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Friday, May 25, 2018

Weekend Update

BACK IN 1968, when I was a slip of a boy, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which affixed Memorial Day to the last Monday in May, removing the flotation quality it (and three other secular holidays – there’s a contradiction in terms!) had sported when it was affixed to the 30th of that month. The Veterans of Foreign Wars decried this over a decade ago, noting that the three-day weekend thus presented “has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”

It was known as Decoration Day up until around World War II, when the current moniker was affixed. It draws on a long tradition of decorating gravesites once the weather has warmed, and became particularly meaningful after the horrors of the Civil War, which was when the late-May practice began to become ritualized enough to warrant an official observance. Naturally, there’s some jockeying among those towns claiming to have been first, with the Finger Lakes-region town of Waterloo, NY, claiming a precedent that was officially endorsed by President Johnson in 1966, which would have been the centenary of that first celebration except for a newspaper error that set that event two years earlier than it actually occurred.

This need for patriotic remembrance after a clash like the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, as it’s termed in the south) is commendable, especially if such remembrance carries an observable lesson to avoid such things in the future. Such, of course, has not been the case, and the wars fought during my lifetime have been motivated purely by politics and greed. Vietnam vacuumed up my coevals to fight an invented threat of communism; the oil wars in the Middle East prey on a xenophobia that’s never been as rampant as now.

So it is that my wife and I have become (sorry, VFW) nonchalant about the holiday and the weekend thus attached. It happens also to be the brief time of the year when the fields and hedgerows have cleared of snow but have yet to grow into the tangle they easily become. We delay the start of lawn mowing long enough to give the bees a shot of the dandelions that proliferate, but this is the weekend when we cut down what’s becoming a hayfield.

We have about four acres of grass to trim, and it needs to be done twice weekly this time of year. Alongside that are the winter-damaged limbs to turn into mulch or next winter’s firewood and the gardens to tend. Usually I wrestle our rototiller through the clay-sticky soil, but I’ve been learning the benefits of no-till farming and beneficial cover crops, so I’m trying to figure out how to put that in place. Since I’m really not sure, I’ve tilled the upper garden (so named because it sits near the road). The lower garden, where we grow garlic and tomatoes, will be left untilled.

And there are bees to tend. We lost all of our hives – we had seven – by the middle of winter, and started afresh with two packages of bees. I lost one of the queens right off the bat, by opening her cage while it was pointed away from the hive, and away she flew. Her replacement is doing well. The other hive had what seemed to be a fine first week with its queen busily making brood, and then she was gone and the bees had made queen cells (where new monarchs grow) in her wake. I re-queened the hive and moved the frames with queen cells to a smaller hive box, and was rewarded with a fresh queen and, thus, another hive. So we’re watching the three strengthen, in the hope that we’ll get even more hives eventually going and can face next winter with stronger bees.

On Monday, we’ll watch the country’s smallest parade march and drive past our house. In Connecticut, where I grew up, there was a huge procession downtown with at least a half-dozen marching bands from schools and community groups, but here, in rural New York, there’s nary a note. Sports are more important than music programs in the schools, so we don’t get that Ivesian phenomenon of overlapping tunes. My neighbors already are festooning their houses with flags, no doubt because it’s so easy to forget in which country you’re resident. We try to stir up a little trouble by displaying a peace flag from our porch, but we’ve been too successful with the lawn greenery, and the Norway maples out front obscure our heartfelt plea.

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