The Best Day of the Year
[April 17, 1973]
It was still more dark than light, chilly, probably cold if you weren’t 10 years old and primed for a battle. People were already lined up eight deep around the Green, waiting for the British in their blood-red uniforms to march up Mass Ave., past Mario’s Pizza and Woolworth’s and Colonial Pharmacy, where I got my cinnamon-flavored toothpicks and Spiderman comic books. It was Patriots Day, the best day of the year if you were a kid in Lexington, Mass. – the Birthplace of American Liberty.
My morning paper route should have prepared me for the early wake-up call but I nearly always overslept and wound up pedaling furiously down Muzzey Street toward the Green as the redcoats were wiping the powder from their collars and heading on to Concord, dead and wounded rebels strewn about the field behind them, spectators beginning to drift away and dig in their pockets for their car keys.
This time I got there just as the Belfry rang the alarm, rousing the minutemen at Buckman Tavern — get thee to the Green! History awaits! I slipped through a loose knot of tourists and pressed against the rope. The minutemen were assembled in the middle of the field, gripping their rifles uncertainly and refusing to disperse. There was gabbling and throaty exhortations, then a random blast from the periphery – the Shot Heard Round the World – and all hell broke loose, the British unleashing volley after volley of gunfire, overwhelming the minutemen. Musket smoke spread lazily over the battle scene. The tang of it lingered as I hopped onto my bike and headed for the pancake breakfast at the Baptist church — my favorite part of the program. Pancakes as big as your head, big bottles of syrup, tubs of bacon. A glorious day indeed.
[April 15, 2013]
Eight-year-old Martin Richard had energy to spare — especially on Patriots Day, when his family would take the T in from Dorchester to join the boisterous crowds gathered to watch the marathon. While his mom finished packing up a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, sliced apples, pretzels, and water, Martin played hockey and shot baskets behind the house.
The city was alive on Patriots Day, buzzing with people, so many people, everyone cheering and happy. The Richard family liked to stake out a spot on Hereford Street where they could see the runners galloping by on their way to Boylston Street and the home stretch. Today the Richards were late and missed seeing the leaders go by, but the energy of the event was still exhilarating for Martin and his younger sister Jane, until it wasn’t, and they became distracted and amused themselves by jumping and leaping about the stoops that ran down to the sidewalk. It was getting near ice cream time, and Martin let his parents know it.
His face was still sticky with Moose Tracks ice cream when the family headed over to Boylston Street to see if it could get close enough to cheer on the runners. As luck would have it, a crevice of space opened up large enough to allow a couple small children to wriggle their way up to the barrier.
The runners finishing now were not the elite. They were ragtag, but determined. Many ran for a cause; others just to see if they could do it.
Then, nearby, a concussive boom. A pause, then gathering alarm as people realized something terrible was unfolding. Smoke began to fill the air; a woman screamed, “Oh,my God!” Martin’s dad scrambled to pull his kids to safety. Then, a deafening, blinding blast mere steps away.
Patriots Day has occasioned a number of massacres since the bloody events of April 19, 1775 — Waco and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City for starters. So much bloodshed on the best day of the year. Thankfully, kids being what they are, Patriots’ Day will always be a celebration, the events of the past a proud, colorful narrative that leads, with any luck, to an ice cream or a pancake breakfast.
Material for this post related to the Richard family was borrowed from a series by David Abel in The Boston Globe in April, 2014: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/04/12/loss-and-love/a19pcWz6WF5nNozPPItwYI/story.html