Labor Day was always a big holiday in our family. Yes, it meant summer was over, traffic was less and you could usually find a parking space on Main street. School was two days away — new school clothes had already been ordered from the Sears catalog and picked up at the catalog store in Vineyard Haven. There was the visit to Brickman’s for shoes and sneakers. We spent Saturday and Sunday at the beach. But Labor Day was for the picnic.

Perhaps it was a way to get all 11 of us together again as we went into the fall; summertime had us scattered about in jobs and the usual summer pursuits. So Mom and Dad took all of us out to dinner at the Home Port in Menemsha. Chet and Esther Cummens, the owners, were friends of our parents — Chet and Dad were golfing buddies. Mom would make the reservation, and at 5 p.m. on Labor Day, all of us would troop into the restaurant.

Tables were pushed together, and fellow diners looked up from their lobster pie as we paraded in. The three boys were spaced between the six girls, with Mom and Dad at either end of the table. We were free to eat whatever we wanted, although my younger siblings usually settled for something on the kids’ menu. Can you picture us with our plastic lobster bibs? The Home Port was where I learned to love swordfish, and of course clam chowder is always served with a dot of butter. Chet and Esther visited with my parents as we tucked in, and always made a big deal out of the arrival of dessert. It was a great way to end the summer.

But as time passed, our family crowd grew. Now there were boyfriends and girlfriends, then husbands and wives, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Taking over the entire restaurant wasn’t practical, so a new plan emerged: we would have our own picnic.

How many for Labor Day? Mom would ask at supper the week before. We had to account for ourselves and guests so she could get a final count and order food. We also included Aunt Hilda, Dad’s sister, and family friend Alice Hanley, who managed the boarding house when Mom first arrived in Vineyard Haven to teach school in 1949.

The menu was simple: steamers, swordfish, lobster, corn on the cob, watermelon — and a surprise. Sounds easy, right? The seafood came from Larsen’s or the Net Result. When they saw Mom walk in that week before Labor Day they would say, how many are we feeding this time, Rose? The corn came from Morning Glory — also ordered a week ahead.

The word “swarm” is defined as the Anthony family in front of a pile of steamed clams (40 pounds of them). Newspapers spread on the tables served as tablecloths. Every ramekin and pudding dish was pressed into service for the butter and broth.

Mom was always searching for more clam boilers or large stock pots at yard sales. Eventually we had a broom closet more filled with pots than brooms, all reserved for that one day’s use.

By the time the steamers were done, multi-tasking teams were already in gear. As the clams were served, in went the lobsters. Each of us got one plus a few extras for last-minute arrivals or for someone who miscounted.

A second team had already marinated the huge slabs of swordfish — usually 15 pounds — in that classic mix of half mayonnaise, half sour cream, salt, pepper and the juice of a fresh lemon. Dad or my brothers slapped the fish onto the grill. We started with the good old charcoal grill, but as the crowd grew, we moved up to a deluxe gas grill. Tucked into a corner of the grill were two lonely pork chops for the one spouse who didn’t care for anything on the menu until we got to dessert. (I’m pleased to report he has since learned to love scallops, haddock and cod.)

A third team worked the lobster pool. Mom’s stash of pots came to good use and the lobsters were boiled in cycles on the stove. Once the lobsters were cooking, the team distributed the lobster crackers — another item always on the yard sale list. Of course there were never enough, so they were distributed around the table with reminders that sharing was mandatory.

There was a team shuttling supplies from kitchen to porch, or in later years, to the deck overlooking Noman’s Land in Aquinnah: paper plates, cups, cold drinks for the little kids, mountains of napkins, paper bags for the cleanup. (What do you do with 40 pounds of clamshells?) The chefs were trying to time things so the lobsters came out after the swordfish.

Shucking the corn was assigned to the younger crowd, first my younger sisters and brother and then to the grandchildren. The kids were assembled in the “shucking corner” far from the rest of the food and given instructions on how to get the corn ready. (No silk left on the corn. Silky corn drove Dad crazy.) That kept young hands busy, and Dad would stop by to inspect. Got to do the job right!

The corn went on the stove the minute the lobsters were out. Good thing we had the microwave to melt the butter, no room on the stove. Corn holders were another item on the yard sale search list for the picnic. Mom accumulated dozens of them, all mismatched and stored in a large glass jar on a shelf in the broom closet. She thought it undignified to eat corn on the cob without the holders. Sticks of butter hit the tables when the corn came out, although the same pork chop spouse held out that you didn’t need butter or salt for corn.

Hot food consumed, it was time for a break. Debris was cleared away. Lobster bodies were collected for Aunt Hilda to take home so she could make lobster salad with the leftovers. Time to pause and enjoy the view, catch up with each other and perhaps interrogate whoever was experiencing the picnic for the first time, especially if it was a new boyfriend or girlfriend.

Then on to dessert. Always watermelon. Unlimited watermelon. Dad would go to the A&P and pick out three or four of the largest watermelons in the store. They ended up in a galvanized steel tub on the porch filled with water and a bag of ice on top. Dad would serve the watermelon, as big a piece as you could want, but with one caveat: you had to eat what you asked for. If you couldn’t finish it, you got a smaller piece next year. I have no idea how Dad could remember, but he did.

And to wrap up the meal, the surprise: Alice’s brownies. Alice always brought a huge pan of her brownies, a recipe that wins contests. She would walk in and say, are you glad to see me or my brownies? They were her secret recipe, later handed down to us, and we got to share in it for one day.

As much as the food, the fun was in the crowd. We had gone from a line of us in the Home Port to a crowd of us out in the sun, clamshells piled up, lobsters cracking, calls for more swordfish and who drank my soda? Hot butter was needed, how did the dog get that ear of corn, how many extra lobsters are there? Now the summer crowds would be gone and we would be back to our routine of school and homework and the usual tasks of life. But the picnic was a celebration of each other and of the Island bounty. Not just a goodbye to summer but a sharing of how we were bound to each others as only Islanders are.

Anyone can have a Labor Day picnic and experience the joy of the day. But if you want some of Alice’s brownies, you have to invite one of us to the party.

Happy Labor Day.

Michael Anthony is a 1970 graduate of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School who lives in Auburn.