It’s Whitsun Bank Holiday here in Britain but, to me, this weekend will forever be Memorial Day:
Even though summer didn’t officially start for another few weeks, Memorial Day always served as the Ceremonial beginning of the season. In my younger years (before Blogger, even) the day was filled with tradition and always seemed—no matter how treacherous the weather had been during the month—to bring blue skies and summer-like sunshine.
It always began with a parade and my dad and I always marched—me with the Boy Scouts and dad with the Stuyvesant Falls Volunteer Fire Company. We would assemble at the Foreign Legion Hall, form up and march through the streets of Kinderhook to the sound of brass bands and cadence calls. Everyone came out to watch (really, this was the most exciting event to happen in town all year), wave flags and cheer their friends. The parade ended in the cemetery, where local politicians pontificated and one lucky student from Ichabod Crane Central School read Flanders Fields.
After breaking up, we would put flowers on my Grandfather Denny’s grave—a soldier of the Great War—and join the crowd back at the Legion Hall for a barbeque. There was beer, burgers, pretzels, corn on the cob, potato salad and watermelon, and if Nat King Cole’s classic “Roll Out Those Haze Lazy Crazy Days of Summer” was not playing on the loudspeakers, it would be running through my head.
We would arrive home in mid-afternoon, at the hottest part of the day, in time for the next and most important ritual: the first swim of summer.
My sister, myself, our neighbours, the Bogarski’s—three girls and one boy around my sister’s age—would meet up, wearing swim suits under our shirts and shorts, and begin the long walk to the swimming hole. The dirt road running past our house would have recently been tarred to keep the dust down and the warm tar would squish under our feet. From there we walked the hot tarmac of County Route 25 and after that the dusty fields sloping down toward Kinderhook Creek. We followed the old wagon road, kicking up low dust clouds in the stagnant air, and followed the edge of the fields to a break in the trees that gave access to a bend in the creek that, for as long as anyone could remember, was known as “Wagners.”
Wagner’s was a deepish pool in an otherwise shallow creek, bordered on one end by The Rocks and the other by The Rapids, their monikers making them sound grander than they were. Along the near side, a path lead to a rope swing which, at this time of year, provided the best way to enter the water—not for ease of access but for the sake of getting it over with quickly. In May, the water would be high and fast and staggeringly cold. Still, once you let go of the rope and got over the initial shock, it wasn’t too bad.
We would swim until our lips turned blue, then pull on our shorts and shirts and set off on the return journey. We rarely bothered with towels; we knew we would be dry by the time we reached home.
And, yes, I am swimming in my underwear—contain yourselves, ladies.
In the evening there might be another, impromptu backyard barbecue, with beer for the adults and more soda or Kool-Aid for us kids. The evening would be cool and the specter of school still loomed over us, but you could feel summer, hiding behind a thin veil, waiting to come out.
Here, now, it’s just a day off.