Labor Day is sacred to Mainers. They may have to work like most Americans that day (A sad irony considering the purpose of the holiday), but on that day, the tourists depart for places unknown. The tourist traps close shop, and Route #1 from Kittery to Brunswick becomes a pleasant drive. There's no waiting to be served at the Maine Diner in Wells, and you can finally find a parking place in downtown Kennebunk. Scarborough once again returns to a sleepy little town, and even in Old Orchard Beach, you can finally get around. The evenings begin to turn crisp and cool, and ripened apples glisten with morning dew. The grocery stores fill with the bounty of fall harvest; blueberries, pumpkins, potatoes, and squash. The voices of children echo through the towns as they make their way to school, and soon the leaves will turn the colors of warm autumn hues. As the days grow short and cold, folks will browse Bean's catalogue for fall and winter clothes. Frost will cover windshields and jack o lanterns will light the night with their crooked smiles. Lawnmowers will be stored away, and snow blowers tuned to blow. Sleds and "flying saucers" will be placed strategically ready for downhill thrills. Here and there, whiffs of burning logs will drift upon the breeze. Children will wait anxiously for each new inch of snow, praying there'll be enough so school will have to close.
In contrast, Labor Day in Bama simply comes and goes. Like Mainers, most are working, so there's little to observe. A few winter residence may quietly arrive, annoying Yankees from up North, but at least they brought their dough. With apprehension Alabamians will watch the latest news on tropical storms moving through the Gulf. They'll check their supply of bottled water and Vienna sausages, and fill their gas cans and SUV's. They'll set the A/c to back to 75 and mow their lawns according to city ordnances. The kids are already in school, having started back in August, so there's not much left to do except can figs and scuppernongs. The cotton crop will be harvested and bailed in giant blocks across the fields, and weekends will revolve around Alabama versus Auburn. Parishioners will debate Halloween alternatives, and kids will "trick or treat" on a designated day. Streets will celebrate with home coming parades, and evening games will fill the stadiums because midday's still to hot to play. As the nights turn damp and cool, pea soup fog will fill in the dales. Leaves will slowly turn to brown, until the skyline is a mix of long leaf pines and naked boughs. By the first week of November, streetlamps will be strung with Christmas lights and wreaths to remind the passing motorists. And so autumn comes to Dixie with little more than just a yawn, and perhaps a soft sigh of relief from the heat and humidity.
Of course, nostalgic sentimentality tends to cloud a damnyankee's objectivity; reality playing second fiddle to memory's harmony. Still, there's something to be said for the beauty of Maine's seasons, when lush green hillsides give way to a multi-colored patterns of fiery hues. Then, after the blazing embers have withered and died, they're covered with a winding sheet of snow until springtime brings rebirth.
I suppose if I had grown up in the South, I'd be more attuned to the subtle changes that occur, and humming "Dixie" on my morning drive to work. But, a few frosty mornings and winter clothes at Walmart just don't do it for this country boy. Anymore than inflated snowmen and Santa Clauses on the front lawn.
Last year I flew back to Maine for my daughter's wedding. As the plane crossed the Maine/New Hampshire border it swung out over the coastline. With excitement, I watched as each town, each lighthouse passed my window until Portland Headlight came into view. It may not mean to much to others, but to a Mainer, it's "Welcome home".
"They" say "you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy." You know, I think "they're" right.