Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor of Love: 138th Cooper Picnic

Today we did what we have done for Labor Day...well, all of my life?  I wonder if it really has been 32 years in a row?  Surely not, but most years of my life.  I don't know how old I was when we first went.  Surely I missed a year or so in there somewhere? Who knows?  Most of the years of my life I have gone to the Cooper Picnic on Labor Day.  This was Celie's 3rd year.  She made her Cooper Grove debut about 7 days after she was born; it was our first outing as a family. This year was the 138th annual Cooper Picnic.  My family's involvement in these festivities has spanned decades and it is a tradition that is close to my heart and will hopefully continue.

When I was younger Labor Day sometimes started the day before the picnic.  My dad is an electrician, and often fixed things or helped out as they were preparing for the event.  I remember going with him when he fixed the soft serve ice cream machine.  I thought it was so neat, I got to see how it was made.  My family also helped out and we were expected to for many years once we were older.  My grandmother worked in the kitchen when we were younger and we would run into the old dining hall kitchen to see her.  "I love you!" she'd tell us every time.  We would visit a minute or two, watching as she did the dishes.  It was also in this hall where my parents had the dinner part of their wedding reception.

The Cooper Picnic has games and small rides, like the unforgettable hay rides, but I can even remember when they used to have a ferris wheel and there were ticket booths.  They have the traditional bbq chicken dinner but also have a stand with burgers and such.  Funnel cakes, blue berry milk shakes, birch beer!  A few of my favorite things. The games and flea market are even better.  I can't even say how many gold fish we've won and free goods we have acquired.  My pap spun the chuck-o'-luck wheel for well over twenty five years!  I can still hear his voice declaring, "An ace, a deuce, and a trey!"  My grandmother worked at the Chinese auction when we were older, this was actually the last place that I saw her alive.  We stood in the spot where I last spoke to her on this Labor Day as we talked to a friend and watched his dad's band perform.  I forgot to mention the live music they have every year.  It's a good time.  Plus, you never know who you are going to run into at the Cooper Picnic, family, friend, or foe!

The grove is haunted by the spectres of my youth but I am sure more than that clings to this place.  I used to attend catechism classes every Wednesday in the main building that has long been torn down and replaced by a new one.  We used to ride the merry-go-round until we were sick!  They used to have the yearly 'Sleigh Full of Gifts' dinner here where we saw Santa.  I remember coming to Karate events here that my dad was in when I was a kid.  What else happened here, beyond my life?  To think, what was this grove like 138 years ago when the residents of Cooper Settlement started this community tradition?  What did these grounds look like?  The grove itself must have been so different; these trees, while impressive, were clearly not here 138 years ago.

As my daughter ran wildly evading my husband's attempts to control her, I saw myself running around the Cooper Grove as a kid, barefoot and wild, lost in tradition.  Living in the holiday.  Times have changed, the grove has clearly changed, the food has changed, the games have changed....the people have changed.  Many things about this event have changed over the years...but the tradition continues. 

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