Monday, April 18, 2011

Patriot's Day Thoughts

Monday, April 18, and every government office in Maine is closed. Also, school kids are out in force, rather than being in class where, it would seem, they belong. This puzzles me. My calendar indicates no holiday on this date.

My only thought on this is that tomorrow, April 19, is Patriot’s Day. And I bet that the government has made a three-day weekend out of it for their employees, one of the “Monday” holidays.

This irritates me to no end. Certainly, some “made-up” holidays can, without a thought, be changed from one date to another. But to change the date for observing Patriot’s Day seems one step too far.

Patriot’s Day, as all who read this blog certainly know, marks the beginning of hostilities between the United States and England, the actual bullet-and-blood inception of the American Revolution. It happened in Lexington Massachusetts. American patriots knew that the British were going to move, but they were not certain when or exactly how or where.

I shall offer a re-hash of this event in the words of Robert Lawton, a well-known writer who tackled patriotic themes in the mid-20th century. Lawton writes, in his “Watchwords Of Liberty,” 1943:

“On Lexington Common a group of hastily gathered militiamen stood uneasy in the gray chill of an April dawn. Their appearance was not very military, there were only a few attempts at uniforms. Some were old men, some were youths, all bore arms of some sort.
“There had been the pounding of hoofs in the night, the clatter of windows, the slamming of doors, Paul Revere’s hoarse shout, “The British are coming!’

“There had been hurried dressings, sudden candlelight, fires poked up, muskets, fowling pieces and powder horns snatched from their pegs, old swords strapped on. There had been stumbling trots down paths and lanes, across fields, up the highways, dogs yapping gaily at the prospect of an unexpected hunt, and over all the churchbells far and near, clamoring a wild alarm.

“Now, as they waited, many a breath must have shortened, many eyes turned warily toward the Boston Road. Old Indian fighters looked to the priming of their muskets, cautioned the youngsters, while newmade officers strove to straighten the crooked ranks.”

“Then suddenly it came; the rhythmic, thudding march of three full companies of British Grenadiers, the jingle of harness, the rattling of equipment. Down the road they flowed: scarlet coats, towering shakos, glittering brass, pipe-clayed belts. Across the common they swept, formed ranks, halted.

“Up to the Patriot line trotted handsome young Major Pitcairn. “Disperse ye rebels,” he shouted, “throw down your arms and disperse.”

“Small wonder if, at this display of British might and authority, there was an uneasy stir among the Minutemen.”

“Then rose the sturdy voice of Captain John Parker. “Stand your ground!” he said. “Don’t fire unless fired upon! But if they want to have a war, let it begin here!” And there it began.”

“None knows who fired first, but there were scattered shots – then from the scarlet-clad ranks a sheet of flame, a roar, and a billowing cloud of black smoke. Almost before the smoke had cleared the stolid British were again in column, clumping down the road to Concord; the Patriots who still lived had melted away behind walls and buildings.

“the rising sun shone redly on eight dead men, nine wounded – and a continent at war.”

Those words stir me.

But did you know that April 1775, was the warmest April on record? True enough. As the fighting progressed, Americans pursued the now-retreating British down the Concord Road, back to Boston. And they did so in record heat. Leaves on deciduous trees had opened. It’s for sure that the Americans had long-since began to harvest fiddleheads and other wild foods.

So that’s Patriot’s Day. A day that other states don’t even bother to note. And a day for people to take a long weekend in Maine and Massachusetts (we were one colony in 1775). But how many of us take time to ponder the true meaning of this day? How many care?

I do. Do you?

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