Ruth Bass: The bookends of summer take charge of any season


RICHMOND >> Memorial Day was created to honor American soldiers who died in battle. Labor Day was created to honor the American worker. It must have been simple at the time, but like the roof on the house, holidays acquire new layers as time goes by.

The holiday at the end of May, for instance, expanded its reach to honoring all soldiers' graves with new American flags and to paying special attention to all burial places. It's the weekend when the gray of cemeteries is suddenly masked with bright flowers and flags.

The two days have also become the bookends of summer. And thus came about the fashion thing about white. The elite decided it was proper to wear white clothing between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The white skirts and pants went into a far closet on the first Monday of September. Shoes, too. Even my non-fashionista mother said so.

It was the so-called "in" crowd that made these rules and followed them, thus getting a clear picture of who was elite and who was gauche. This custom of the whites reigned in the last of the 19th century and for several decades of the 20th. Designers and shoppers have stepped on it frequently since.

As for Labor Day, it became the cut-off for kid fun. For a very long time, the hard and fast rule was that school would resume on the Wednesday after Labor Day. That's going away, too — lots of public schools and many colleges put kids back in classrooms in August now, and some are in session all year. Poet Bill Dodds has been quoted as saying, "Labor Day is a glorious holiday because your child will be going back to school the next day. It would have been called Independence Day, but that name was already taken."

The grill, hot dogs, hamburgers and potato salad have also managed to get a place at the table for both of these national holidays. But the fact remains that, historically, we are today celebrating the American worker. And because it's a presidential election year, all the politicians are groveling to that worker in hopes of getting a vote.

Job creation is everyone's song, from president to state reps. Perhaps whoever is elected to anything will inspire more new jobs, but that statistic has been going pretty well during the past eight years, standing at 19 million new jobs or just under 10 million, depending on whether it's figured from the lows during the recession in 2008 or after some recovery in 2009. Unemployment is down to 4.9 percent, which some experts feel is about as good as it can get.

"Anyone claiming that America's economy is in decline is peddling fiction," Obama said, a direct swipe at Donald Trump and other Republicans in the 2016 presidential race. His upbeat talk is apparently supported by surveys showing that Americans are increasingly optimistic about the job market.

It's not all rosy, however. Plenty of those workers we celebrate today haven't seen a pay raise in several years. They see organized workers in the public sector getting raises, but plenty of pay checks in the private sector aren't growing. It's only recently that a few large employers said they were making small increases for their workers. It's frustrating for employees to be stuck in a stagnant pond, especially when the big bosses sail blue waters with regular (and humongous) salary increases. And women are still paid less than men for equal work.

Still, it's a day to celebrate American workers, especially those who don't get a day off, including everyone who's prepared to rescue us from eating too much, drinking too much or other holiday emergencies. A special salute also should go to the 151,000 people who moved into the new job slots created in August.

It's Labor Day, and no matter what the equinox is up to, summer is a-going out.

Ruth Bass finds it's still summer in the vegetable garden. Her web site is


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