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April 24th, 2013

Memories of Patriot's Days Past

The sad events last week in Boston have highlighted the long-standing local custom of celebrating Patriot's Day there. I remember April 19, 1975, because it was the day my Fortran program for my MS thesis finally converged and gave good answers ("you keep debugging the program until it gives you the answers you want") and I deliberately set the date of my PhD thesis defense to April 19, 1978.

My dad writes with more distant memories (reposted with his permission):

“Hardly a Man Is Now Alive - - -”

Patriot’s Day, April 19, was a big holiday around Boston when I was growing up. There were two games at Fenway Park, morning and afternoon. The already legendary Boston Marathon took leg at Hopkinton at noon. That morning, two mounted policeman, disguised as Paul Revere and William Dawes, horsed up from Charlestown to warn every Middlesex village and farm that the Red Coats are coming, with suitable civic observances and libations along the way.

But most important of all, the day marked a week-long school break. More often than not - I still remember the occasions well - the weather turned unseasonably warm. just for the holiday. Our gang took our first swim of the year, skinny dipping in the brackish pond formed by seepage fromthemuddy Mystic River into the muddier marsh west of the Fellsway. The water was so shallow, no more than two or three feet at high tide, that you had to swim right from water’s edge to avoid sinking calf-deep into the mucky goo, mined with razor edged clam shells and spike-tailed horseshoe crabs.

“ Listen, my children, and you shall hear—” Back in 1935A.D., when I was a senior at Medford High, I recited the whole blamed thing from a platform at the site of the new City Hall. I had rehearsed it for weeks in advance, at the school parking lot.  Mr. Carey, vice principal and public speaking coach, would stand at the far end of the lot and I shouted the thing to him from the back steps about a mile away. We had never heard of a PA system and he would cup a hand over his ear when my voice didn’t reach him. I got pretty good at it. That’s how they trained orators in those days.

Alas!  When the moment of truth arrived, I found a strange device in my face up at the speaker’s platform. Somebody had acquired a newfangled contraption to amplify voices. They called it a microphone. But I had to recite at a shout, the way I had memorized the poem. People unfortunate enough to be in front of the loudspeakers clapped their hands over their ears in agony. I thought they were signaling that they couldn’t  hear and blasted away even louder. The words echoed back from speakers mounted at Medford Square a half mile to the south and Haynes Square, a mile to the north. All three of my voices fought in dissonance at City Hall, and I stoutly plunged on right through them to the bitter end. My ears ring to this day. Paul Revere fell off his horse crossing the Mystic River. The Red Coats fled from Lexington without firing a shot. The usual highlights of that day, the Boston Marathon and the morning-afternoon games at Fenway Park, were mere afterthoughts.

Ah, yes!  As the poem noted, “Hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year!”

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