherwise!!

Kind of boggles the mind, doesn't it, to review 28 years of brown bag lunches, last minute wardrobe changes, lost homework.  How about 28 costumes for Hallowe'en and Christmas concerts multiplied by five children?  Don't bother with the old calculator, it comes to l40 pirates and princesses and clowns and ghosts and scarecrows.  And never mind the costumes. Just contemplate, if you can, 28 years of sweaty parent-teacher interviews and Open-Houses, Christmas concerts and Awards'Nights.  I feel that I probably qualify for an award myself, because, after all that time on the front lines, I became very, very good at what was required of me as a parent.

I laughed at exactly the right time, whether I heard was was said or not and I didn't laugh when Joseph leaned on the stanchion and nearly wiped out the entire manger scene.  No one applauded more enthusi- asticaly than I did every single year as each of l00 children paraded up to receive his/her fitness award, one by one by one.  I added my loud and lusty soprano to a zillion ragged national anthems and beamed my unequivocal approval at countless recitations, square dances, art displays, and slightly unco-ordinated gymnastics.

But I won't hold my breath, waiting for that award of excellence.

Tired old teachers get pensioned off with dinners and gifts and testimonials.  What do tired old parents get?  A whole set of granchildren, that's what.  And concerts and art displays and awards' nights until the end of their days!!

Forget the award, guys.... I'll settle for a pillow!

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