It came like gathering clouds, creeping darkness, inevitable ills, despised and scorned but unassailable. What had seemed so foreign just short months ago now was upon us like a demon plague. The countdown over, the dread now real, the days complete–LABOR DAY WEEKEND.

How could summers be so fleeting, we wondered. How might we compress a season’s measure of enchantment, joy and tumult into a single box of memories, securely banked against the pull of time? Were these days of magic a fleeting pleasure, or might we still recall them years hence, when we were older, hopefully wiser, and in need of some magic in our lives? How would we endure the coming ten months till we returned to this special place? Oh, my God! School in a week!

The days ground to dust, dreaming of July’s kiss…

The bungalow itself was no longer hallowed ground. Everywhere were half filled cartons and neat stacks of linens, piles of fresh laundry, mountains of pots and pans. Opening kitchen cabinets disclosed a plastic covering-the family glasses and dishes bedded down till their uncovering next Memorial Day. The bathroom medicine cabinet had been emptied, and the good shower curtain, the one that all visitors had seen, had too been packed away, leaving just the slim, slimy liner your mom purchased anew each summer. The bedroom seemed somehow foreign. What was that laying on your bed? Not your quilt! It was some interloper your mom had inducted for a few nights duty, to remain then in a closet till the next Labor Day. The drawers had been emptied, clothing and towels replaced by small cups of moth balls, the camphor a calling to years before, a scent to retain in your sensory memory bank for all time. You sat on the edge of your bed, gazing dreamily and sadly out to the woods behind the bungalow, awash with the emptiness brought by the yellowing of the leaves, in the country still, but already missing it.

We clung to those final days like terminally ill patients might their last gasps. And why not? Was it not like a small death, this summer’s end?

The Labor Day Weekend was the quickest of the season. It was long in coming, then it rushed upon us, and snap, it was gone. Friday became Saturday in such rapid succession that we were dizzy. Our parents adjourned to the casino for the end of summer party, and we swore to stay up till dawn, holding tight to each other, swearing filial bonds and allegiance for all time. We swore we’d never change, that we’d always be smiles and laughter and fun, and we’d always return to be young and reckless and beautiful together. It meant so much to be a part of that band of brothers and sisters together on that last weekend.

Sunday morning dawned like a burglar stealing into our hearts. We awoke to find our sacred lawn scattered with cars, each pulled before a bungalow, trunks opened wide to the deposits of cartons, luggage, bundled trash bags, pillows, pots, pans, sports equipment. Dads consulted with each other on the finer points of “packing” and “loading”. Even though the previous two or three weeks had seen our dads running home with “stuff”, invariably too much remained on that last weekend. We hoped against hope some of our “stuff” would have to be sent home with another family–maybe a two-car family–so as to necessitate a meeting later that week to retrieve our goods.

Like rainy day people, we had no sense of when it was time to go. We wandered the grounds like survivors of a train wreck, saying heartfelt and solemn good-byes as friends disappeared inside their family sedans and waved out the car window as the vehicle vanished into the distance. Our kitchens were barren now, and we ate a last meal in the concession, or colony store, settling for what remained–a motley collection of frozen and junk foods. Then we were given free ice cream. Either give it away or toss it away.

As the day wore on, and our moms struggled to close up the bungalow and our dads cursed and sweated to cram the car full of all our possessions, we delighted in the possibility of reprieve. Might we end up staying an extra day? Maybe…Maybe…

So we began lobbying our parents for those extra few hours of summer. After all, the Schwartzes were staying, and the Frieds…and the Golds and the Finkelsteins…Why rush home late in the afternoon, arriving home after dark, and having to then unload? We could stay the night and get a fresh start in the morning, so long as we were cautious to depart before lunch, when the “hotels let out.”

The exhilaration upon the commutation of the execution! One more night!

Dusk fell, as always, but somehow different than any before, and we wondered if we’d been so wise. The grounds were almost vacant, a few last families huddling together in the crisp September evening. Around the colony the absence of burning porch-lights gave quiet testimony to the seasons end. The silence moved over our once tumultuous grounds like a blanket or tarp covering the scene till it next be called for use–so far into our childhood’s future that it was almost without comprehension.

The sights and sounds were out of step with our season. So many friends gone, now, we drew closer to whoever remained, defiant and resistant. Kids we might never have spent an hour with became newly declared “best friends”, and we wandered the colony, checking out the shuttered bungalows of absent neighbors, half wishing the night would last forever, half wishing we’d been in the mass that had already departed.

Then, of course, the morning came. We looked across the grounds, so empty, like a ghost town, and realized that without those people that made it so special for us, it was just a motley collection of broken-down shacks and weary lawn furniture.

The morning moved fast, and soon the final good-byes were all done, and we found ourselves crammed in once again, between cartons and blankets and pillows, much as we’d been ten short weeks before. This time, however, the feelings weren’t of anticipation and joy and elation, but of loss, and sadness and a story without completion.

And we settled in for the ride home…dreading the first sight of the GW Bridge, and the city, and the long, interminable wait for May.