As life progresses, we all get the opportunity to experience its many rich colors of change and seasons. As this most recent Labor Day passed, a United States holiday held on the first Monday of September celebrating the working people, our family began a new chapter in cherished tradition.
For the 35 years, our family has spent Labor Day in Payson, Utah attending the Onion Days Festival and being with my wife’s parents and family. Those years have been filled with many fond and cherished memories that have shaped the very fabric of the those attending. Allow me to take you on a short walk in time.
My first Onion Days was in the summer of 1978, I was newly engaged to my soon to be wife, Colette, cherished companion of the last 35 years. Mom and dad, Colette’s parents, as I would come to know them lived, on Main Street. They had front row seats to the most wonderful small town parade you would ever want to see. I arrived about 8:30 a.m. and was almost immediately put to work setting up chairs and benches in the driveway under the large shade tree. For the next two hours the stream of family that included Colette’s brothers and sister, grandpa Leifson, aunts and uncles from the both the Rosenbaum’s and Leifson’s sides and cousins galore joined the throng. And with each new arrival, I was introduced, hugged, and welcomed into the family.
At 10:00 A.M. sharp the honor guard from the solders of the WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and Boy Scouts lead the parade. We stood at attention with our right hands over our hearts as the American flag passed. The floats and other entries that followed included that years hometown beauty queens, politicians, church groups, baseball league champions, high school bands with just enough members to play a tune, local dance groups, representatives from the local police, fire and National Guard, and of representatives of the Payson High School student counsel, clubs, football team, cheerleaders and let us not forget the 20th year reunion float that would gather members of the celebrating class as it passed the spectators on the parade route. As each entry passed, Mom would stand and cheer for the float (many of which she had a direct hand in designing and building), the people and friends she knew, and just plain joy of watching the parade. In fact she was more fun to watch than the parade itself. The parade was a celebration of community spirit and pride and friendships many years in the making. Mon and dad both had eagerly served the community for years as members of Jr. Cultis Club, Lions Club, Annual Payson Salmon Supper, church callings, and many city/county committees.
Within 30 minutes following the last parade entry, came the BBQ and family gathering on the back covered patio about 15′ x 15′ in size. Dad cooked the hamburgers and hot dogs. Mom masterfully brewed the homemade root beer and orchestrated (with the help of many) the Jell-O, macaroni, and lettuce salads of every kind that had been brought by every family unit. The serving table was elegantly prepared so as not to favor one dish over the other, but give everyone’s dish equal exposure as if it were the at the state fair. As the last hamburger was placed on the table, instinctively the 50-plus members of the family gathered for a blessing on the food followed by an orderly but hungry group who shared the Labor Day feast as family who sincerely loved one another and cherished each other’s company.
During the next couple hours, I was introduced to what would become my family, first it was Uncle Neil (who had once dated my mother), then Ray and Rose, Grandpa Leifson, Aunt June (who gives the best hugs ever and makes the best deviled eggs), and the others who warmly and genuinely extended their love without reservation. For the very first time in my life, I felt like I had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow filled with goodness and happiness generations in the making. We exchanged questions and answers, stories and jokes, and observations of the beautiful summer day in Payson, Utah.
As members of the extended family began to depart, Colette introduced me to center of the Payson Labor Day community act ivies at the city park filled with 100 year old trees and what seemed like every person that lived in Payson. In the center of the park was the permanent concrete stage with roman like pillars where members of the community shared their talents of every kind. On the north end of the park was the carnival that included a carousel, Ferris wheel, and rides that would spin you in every direction. The rest of the park was filled with booths selling trinkets and food of every kind which always deserved a quick walk through.
Once the last of the extended family members left to go to their homes, we would all pitch in and return the home to its pre Onion Days activities. The girls would help with duties like washing the dishes and vacuuming the floors. The boys would rearrange and clean up the patio and yard. The children would climb the cherry tree, play croquet, Frisby, bat mitten, and tag.
Late afternoon around 5:30-6:00 p.m., the left-overs from that day’s lunch were set out. Again as if on cue, we bowed our heads for the thanksgiving to a creator such a wonderful day, filled our plates with sandwiches, brownies and chips and talked for what seemed only a minute or two but was in fact till the sun went down. That was my first Payson Onion Days.
