Growing up, Labor Day was a depressing day for me since it meant the end of summer and back to school.
Even in high school, I recall watching; with my parents, the Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association—“Jerry’s Kids”—knowing the next day it was back to school. But little did I know that one day, Labor Day would take on a much more joyful meaning.
After I graduated from college, married, and started our family, Labor Day became a much-appreciated holiday from work after the blistering heat of a sizzling Memphis summer. And since I wasn’t in school, that old adolescent dread never crossed my mind. After our daughter graduated from high school, Labor Day weekend took on a whole new connotation.
The year our daughter started college, it was Labor Day weekend that my wife and I drove her to college for the first time. This trip was a bit emotional and fraught with anticipation since none of us had ever seen the campus before. Our daughter had early committed to attending and since it was over a 10-hour drive 700 miles away, we didn’t make a separate trip just to see the campus. Our feelings were heightened even more since just the prior year; we had dropped our oldest son off to college—him being the first of our three children to move away to college.
But all three of us couldn’t have been more pleased with the college and the cute little town from which the college took its name.
The next year, it was just my daughter and I making the trip up north. And I quickly learned she and I were of like mind preferring a “scorched earth” approach to driving—no stops except for gas (which meant we also drank very little liquids to avoid additional stops).
As we approached Bowling Green, KY, we saw it would be necessary to at least make a short stop for a photo opportunity with me among a sea of Corvettes. Turned out that was the weekend of the annual homecoming for Corvette owners in the town where the cars were built. And then it was on our way.
The following spring, when my daughter and I made our return trip home from college, we stopped long enough to quickly run through the Corvette Museum before they closed and to get a shot of me actually sitting in a Corvette.
The following year, my wife again accompanied me as we took our daughter back to school, our daughter driving her car and my wife and I coming along in our car loaded with lots of college room essentials.
That school year, rather than coming back in May to help her move home for the summer, my return trip with my daughter was before Christmas, as she would be spending her winter term in Russia.
In the fall of my daughter’s senior year, my wife again accompanied me for the fourth and last of our annual Labor Day weekend road trips.
And as in previous years, we celebrated our daughter’s birthday early with her before we drove back home.
Our road trip up the following May was with our whole family since it would be our daughter’s graduation and as it turned out, our final road trip with her driving back home.
As I reflect back over these road trips with my daughter, now more than 10 years ago, it is with mixed emotions that I relive these journeys in my mind’s eye. The times my wife and I had with our daughter were special in that she was our only companion and we had each others undivided attention. And these trips, when it was just my daughter and I, were extra special times for a dad and his only daughter as I witnessed her maturing and becoming more of the woman she has turned in to, each year as she snipped away a little more of those proverbial “apron strings.” While the real purpose of each trek was always either for my daughter to go away to college or to come home, the times we had together and the conversations we shared wove a special fabric that replaced the severed apron strings and plaited a perfect and permanent connection between us, one that I get a daily reminder of as I sip water from my college mug obtained on the second road trip so long ago.