A Child’s Labour Day Weekend, Bowen Island Style

A Child’s Labour Day Weekend, Bowen Island Style

Labour Day weekend will always remind me of our last few days on Bowen Island as children before returning full time to city life.  It was that emotional frenzy between lamenting the end of summer colliding with the joyful adrenaline I felt to start a new school year.  I didn’t want to go, but I couldn’t wait to start.

My siblings and I spent our summers as deliriously happy, feral children.  We romped through our 8 week stretch at King Edward Bay ruled only by the rhythm of the sun, the tides and Mom’s call for dinner.  It was non-stop swimming, fort building, fishing, climbing trees, picnics, star gazing, beach combing, searching for frogs and salamanders, berry picking, meals eaten on the covered porches and sleeping outside.  It was impromptu outbursts of music with Dad on the accordion -triggering our old Springer Spaniel to howl – with eldest sister on the recorder and me on the autoharp.  It was Dad arriving on Friday afternoons after a week at the office, Mom happy to see him and the station wagon laden with the groceries she had ordered from our local North Van grocer.

But when the flying carpenter ants arrived along with the shorter, cooler evenings, it was time to return to the city for the school year and all the structure that went with it.

Part of the labour day weekend tradition was the arrival of our annual Sears catalogue clothing parcels, a big event as purchases of anything new in our household was memorable.

A product of the Great Depression, Mom ran the household budget like a General and could source hand-me-downs like a professional. But for the start of every school year, she broke from this regime and splashed out with new items from the Sears catalogue for all of us.  My siblings and I took turns curled up with this tome of department store fashion and browsed for possibilities.  Aside from finding clothes, I remember my fascination with the perfection of everyone and everything; the seamless smiles, flawless skin and perfect bodies.  Not a single skinned or dirty knee.  Everyone happy.  How did that happen?

As we browsed, sometimes Mom let us choose things we liked.  And sometimes we actually got what we picked.  When this happened, it was like winning the lottery.

My personal lottery win arrived the year I started grade 5.  I had chosen platform shoes – the practical choice of course for a 10 year old to walk to school in.  Dad arrived on the Friday of the Labour Day weekend with the Sears catalogue packages and to my absolute stunned delight, in the midst of the brown paper was a shoe box for me containing (oh be still my swooning heart) black and maroon platform shoes.  Shiny and new, with thick black heels.  The latest thing, and utterly impractical.

It was the antithesis of Mom’s purchasing ethics.  She verged on militaristic when it came to managing affordability and practicality in her domestic kingdom. Proper foot wear was at the top of the list and the one area she would splurge and fit us all regularly with new oxford shoes.  Oxfords were the epitome of Mom’s shoe style happy place.

Inexplicably, Mom threw her shoe wear law out the window that summer of 1972. Maybe I had been an outstanding child that summer and I was deserving of my impetuous choice (highly doubtful). Maybe she had been distracted that afternoon while placing the catalogue order and my trendy shoe purchase was a wonderful mistake (likely).

Whatever the reason, my platform shoes and I clumped triumphantly into Mr. Shaw’s classroom on the first day of grade 5. I couldn’t take my eyes off them.  And although they hurt my feet, and slipped off my heels as I ran up the many stairs at Ridgeway Elementary school, I adored them all the same.

Not surprisingly, I feel the urge for a new pair of shoes this week.  Something perhaps not entirely practical, something that gives me a lift.  Something to signal the shift away from endless days of swimming, cricket song and long, lazy, warm evenings to more structure and the promise of positive change that for me is the essence of September.