payson tradition

How to start new traditions after a loved one dies (inspirational story).

As life progresses, we all get the opportunity to experience its many rich colors of change and seasons. As this most recent Labor Day passed, a United States holiday held on the first Monday of September celebrating the working people, our Family began a new chapter in cherished tradition.

For 35 years, our Family has spent Labor Day in Payson, Utah, attending the Onion Days Festival and being with my wife’s parents and Family. Those years have been filled with many fond and cherished memories that have shaped the very fabric of those attending. Allow me to take you on a short walk in time.

My first Onion Days was in the summer of 1978; I was newly engaged to my soon-to-be wife, my cherished companion of the last 35 years. Mom and dad, my wife’s parents, as I would come to know them, lived on Main Street. They had front-row seats to the most beautiful small town parade you would ever want to see. I arrived about 8:30 a.m. and was almost immediately put to work setting up chairs and benches under the large shade tree in the driveway. For the next two hours, the stream of Family that included my wife’s brothers and sister, grandpa Leifson, aunts, and uncles from the Rosenbaum’s and Leifson’s sides and cousins galore joined the crowd. And with each new arrival, I was introduced, hugged, and welcomed into the Family.

At 10:00 A.M. sharp, the honor guard from the soldiers of the WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and Boy Scouts lead the parade. We stood at attention with our right hands over our hearts as the American flag passed. The floats and other entries that followed included that year’s hometown beauty queens, politicians, church groups, baseball league champions, high school bands with just enough members to play a tune, local dance groups, representatives from the local police, fire, and National Guard, and of representatives of the Payson High School student council, clubs, football team, cheerleaders and let us not forget the 20th year reunion float that would gather members of the celebrating class as it passed the spectators on the parade route. As each entry passed, Mom would stand and cheer for the float (many of which she had a direct hand in designing and building), the people and friends she knew, and just plain joy of watching the parade. She was more fun to watch than the parade itself. The parade celebrated community spirit, pride, and friendships many years in the making. Mon and dad had eagerly served the community for years as members of Jr. Cultis Club, Lions Club, Annual Payson Salmon Supper, church callings, and many city/county committees.

Within 30 minutes following the last parade entry, the BBQ and Family gathering came on the back-covered patio about 15′ x 15′ in size. Dad cooked the hamburgers and hot dogs. Mom masterfully brewed the homemade root beer and orchestrated (with the help of many) the Jell-O, macaroni, and lettuce salads of every kind that every Family unit had brought. The serving table was elegantly prepared to not favor one dish over the other but to give everyone’s dish equal exposure as if it were at the state fair. As the last hamburger was placed on the table, instinctively, the 50-plus members of the Family gathered for a blessing on the food, followed by an orderly but hungry group who shared the Labor Day feast as a Family who sincerely loved one another and cherished each other’s company.

During the next couple of hours, I was introduced to what would become my Family. First, it was Uncle Neil (who had once dated my mother), then Ray and Rose, Grandpa Leifson, Aunt June (who gives the best hugs ever and makes the best-deviled eggs), and the others who warmly and genuinely extended their love without reservation. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow filled with goodness and happiness generations in the making. We exchanged questions and answers, stories and jokes, and observations of the beautiful summer day in Payson, Utah.

As members of the extended Family began to depart, my wife introduced me to the center of the Payson Labor Day community act ivies at the city park filled with 100-year-old trees and what seemed like every person in Payson. In the center of the park was the permanent concrete stage with roman pillars where community members shared their talents of every kind. On the north end of the park was the carnival that included a carousel, Ferris wheel, and rides that would spin you in every direction. The rest of the park was filled with booths selling trinkets and food that always deserved a quick walk-through.

Once the last extended Family members left to go to their homes, we would all pitch in and return the home to its pre-Onion Days activities. The girls would help with washing the dishes and vacuuming the floors, and the boys would rearrange and clean up the patio and yard. The children would climb the cherry tree, play croquet, Frisby, bat mitten, and tag.

Late afternoon around 5:30-6:00 p.m., the left-overs from that day’s lunch were set out. Again as if on cue, we bowed our heads for thanksgiving to a creator of such a wonderful day, filled our plates with sandwiches, brownies, and chips, and talked for what seemed only a minute or two but was till the sun went down. That was my first Payson Onion Days.

