Labor Day

This Labor Day Weekend, Seth and I have been, fittingly enough, laboring all weekend long, sawing and hammering cedar clapboards for the new pottery studio. At one point on Sunday, I got to use my grandfather’s old level, the one he carved his initials into almost a hundred years ago. Still works like a charm: good tools are good tools. Last year’s Convivio Book of Days chapter for Labor Day focused on Grandpa. Using that old spirit level yesterday, it seemed right to reprint his story today. It is, after all, a good story. Happy Labor Day. –– John

 

Union Card    Arturo DeLuca

In 1973, my grandfather received his gold union card marking fifty consecutive years with the Bricklayers, Masons and Plasterers International Union of America. He was now a life member. He took that gold union card, and even though his name was misspelled, he put it inside a picture frame along with a certificate and two medals he had earned in World War I serving in the Bersagliere Corps of the Italian army, and he hung the frame on a wall, and that was that. He never talked much about either thing, not the union nor the military service. But he seemed to value both enough to keep these mementos prominently displayed.

We still have that frame: we visited my folks over the weekend and when I asked her about it, my mother pulled the frame from a shelf in a closet. I looked at everything closely, shot the photographs you see here, and returned the frame to its place on the shelf in the closet. But then I paused, picked it up again and set the frame on the bureau, next to the photographs of my grandparents and the statue of St. Rocco. That seemed a more fitting place, especially for Labor Day, a day when we celebrate the American worker. The day has become our country’s unofficial end to summer, but its history is rooted in my grandfather’s time. He was born in the late 1800s, and so was the labor movement in this country. The first Labor Day celebration was organized in 1882 in New York by the Central Labor Union. It was the Fifth of September, a Tuesday, and organizers had no idea how many workers would take part in the parade that wound through Manhattan. There turned out to be more than 10,000; perhaps even 20,000. They carried signs and banners advocating for the rights of workers; things like an 8-hour work day. Twelve years later, in 1894, Congress declared Labor Day a national holiday, falling just as it does today on the First Monday of September.

Grandpa was a union man even longer than he was an American citizen; that particular honor was bestowed upon him in 1935. (My grandmother would have to wait an additional six years for her citizenship.) When times were tough, his work as a bricklayer took him to states far from his home in Brooklyn, as far away as Iowa and North Carolina, wherever there was work; building army barracks, for instance. They worked hard, my grandparents did, and they saved and made real the dreams that first brought them to this country in the early 1920s.

I’m not sure what Labor Day meant to Grandpa, because I never asked him. So much I never thought to ask, but wisdom generally does not come to us until we are older, making us wistful. But Grandpa was a simple man and Labor Day was, I’m sure, just like any other day to him: reading Il Progresso, the Italian paper, with his coffee and toast and cream of wheat, watching Concentration and Eye Guess and Let’s Make a Deal (and shaking his fist at the TV when contestants got too greedy), playing Solitaire and Scopa and Briscola (the last two with the Italian playing cards of swords, cups, coins, and clubs), helping Grandma scour over the lentils, making sure there were no little pebbles mixed in with them. He might have puttered about the garden, bringing in a few late season beefsteak tomatoes. And certainly he passed by the frame on the wall that held the two war medals from Italy and the gold union card engraved with his misspelled name, just as he did the day before, and as he would do the day after, as well.

 

Harvester Basket, or Your September Book of Days

In Maine, where autumn is quick to arrive, the apples are just beginning to come in. The apples above and the basket that holds them are both from the same place: Thompson’s Orchards in New Gloucester, Maine. The apples were picked just two days ago; the basket made two decades prior by Herb Thompson, who ran the orchard back then. Now his sons do. The basket is one of our simple treasures, and it is the cover star of your Convivio Book of Days calendar for September. The calendar is our monthly gift to you, printable on standard US Letter size paper, a nice companion to the blog.

