Flash back a decade to Labor Day weekend 2002. My mother had passed away a few months earlier and my father was getting ready to return to work.
My brother, my sisters and I had more or less returned to our normal routines.
But Daddy wanted to get together with his granddaughters once more before he returned to work. He came up with the idea of a weekend camping trip. He invited my sister Jennifer along so he wouldnt be the only adult on the trip. Jennifer liked the idea so much, she suggested inviting the entire family.
Against my better judgment, I borrowed a tent and traipsed along on what would become one of the most memorable weekends of my life.
The summer rains dampened our campground along the Blue Ridge Parkway that year, but it could not touch the spark it lit in our family.
We agreed before the weekend was over to reconvene the following year.
And so we have, each successive year, gathered in some place in our native North Carolina: my father, his four children and his grandchildren. Weve camped from the mountains to the coast and many places in between. As time goes by, weve given in to advancing years. The tents are mostly put away in favor of rental houses. Quite frankly, that works for me.
As youre reading this, Im on a pontoon boat out in the middle of Hyco Lake along the Caswell-Person County line. Its our second consecutive trip to that place. Next year, as has been our practice, well look for another place to carry on our great family adventure. I will not work this weekend, unless you count it as labor to lug the cooler into the house weve rented. I will not cook. I will not clean. Laundry? Thhhppptt. I will not lift a pen or check my email.
But I will enjoy just a few days of rest and relaxation. It will calm me like no other time of the year can. It will rejuvenate me and refresh me. It will reacquaint me with family members I dont see as often as I would like and it will ground me in the knowledge that, no matter how much I may screw up in other parts of my life, there is somewhere I can turn where that wont matter.
I doubt my father knew the spark he was lighting when he suggested his weekend camping trip 11 years ago, but Im sure that now hes glad he did. His children work hard. He still works hard. Heck, even his grandchildren now have jobs. We Whitfields, we labor. Day in and day out. But for one weekend a year, we all stop in unison, turn to each other and enjoy each others company. Daddy is at the center of all that and, perhaps more than any of us, he relishes his role as the family patriarch.
This weekend, Ill just be the older brother, the first-born child, the dad or the uncle.
And those titles are labors, not of hard work, but of love.