The Labor Day holiday -- traditionally a time for speeches by union leaders and politicians and a day for parades (the first was in New York, Sept. 5, 1882) -- has come to mean one last fling before neighborhood and community pools pull the plug, before Congress and schools end their recesses.
For some area residents the Labor Day holiday also provides an opportunity to look back on the fading summer and ahead to the fall season.
Florence West can't help but feel both optimistic and sad this weekend. "Right now," says West, an English/speech teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, "we're looking forward to a wonderful weekend." West, who lives with her husband, George, and their two children in Springfield, says they always do something as a family on Labor Day weekend.
"Usually we go to Wolf Trap, we cook out. We really make it a last fling. Everyone's mind is on what's coming up. It's sort of 'This is our last time to really let go and relax before we begin a new year.' It's true of the kids [David, 17, and Allison, 8] as well as for George and me."
Summer means a complete change of pace for the Wests, although this year George, a biology professor at Northern Virginia Community College, is just now beginning a short vacation (having taught over the summer), while Florence ("It's the pits!") and the children are ending theirs.
Getting away from school, says Florence West, is refreshing -- and critical. "I really need a respite, total abandonment in the summer from what I do in the winter. I try to do that physically as well as mentally." Winter exercise classes give way to biking, swimming and playing tennis. The mental demands of teaching are replaced with recreational reading -- "I take a novel to the beach" -- and games with the family.
The whole family does things together during the summer months, says West, but she also makes the time for personal reflection. "It's very hard during the school year to find time to think about the very important things: home and family and friends. In the summer I can do that anywhere, sitting on the beach or at Wolf Trap or sitting on the deck of our back yard."
West says she compensates for all the running around of the summer by varying her routine. "Sometimes it seems like I'm running a taxi service" what with the children's swimming practice and meets and band practice, but, adds West, "I really don't mind that. I want my kids to have a chance to be kids, to play and have fun and enjoy youth before they're forced to take the responsibilities that come all too soon today."
West says she and her family "don't put ourselves on a summer 'schedule,' because we answer to bells all year. During the summer, we're very laid back. If we eat dinner at 8 o'clock, we eat dinner at 8 o'clock, or whenever we happen to put a steak on the grill."
The West family's attitude toward this Labor Day weekend "is very, very positive. We're all rested up. We've had our tans, peeled and retanned. I've been freckled to death. We're ready to move ahead."
Secretary of Labor William Brock is spending the weekend attending to some of the rituals that come with his job -- "television work ('Meet the Press'), morning shows and things like that, talking about this country and the exciting opportunity we have to do some good in terms of jobs."
Brock, whose family is away in Florida "before going back to school," says the Labor Day weekend "has been a traditional family time, but I just couldn't get away this time. Officially Labor Day was not quite as symbolic when I was with the U.S. Trade Office (as U.S. trade representative)."
His plans for Labor Day itself include welcoming his wife Laura and three of their children -- Oscar, 22; daughter Hutchey, 21; and John, 18 -- back home, then going to a friend's house for a cookout of "some hot dogs and beans and beer."
Republican Sen. Paul S. Trible says he's taking advantage of every moment between now and the start of Congress to be with his family.
Trible, who says he almost always fills the congressional recesses with speeches and handshaking and traveling around his home state, spent several weeks this summer with his wife and children -- Mary Katherine, 8, and Paul III, 4 1/2 -- at their home in Virginia's Northern Neck region.
"I've consciously taken some time to be father and husband and son and spent some good times with Rosemary and the children and his own parents ," he says.
"You don't have enough time with your family. August was a good time to catch up with Rosemary and the children."
The Tribles always have used their Northern Neck home as a family gathering spot. "I represented that Chesapeake Bay area in Congress for six years before my election to the Senate," explains Trible. "We would pick up like a band of Gypsies and pack up the station wagon and head south every weekend and come back on Sundays."
Now that he's representing the entire state, Trible says, he and his family spend most of their time at their other home in Alexandria. "But still, when we want to kind of get away from the madding crowd and have some quality family time," they head for Northern Neck, where "we can just enjoy the beautiful surroundings and each other's company."
This weekend? "Friday morning, Paul and Mary Katherine and I will be awaiting the arrival of the crab man, who has traps on the creek where our home is located. We'll wave him to shore, buy a bushel of crabs" and steam them for lunch.
"We'll spend the rest of the long weekend together as a family, fishing, swimming and crabbing." On Labor Day itself, "We'll barbecue some hot dogs and hamburgers and shoot off some fireworks and my mother and father will come over and join us. We'll be right on the beach, overlooking the creek and Chesapeake Bay."
While the family views the end of summer with mixed emotions, the senator says the children are fired up about school. They've had a busy, active summer and now they're ready to go back and see their friends. "Our son will be starting kindergarten, and so he can't wait now to go off to school like his sister."
Maryland Democratic Rep. Beverly Byron is capping her busy summer with a holiday weekend really away from home: She's flying to San Francisco to join her son Kimball and his wife for a camping trip in the California mountains.
"I'm not sure where the summer has gone," says Byron with a laugh. "We're just getting ready to have the Fourth of July, aren't we?"
Among the weighty topics Marylanders will be pondering this weekend, says Byron: "You don't have to weed the garden too many times more, and it's the end of the corn and the good tomatoes."
Byron and her daughter Mary, 19, vacationed in Normandy and Brittany just after the Memorial Day weekend but that, says the 6th District congresswoman, "seems like it was six months ago."
Byron spent much of the congressional recess traveling around her district, talking to workers and business leaders, as well as attending the mandatory crab feasts, corn roasts and country and county fairs. She had a "send-off dinner" with her son, Goodloe, his wife and their three children before leaving for California this week.
On Labor Day Monday, she says, "I'll be getting ready to wend my way back to Washington . . . for a very interesting fall in Congress. I think of this holiday probably like everybody else: There comes a time when you need to get back to work. Not that we haven't been working, but we've been working at a different level and pace."
Claudia Adam, who teaches sixth grade at Bethesda's Bannockburn Elementary School, says that change of pace is what she enjoyed about the summer. Adam and her family -- husband Warren; twins Alexander and Marie-Julie, 3 1/2; and daughters Gabrielle, 13, Cecile, 2, and Jeanne, 7 months -- spent the summer at home. "With our crew," explains Adam, "the logistics would be just impossible . . . just moving from one place to another."
Adam and the children spent much of the summer at a nearby swimming pool. Warren Adam, a lawyer in Washington, spent most of his free time "building a deck. We're trying to get that done, and after that, rest."
Adam says the family was going to have a "We've-got-the-deck-finished party on Labor Day," but "I don't think we'll have it done. It'll be close but we'll probably just picnic."
For the Adam family, the Labor Day weekend is a time to forget. "I'm going to forget about school," asserts Adam. "I'm going to enjoy myself and I'm not going to panic . . . I'm sure by Monday evening I'm going to be panicking. Warren's the calming influence in the family. I'm the one who spins like a top."
Warren Adam took three weeks' vacation this summer to be with his family. Now, says Claudia Adam, "I think he'll be kind of sad to see school starting. We really enjoy staying home and being together. Labor Day is a time when you're looking forward to what you're going to be doing but you're kind of sad that it all has to end."
When people ask Claudia Adam what she and her family did for the summer, "I say we stayed home for our holiday. Especially for Labor Day. We don't run off and try to catch the last few fleeting moments of summer.
"Labor Day just tops off the summer. This is the beginning of a new year, for us at least. We're together and we present a united front to the coming year. Home is the best place. It really is."