For the next 35 years each Labor Day celebration would unfold in almost the same say way as the first. Each year was always just a little different mainly due the family who could attend. As Colette and I started and raised our family of six children, Labor Day was as dear and precious a day as Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Some of the memorable experiences for me included the first time I decided to run the Payson 10K. It was the very first group race ever at the age of 40. I thought I was fast and would be able to win an age group medal. As the race started, my dreams of being at the front of the pack were dashed as I was in a dead heat for last with a woman was in her mid-seventies. For the first three miles it was give and take of who would be last. Ultimately I took the honor of being last. She beat me by 10 minutes. To add insult to my ego, the city ambulance was right behind me the whole way. Every few minutes the EMT would come on over the loud speaker and ask me if I wanted a ride and reminded me that the award ceremony couldn’t start until I arrived. I finished the race dead last, but I have smiled at the experience many time since.
Then there was the year when dad asked me to take over the honor cooking the hamburgers and hotdogs. He admitted that he was a little tired and would like to spend the time talking to his generation. For the next 10 years, that was my job and contribution to Labor Day. For a few years I was joined by Uncle Dan who just wanted to talk and then by my children who wanted to cook on the grill for minute or two and then head back to the playing with cousins. I never cooked them as good as dad, but I was glad to see him just enjoy the day and proud that he entrusted me with the spatula.
Then there was the day our daughter was able to ride on one of grandma’s floats. Oh how pretty she looked in her brand new dress and how proud grandma was to have her only family member be princess for a day.
Then there was the year when Colette could take her proud place on the float (hay wagon) with her class mates celebrating their 20th year reunion.
Let me not forget the first time my granddaughter held my hand and asked if I would help her get candy that would be thrown from the floats and grandma great.
Through the years, I have captured the events of the day with first Kodak print and slide film followed by latest digital mega pixel. They include my sons climbing ever higher each year in the cherry tree, family enjoying one another’s company, and the smile on a carnival ride. Though the pictures seem to be the same each year; we are all just getting a little older.
During the last few years, there have been some major changes in our Payson Labor Day experience. First there was an aunt then an uncle who passed away. And with each passing, there would be fewer and fewer family that would join us for Labor Day. But still we gathered and followed the same holiday routine no matter how many came. Then a few years ago, dad passed away, still we gathered for Labor Day as before but his presence was truly missed. For the next several years mom and dad’s children and grandchildren did just a little more than usual to make sure the day stayed the same. Last October mom died. The home on Main Street has since been sold.
This year we all asked the question, “What are we going to do without Labor Day?” For over 50 years that home on Main Street had been the center for Payson Labor Day for five generations of family. One by one we all vowed that this year would be too hard emotionally to return to even attend the celebration or even gather as a family in Payson.
As the Labor Day approached, our children as well as mom and dad’s children began to share memories and exchange ideas of how to continue to make Labor Day a family event. One of Colette’s brothers suggested that we have a BBQ at his place and we agreed immediately that would be a right thing to do.
This past Labor Day was continuance of family tradition of coming together on Labor Day. This year I returned to run the Payson 10K which I ran with my son-in-law. I wasn’t last, but almost. Next 23 members of mom and dad’s family and posterity gathered for lunch at noon in Spanish Fork, Utah. On each table was picture of Mom and Dad. We greeted each other with the same love I had experienced in the previous 36 years and enjoyed the Labor Day cuisine of hamburgers, hotdogs and salads. One of my favorite parts was the always welcome hug from Aunt June.
Toward the end meal my granddaughter came and sat next to me with her eyes all a glow and said, “Grandpa, guess what? We are going to go to the Payson Carnival. I was so excited last night I couldn’t sleep.”
With that remark, I knew I needed to join my daughter and her family as they attended the carnival which had become a tradition for them. And like the very first Labor Day some 36 years earlier, my grandchildren rode the very same carousel that I had enjoyed with my bride to be. We walked through the booths selling trinkets and food of every kind. As we walked back to the car, I was proud father as my youngest daughter held my arm as if I where her favorite bow.
As I left Payson that day, just for old time sake, I drove past the home on Main Street. Out in front of the home was the American flag, children were running and playing in the yard, and families were gathered just as I had gathered for all those years. As I passed the home, I realized that home though now longer a gather place for me was a still a place of joy and happiness where Labor Day memories would continue for another family. As for our family, it was the first of many to come where new traditions would be built, memories continue, and love for family would deepen.