So Labor Day 2014 is here and I am trying to remember a time long ago that was significant about this day. Oh, I know the first Monday in September “constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being” of our great county. I’m looking for something a little bit more charming than that boring sentence. You know, like a parade or a band performance in the town square. Maybe there is a huge family reunion where unforgettable tales, are told and the new generation is fortunate to hear them for the first time. I don’t know. There are so many different ways to celebrate this day you’d feel like you were caught between a dog and a fire hydrant if I were to tell you all of them. So, let me just shorten this list by telling you one that is dear to my heart.
I have searched the web. I have asked everyone I know and cannot get the answers I am looking for. No one else can remember this day. I try with diligence to summon up these recollections so that I can convey them to you as unforgettable…for me anyway.
My family was one of musical inclinations. Somewhere along the line I got left out except for thoroughly enjoying the melodious sounds made by others. I guess that is why this memoir is so important to me. So here I am conjuring up this tale, not a big tale now mind you, but since I cannot remember all of the details of my story I reckon it does account for what I remember.
Overlooking a small lake and surrounded by majestic live oaks stands one of Baton Rouge’s most prized possessions. A stately mansion stands to prove the glory of the great state of Louisiana. She is beaut, for sure. She struts her Doric white columns with a great southern pride and like many of the plantations of the South she is built with magnificence and attitude. It is from here I appeal to my memory and petition this one recollection of the past to come forward.
“A standing joke in many of Louisiana’s small, country churches goes,
“Well, there are two things we know how to do around here, worship and eat!”
Put the two together and you’ve got the country church tradition of all-day singing and dinner on the ground.”
Dinner on the grounds is a long-standing tradition in the South and is usually done after church on Sundays. This was a special occasion for a special holiday. Our arrival at the governor’s mansion was early. We knew it was going to be a long day. The heat was relentless but we knew it would be worth all the sweat, the bees and the flies to get one little morsel of that so delicious southern cooking. There were people from all over the state and I think a few strangers from the North snuck in too. But that’s ok, it was time for them discover they have never really eaten right anyway.
Every family brought a dish of some kind. Tables were set with various meats including wild game and fried chicken just bustin’ with goodness. A variety of vegetables grown in large and small family gardens soaking in potluck laid out end to end. Another table severed up corn bread butter-shined so bright you could almost see yourself smile when you bent over to take a long whiff. My favorite was of course the dessert table. Cakes were OK but pie, now that is a boy’s aspiration, especially when it came to the chocolate one. Oh, and there was always more than one. Yes indeedy.
One of the things about a gathering of this sort was that it was not just the food. No sir. It was about so much more. Boys and girls spent the day playing games on the six-acre mansions land. Some went fishin’ in the lake. Most folks enjoyed the fellowship of friends and family and even new acquaintances.
“All-day singing and dinner on the ground, sometimes simply called fellowship, is a chance for a church to come together as a family, to fellowship, to visit, to swap recipes, to sing, to pray, and to eat.” louisianafolklife.org
However, second only to the food was something really special. Groups from all over Louisiana came to sing. There were even some from other states who joined in this special day. I loved to watch my family most of all. You know, the ones, unlike me, that could actually sing and play instruments. My Uncle Edgar was always one to watch. His bald-headed little self was quite the show. He played his box guitar and sang with his brothers and sisters, one of which was the states Commissioner of Agriculture. He wore a harmonica holder around his neck and played that along with his guitar on some songs. He could surely lay out a whiny conglomeration of notes that folks just loved to hear.
Other groups displayed fancy guitars, mandolins and fiddles. There were so many different instruments that as a child I was mesmerized. I loved the banjo pickin’; I promised myself I would learn to play that someday. Well, someday never has shown up. Combined with great piano playing, accordions and even a diddly-bow, there was music so wonderful I believe old Gabriel was blowing his horn along side the Father and Son while they were dancin’ with the saints. Now, put all of these instruments together with some great country gospel nasal, some good food and fellowship and all I can say is good gracious alive, heaven was on the grounds.
Like all memorable days this one had to come to and end. I have to admit it was an enjoyable day. I lay in the back window of the old Chevy, allowing the hot wind to blow through open windows, staring toward the mansion. When I enjoyed something I would watch it until it was out of site. I wish I could remember more about this day, but this will have to do.
As I look back on it now. Singing in those days was more like what God put in His Word ~ Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. I guess I was the only one struck by the profound significance it would have on my life. I am thankful for this memoir however, and will pass it on to those who follow.