What I Did This Labor Day
I have been looking forward to the Labor Day weekend with mixed emotions: excitement, longing, expectation and trepidation. Labor Day represents the traditional end of summer here in the northeast - the familiar yellow buses will soon be winding their way slowly down the street, weekends will take on added significance, the leaves will begin their slow march to brilliant color and eventually flutter to the ground and cover the lawn with a crunchy carpet. But for this weekend all of those things were still firmly in the future.
In our household Labor Day weekend means two things - my wife's family reunion in western PA and the big Hot Sauce Making Marathon. Labor Day is not the absence of labor but celebrating our ability to be able to perform it. Labor is not necessarily our job, it is the work we do.
"If we are ever truly going to find purpose and meaning in our lives, we first have to rise above the trees to rediscover the forest - we have to understand what God is doing in the world and how we fit in." ~Rich Stearns, Unfinished.
Packing the family up and driving the 5+ hours to Ebensburg, PA is much simpler these days. The kids are older (young adults) now and can fend for themselves. The ride is comfortable and passes quickly as we listen to an audio book (The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith - JK Rowling) and the scenery that the Allegheny Mountains presents is breathtaking. Laurie's family has been gathering in the same place for as long as anyone can recall and the "cousin's" reunion is slowly being handed down to the next generation that seems to understand the value of family - even as that family continues to spread itself across the U.S.
If anyone knows anything about family reunions - especially Italian ones- it is that food is the centerpiece of the event. It's a BBQ in name - but burgers and coleslaw are not in evidence. Stuffed shells, stuffed hot peppers, manicotti, sweet and hot Italian sausage, homemade beer (an excellent Ginger Saison and an IPA), pickled zucchini, dips (Heath Bar anyone) and bountiful desserts make up the buffet. New members of the family try to impress with their culinary skills - and always do! If cooking is not your 'thing' then new games are introduced - this year it was "Corn Hole" brought by the newest member to marry into the family.
If food is the centerpiece, catching up with family is the main event. Life stories are exchanged, baptisms, engagements, marriages are celebrated. Nursing homes and elder care, sickness, aches and pains are talked about with equal measure to college, new jobs, new businesses, dreams and aspirations.
As darkness descends, the dishes are cleaned, and we all make our way to our cars, we already turn from the present back to that cruel reality of the "real world".
Sunday comes and our drive back home is uneventful - conversation, the book and the scenery provides the entertainment - and the time passes swiftly.
The second half of the weekend starts as we unpack the car and begin to prepare for our marathon cooking session. This year we are blessed by having my parents drive up from Rhode Island to spend a couple of days to help with the washing, cooking and bottling. Their presence is a joy to me - a constant reminder of unconditional love and their help is a Godsend! No sooner do they get out of the car are they at the sink washing and rinsing bottles.
I get to show off my garden and we all marvel at the cucumbers and pole beans growing up into the oak tree 20 feet in the air. Everyone is tired and the dinner that Laurie makes is wonderful and welcome - as is bed.
Monday morning starts early - my dad and I are early risers so we begin the pepper roasting process as the sun comes up, listening to the birds chirping, watching the deer wander through the yard, stopping at the compost pile looking for any recently disposed of treats and marveling at how lucky we are to be able to appreciate the glories that God has placed in our path.
By 10 am we are at the kitchen with all of the makings for our hot sauce - pots, pans, bushels of peppers, gallons of vinegar, pounds of peeled mangos and peaches and we are greeted by yet another blessing - friends who have come out to work in a hot kitchen on Labor Day. Our number is up to 8 and everyone is working hard but because of the help we are able to complete our work in a quarter of the time. Having the help is great but the fellowship is better. Music, dancing, a meal shared and 300 bottles of hot sauce - an excellent day. As each bottle is capped I think to myself "that's one more person helped".
As the day came to an end, the skies opened up and torrential rains poured forth from the heavens - I am sure parties were being moved indoors but our little party was safe and sound! Like a kid, I danced in the rain as we packed up the car with cases of hot sauce, pots, pans and all the garbage. It was an amazing end to a wonderful weekend.
How blessed I am to be able to have spent my time this weekend in the presence of such wonderful people. How blessed I am to be able to follow my passion and have those I care for believe in me. How blessed I am.
Special thanks to Mom, Dad, Luke, Laurie, Saundra, Ashley & Meaghan and to the Parish Community of St. Joseph's who are donating the use of their kitchen. God bless you all.
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever's is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." ~Philippians 4: 4-9