My beloved mother, of blessed memory, had a calendar concept all her own. The memory of this comes to me every year just before Labor Day. Along with most other people in this country, I think of Labor Day as the end of the summer season. That’s inaccurate since summer ends and autumn starts at the September equinox, which occurs September 21–23 in the northern hemisphere. I would think that my mom would have known that since her birthday was around that time. She was born on the 19th of that month. (It was a standing joke in our family that she should go to Vegas and play the numbers 9 and 19 because, using the numerical abbreviation of her birthday, she was born on 9/19/1919.)
In spite of having a September birthday, she never thought of that month as the end of summer. For her, summer ended earlier. Every year that I can remember, when the Fourth of July rolled around, my mother would slap her hands against her hips and say, “Oy, summer is over.” Until this day I am unsure why she felt that way. What I am sure of is that it made me sad. After all, what child wants the summer to end? It was several years before I learned that I didn’t have to be sad because it wasn’t true! However, my thought about the end of summer is not any more correct because, despite knowing otherwise, I consider Labor Day the official end of the summer season.
I probably felt this way as a youngster because school started right after Labor Day but, as an adult, that changed and I felt that way because of the yomim tovim that always approach in September. My rationale was that the Rosh Hashanah holiday does not occur during the summer, since my mother always bought us new clothing for the holiday and the clothes that she bought were always made of wool or some other heavy-duty fabric that kept us miserable in the heat of early or mid-September. Nevertheless, I continued the pattern set by my mother, and as an adult I always bought holiday clothes for my children and me made of those same warm fabrics.
It took me several years to wise up. Eventually, I learned that the sensible thing to do was to buy lightweight clothing but in dark colors. I eschewed pale pink, yellow, and, of course, white. It was the same thing with the hats that I wore to shul. Straw was unacceptable for Rosh Hashanah, so for a time I wore hats made of felt or velvet. But felt or velvet hats made me uncomfortable. If a woman didn’t want to be miserable while committing to style, she had to go with what we call transitional hats. These hats are straw-like in appearance but are made of a different fabric. No fashionable woman ever wanted, then or now, to be seen in a straw hat after Labor Day.
This was as important as that other well-known rule: “no white after Labor Day.” Currently, it’s a 50–50 proposition, as the younger and more savvy women know that white is perfectly acceptable in September. Older women do not feel that way. As I am in the “old timers” group, I am unable to accept the concept. My white shoes and white skirts are shoved to the back of my closet, not to be worn again until after Memorial Day, which most of us think is the start of summer. It is not. Summer does not begin on Memorial Day any more than it ends on Labor Day — and surely not on July 4.
Summer begins at the summer solstice, which in 2020 will be June 20. But old habits die hard, so we think it is summer three weeks earlier. That’s just the way it is.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.