You’d think I’d have learned by now that the purpose of Labor Day is to take a break from one’s labor.
You’d be wrong if you did.
Joe and I spent a good part of the three-day weekend sifting through and reorganizing the mounds of stuff that have grown quietly in recent years in his bedroom. With the other two children’s rooms in queue after his is done, I’ve got a good idea where I’ll be spending my free weekend time the next few months.
Truth be told, I’m looking forward to it.
I could have foretold last weekend’s chore years ago during our family’s first visit to Sanibel Island, Fla. That’s where Joe, after devouring a lobster, insisted on taking a pincher carcass home for permanent display.
“Why would you want to keep the smelly shell of an old lobster pincher?” I asked, already worried about how we’d smuggle it out of the restaurant and onto the plane.
“I’m going to collect it,” replied Joe, who’s now 12.
And collect it he did. Despite its clandestine trip home – and my secret urge on several occasions to accidentally drop it in the trash can – I remember watching the claw wither on Joe’s bedroom dresser for several years before competing clutter nudged it off into the abyss. Until last weekend. Our valiant cleaning efforts retrieved the shriveled pincher from its dark resting place at the bottom of a tub of forgotten toys.
I also found a photograph of my Grandpa Beem, Joe’s namesake, giving little Joe a bottle. In the picture, grandpa’s hands are as big as young Joe’s head. Those are the same hands that took the time to toss me footballs and baseballs as a young boy, showed me how to bait a fishing hook and helped build my Eagle Scout service project.
One of the funniest remnants of the past we uncovered was a plastic knight helmet. Complete with hinged visor, it was the only hat Joe would wear for several years.
I grasped the small helmet with a chuckle, perched it on my head and hurried downstairs to show Kate.
“Remember this thing?” I asked with a grin.
“Oh yeah,” she replied knowingly.
Kate reminded me of the time when Joe was four that she’d taken him to the library. “He insisted on wearing that helmet,” she said.
“We walked up to the reference librarian, who didn’t notice us at first. When she finally turned our way and saw him in the helmet with the visor drawn, she jumped with a start and asked if she could help us.
We both chuckled as she recalled the episode. Like so many other memories that replayed during the weekend of sorting, it reminded me how often we turn our backs on opportunities to go the extra mile for those around us.
For all the times I’ve shrugged the extra duty, I’m glad I took a gamble and brought the pincher home; that my grandpa made time for fishing and catch; and that Kate scheduled the library trip.
Maybe I didn’t miss the point of Labor Day after all. Perhaps its greatest reminder is the importance of our work on behalf of others.
Matt Beem is president of Hartsook Companies, an international fundraising consulting firm. He lives in Independence.