Just as Memorial Day precedes the start of summer, Labor Day precedes the end of that warm, carefree, enjoyable, vacationing season.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and its custom was decorating the graves of family, friends and military. Monday’s holiday, however, was always known as Labor Day.
Today, school ends a week or more after Memorial Day and starts back two weeks or more before Labor Day. Eat your heart out, kids. When I was a young whippersnapper, school often ended a week or so before Memorial Day, which always fell on May 30, and started the day after Labor Day.
On some Memorial Days we’d ride with our parents to put flowers on family graves. That was followed by watching a parade or traveling to the mountains for a picnic. Many times we’d join our uncle, aunt and cousins and, after picnicking, swim or fish in the cold waters of mountain streams.
On Labor Day, before heading back to school the next day, farm chores demanded our attention. Whether there were holidays to celebrate or not, farm labor continued. During the school week, or even on weekends, there were always chores to do. Farm work was a 24/7/365 life. It never ended.
One of those chores was picking dried beans from fields each day after school. These were beans that were either missed the first time they were picked or matured after the second picking and were just left there to dry.
Each of us carried our school lunch in an metal lunch bucket. On the way home, when reaching the bean field, we’d stop and fill those empty lunch buckets with the pods of what was once green beans. Those dried pods held the dried beans that were used for soups. At home we’d shell them and Mom would use them in her wonderful, flavorful, ham and bean soups.
Just thinking about that delicious, tasty soup, we never had to be told twice to pick beans. When the field was finally plowed in the early fall I can assure you there were no more dried beans on those withered stalks.
For our big family, they were a staple and needed no special preparation to preserve them for future use. Sometimes, we’d hit a different farmer’s field - after getting permission from them, of course.
Throughout the cold winter months, Mom always kept a kettle of soup warming on the back of the wood fired kitchen range. And during those cold months, whenever the hungries hit, that soup tasted even better than before, especially after sitting in the refrigerator allowing the flavors to set for a day or so.
To include more nourishment and increase its flavor, Mom would fortify the soup with small chips of carrots, celery, celery leaves, parsley, plenty of green onions and cubed potatoes, and all flavored with tasty ham. It was almost a meal in itself. As a matter of fact, with warm corn bread or biscuits smeared with homemade butter and jam, many times it was a meal in itself.
Today, you buy a can of soup at the grocery store, open it up, heat and then serve it. Yes, it’s called soup, but believe me, it’s not quite the same. Give me that old fashioned, home made ham and bean soup any day and you have my permission to call me one happy camper.
To me, Labor Day ushers in that great soup season when chilly weather starts taking over. As I grow older, it seems I miss those old time soups more and more each year. I’m glad I kept those old recipes. I can still enjoy them. If you’re like me, I'm sure you enjoy them, too.
Regardless, have a great and memorable Labor Day.
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