For the next 35 years, each Labor Day celebration would unfold in almost the same say way as the first. Each year was always just a little different, mainly due to the Family who could attend. As my wife and I started and raised our family of six children, Labor Day was as dear and precious a day as Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Some of the memorable experiences included the first time I decided to run the Payson 10K. It was the very first group race ever at the age of 40, and I thought I was fast and would be able to win an age group medal. As the race started, my dreams of being at the front of the pack were dashed as I was in a dead heat for last with a woman in her mid-seventies. It was given and taken of who would be last for the first three miles. Ultimately I took the honor of being last, and she beat me by 10 minutes. To add insult to my ego, the city ambulance was right behind me the whole way. Every few minutes, the EMT would come on over the loudspeaker, ask me if I wanted a ride, and remind me that the award ceremony couldn’t start until I arrived. I finished the race dead last, but I have smiled at the experience many times.

Then there was the year when dad asked me to take over the honor of cooking the hamburgers and hotdogs. He admitted that he was a little tired and would like to spend the time talking to his generation. For the next ten years, that was my job and contribution to Labor Day. For a few years, I was joined by Uncle Dan, who just wanted to talk, and then by my children, who wanted to cook on the grill for a minute or two and then head back to playing with cousins. I never cooked them as good as dead, but I was glad to see him enjoy the day and proud that he entrusted me with the spatula.

Then there was the day our daughter could ride on one of grandma’s floats. Oh, how pretty she looked in her brand new dress and how proud grandma was to have her only Family member be a princess for a day.

Then there was the year when my wife could take her proud place on the float (hay wagon) with her classmates, celebrating their 20th-year reunion.

Let me not forget the first time my granddaughter held my hand and asked if I would help her get candy that would be thrown from the floats and grandma great.

I have captured the day’s events through the years with the first Kodak print and slide film followed by the latest digital megapixel. They include my sons climbing ever higher each year in the cherry tree, my Family enjoying one another’s company, and the smile on a carnival ride. Though the pictures seem the same each year, we are all just getting a little older.

There have been some major changes in our Payson Labor Day experience during the last few years. First, there was an aunt, then an uncle who passed away. And with each passing, there would be fewer and fewer Families that would join us for Labor Day. But still gathered and followed the same holiday routine no matter how many came. Then a few years ago, dad passed away, We still gathered for Labor Day as before, but his presence was truly missed. Mom and dad’s children and grandchildren did just a little more than usual for the next several years to make sure the day stayed the same. Last October, mom died. The home on Main Street has since been sold.

This year we all asked, “What are we going to do without Labor Day?” For over 50 years, that home on Main Street had been the center for Payson Labor Day for five generations of Family. We all vowed that this year would be too hard emotionally to return to even attend the celebration or even gather as a Family in Payson.

As Labor Day approached, our children and mom and dad’s children began to share memories and exchange ideas of how to continue making Labor Day a Family event. One of my wife’s brothers suggested that we have a BBQ at his place, and we agreed immediately that would be the right thing to do.

This past Labor Day continued the family tradition of coming together on Labor Day. This year I returned to run the Payson 10K, which I ran with my son-in-law. I wasn’t last, but almost. Next, 23 mom and dad’s family members and posterity gathered for lunch at noon in Spanish Fork, Utah. On each table was a picture of Mom and Dad. We greeted each other with the same love I had experienced in the previous 36 years and enjoyed the Labor Day cuisine of hamburgers, hotdogs and salads. One of my favorite parts was the always welcome hug from Aunt June.

Toward the end meal, my granddaughter came and sat next to me with her eyes all a glow and said, “Grandpa, guess what? We are going to go to the Payson Carnival. I was so excited last night I couldn’t sleep.”

With that remark, I knew I needed to join my daughter and her family as they attended the carnival, which had become a tradition for them. And like the very first Labor Day some 36 years earlier, my grandchildren rode the same carousel that I had enjoyed with my bride-to-be. We walked through the booths selling trinkets and food of every kind. As we walked back to the car, I was the proud father as my youngest daughter held my arm as if I were her favorite bow.

As I left Payson that day, I drove past the home on Main Street just for old time’s sake. Out in front of the home was the American flag, children were running and playing in the yard, and families were gathered just as I had gathered for all those years. As I passed the home, I realized that home though now more extended, a gathering place for me, was still a place of joy and happiness where Labor Day memories would continue for another Family. As for our Family, it was the first of many to come where new traditions would be built, memories continue, and love for Family would deepen.

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