I didn’t say bad or worse, but if I were completely honest, I wouldn’t say better either. In one regard, I am grateful for a free 3-day weekend at home, a quiet respite from a flurry of travel for the past month. In the other regard, I am feeling a little melancholy for the end to a family tradition; you see for the past eight years my family has tacked on a little extra summer every year by extending our vacation through the week after Labor Day.
It actually begain in 2002 with a family trip to the Outer Banks, but we went much later in the season that year, closer to October which was a little chilly and most everything was closed down already. In 2003, we chose the week of/after Labor Day because of its affordability and accessibility. That week and destination became our family tradition for the next eight years. This yearly pilgramage to Corolla and later Southern Shores included piling up bikes, dogs, beach towels and chairs, lots of food and wine and clamoring to fill a huge 6-bedroom house with laughter, board games, crafts, reading, movies and poker.
Each year, we would invite some part of our extended family; perhaps a couple of cousins, an aunt and uncle, and yes, of course good friends too, to join us in bocce ball, floating in heated swimming pools, night kite flying, late nights on the deck shooting targets and whatever invented family revelry my siblings concocted. The house seemed to magically expand to fit in everyone invited. In my mind, all these summers have blurred together into a kind of overall Labor Day stew, something that collectively becomes both family connectedness and celebration.
That was, until two summers ago, when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. Suddenly, the beach house was filled with sadness and emptiness. Even before we had said goodbye to my father, we knew it would never be the same, that those carefree and relaxing times were behind us, and something new loomed. Last summer, we made it to Southern Shores for one last Labor Day week. My father was pretty ill by then, but he made it outside to play ladder ball with my brothers – I even played, which is unusual since my eye/hand coordination are lacking, but I wanted to enjoy that time with my dad. No one specifically acknowledged this would be our last trip with Dad, but I think we all worried that it would be so. And so it was.
No matter what, we wouldn’t have been together at the beach for Labor Day this year. My youngest brother became engaged over the Christmas Holidays and in the spirit of optimism, scheduled his wedding for Memorial Day Weekend at the Outer Banks. His fiancee had been with us for most of our beach weeks and both felt the draw of family tradition to marry there. The spirit of optimism that my father would be there to celebrate with them was strong and my father gave it the best fight of his life. Up until just a couple of days before he passed away, my father was still planning and organizing how to be in the front row, proud as could be of his son and new daughter-in-law.
Needless to say, my father did not make it back to the beach. He passed away four days before my brother was married. Up until the very end, we weren’t sure if the wedding would happen, it was a bittersweet time for our family as we felt the pain of my father’s absence as well as the happiness of welcoming a new member into the family. Even being in our beloved Outer Banks felt conflicted.
The time between Memorial Day and Labor Day are now a blur of painful emotions, extreme stress and yet, also blessful moments of laughter and comfort from family and friends. I contemplate this subdued Labor Day as a necessary part of saying goodbye to an annual tradition as well as a way of being a family and allowing new traditions and ways of experiencing my family to emerge. I am grateful for all the wonderful years and memories that were created and I expect that we will have many more to come, just different ones.
I will miss you.
Rest in Peace, Gabriel Eugene Maravetz, May 19, 1939 – May 25, 2011