Ruth Bass: Patriots' Day reminds us of our roots



For us, Patriots' day brings thoughts of poetry, peas and a place in Interlaken. Now observed on the third Monday in April, Patriots' Day is special for us. For one thing, it's ours, a Massachusetts holiday celebrated nowhere else except Maine (and only because Maine was once part of us). Public schools in Wisconsin also take note of the day. Perhaps that state was populated by refugees from Massachusetts.

It's special in our house because it was April 19 (the real day) when my now-husband and I rented a cottage in Interlaken from the late Walter Wilson, a tall Texan who was half unbelievably charitable and half sharp real estate developer.

We swore Walter to secrecy because we planned to be married in May, but not a soul besides us (and a diamond merchant in New York) knew that. He nodded, promised and gave us a key to a building that had once been a turkey house -- about 60 feet long and 12 feet wide.

So the hut was ours, and Walter said it would be ready by the first of June (we being way before the time when people commonly moved in first and were married afterward). We thought it was adorable, but that wasn't what our parents saw: long, skinny, flimsy and badly furnished. We had doubts of our own when October became November and we came home one night to a Christmas card scene of huge snowflakes falling on our summer cottage.

Blithely assuming our builder would finish our house by the promised October 1, we hadn't thought about the fact that our honeymoon haven was heatless except for a Franklin stove in the living room. That's when we learned that deadlines, sacrosanct in the newspaper world, are a bit less so in the construction industry. We moved out of the Turkey Roost the day after Thanksgiving, knowing how cold a concrete floor feels when the temperature inside is 38 degrees.

But that 19th of April was beautiful, sunny and warm, and we had a sunny time finding our first residence. We loved it there and when we left, we took with us a slightly wrinkled watercolor of the little place, painted and abandoned by a previous tenant.


As all schoolchildren once knew, Patriots' Day was also special for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose poem about Paul Revere was memorized by countless pupils across Massachusetts -- usually without the teacher correcting whatever poetic license Longfellow took with the historical facts as he wrote: "Listen my children and you shall hear/ Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,/ On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;/ Hardly a man is now alive/ Who remembers that famous day and year."

Not mentioned by name in the poem is Robert Newman, the church sexton who climbed to the belfry to hang the lanterns telling Revere and others what the British were doing. He probably looked over his shoulder a few times as he clambered to the top of the old North Church, a bastion of English loyalists. But he heroically carried out his mission, and the road to independence began. The poem reminds us of our roots.

As for peas, they're supposed to be planted by Patriots' Day so they'll be ready for salmon and peas on the Fourth of July, a tradition that started long ago in New England because peas came in just as the salmon were running.

Ron Kujawski, gardener par excellence, sometimes advises planting peas on St. Patrick's Day, so we're not sure where he grew up. We're still into snow shovels, not hoes, at that time. April 19 is our goal, and if the sun would behave for a couple of days, it may happen this year.

Ruth Bass is a freelance writer who lives in Richmond. Her website is


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