The month begins this year with Labor Day, which will make this a long holiday weekend. It is generally considered summer’s last hurrah here in the US, but it is, more officially, an annual celebration of the American worker, upon whose labor this great nation is built. I may take the weekend off myself from writing, so perhaps you won’t hear from me until later in the month: maybe for the day honoring Our Lady of the Grape Harvest, or for Rosh Hashanah, or for Johnny Appleseed’s birthday, or certainly for Michaelmas. You never know, as I write these things by the seat of pants usually, very often late in the night on the eve before each holiday. It is a month of balance and perhaps we (I) could use a bit of that ourselves: the next equinox arrives, bringing autumn by the almanac to the Northern Hemisphere. But by month’s end, night will be just slightly longer than day. The wheel of the year is always turning, like a great clockwork.

Did you know I write another little something called The Convivio Dispatch? The Dispatches are tales from my town of Lake Worth, Florida, a project much older than the Convivio Book of Days. It is not a book and not a blog but rather the Dispatches from Lake Worth arrive in your inbox as plain text emails. Nothing fancy (again, simple). They are sometimes monthly and they are sometimes few and far between, but the first dispatch in months went out late last night. Dispatch subscribers get the annual ghost story for Halloween, for instance. Interested? Send me an email to subscribe: mail@conviviobookworks.com. (How simple is that?)

Oh and I find my life very often comes with an accompanying soundtrack. Does yours, too? Placing all these apples with care into this basket we love so much, well… this song came to mind.

 

 

It’s Jane Siberry, circa 1985, walking down a road with a very pregnant cow named Buttercup. The video was directed by Gerald Casale of Devo fame. Jane told us when she was here that the photo for the single was shot right here on the beach in Boca Raton. Small world.

Have a wonderful month.
John

 

Of Candlelight & Paper: The Bartlemas Wayzgoose

Most all the printers I know (and as a letterpress printer myself, I know a lot of them) are a salty bunch who are never lacking for good stories, creative profanity, and a hankering for a beverage with spirit. And here, on this 24th of August, comes a spirited celebration just for us printers. It is Bartlemas: St. Bartholomew’s Day, known also as St. Bartlemy’s Day. It is the traditional date of the celebratory printers’ Wayzgoose. Wayzgooses (Wayzgeese?) nowadays are celebrated all year round at the various places where letterpress printers congregate (we’re taking part at a Wayzgoose in Boca Raton, Florida, on October 14; you should come!)… but years and years ago, Bartlemas and the Wayzgoose went hand in hand.

The Wayzgoose is a particularly English celebration, one that comes out of the shifting of the seasons. By the time we reach Bartlemas in the seasonal round, we are a full eight weeks past the summer solstice. Sunlight is waning: the autumnal equinox is just a month away. With it, day and night are equal, and once it passes, darkness overtakes light. In the days before glazed glass windows, Bartlemas was also the signal that it was time to paper the windows in preparation for winter. Once the windows were papered, it was also time, once again, to illuminate the print shop with lanterns and candles. For papermakers and printers both, Bartlemas was an important time of year. Not to mention the bookbinders, as well: St. Bartholomew is a patron saint of book artists and bookbinders. This comes from his martyrdom: St. Bart was one of the original Twelve Apostles, and he met a bitter end, flayed alive and crucified upside down. The flaying has made him a patron saint of butchers, tanners… and the bookbinders, too, for they typically bound books in leather. He is also a patron saint of cheesemakers and beekeepers: the honey harvest typically begins at Bartlemas. In Cornwall, mead is blessed on this day.

But back to the printers. Randall Holme, in 1688, gave us this description of the Bartlemas Wayzgoose:  “It is customary for all journeymen to make every year, new paper windows about Bartholomew-tide, at which time the master printer makes them a feast called a Wayzgoose, to which is invited the corrector, founder, smith, ink-maker, &c. who all open their purses and give to the workmen to spend in the tavern or ale-house after the feast. From which time they begin to work by candle light.” It is, no doubt, a day with a long history of tavern printshop talk and robust drinking songs, hearty laughter and good cheer. For all involved in the Black Art: printers and printers’ devils both.

Image: Ancient Printing-Office engraving from The Every-Day Book by William Hone, London, 1827.

 

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