Until the bicentennial observance, the fortuitous position of Patriot's Day had escaped me, partly because we in Maine don't make much of the holiday, and partly because a Massachusetts summercater showed up with red-white-and-blue Hotkaps. Not everybody in the Commonwealth puts on a Paul Revere hat and refights the Battle of Lexington. Those with "places" up in Maine use the 19th of April to come see how their "proppity" wintered, to get the battens off the doors and windows, to air out the chambers, perhaps to paint the boat, but certainly to plant their green peas. This year the weatherman gave us unseasonable salubrity from Passover to Concord Bridge, and the arrival and activity of the suburban set promises the finest Fourth of July in 200 years. Green peas are traditional Fourth of July fare. Was it not astute of the colonial forefathers to institute the two holidays thus -- 76 days being the Maine equivalent of the seed catalog's optimism?
Thoseof us who live in Maine try to get a row of peas planted as soon as the frost lets go, and we don't tie this to any special day. We just heave the seeds in and stand back. It is the seasonal taxpayer who needs an excuse to leave his urban necessities and journey up the turnpike to attend his frivolities, and those embattled farmers by the rude bridge gave the Massachusetts Mainers their 19th of April, just pea time ahead of Independence Day.
We have one part-tme neighbor who telephones the moment of arrival to cry, "I'm home!" This signifies that life is truly valid only here on the non-resident list, and time spent in the cultural atmosphere of the Boston suburbs is total loss. We know that, but it is nice to have it affirmed regularly with such enthusiasm. "Welcome home!" we shout back, and after this exchange the summercater begins his Patriot's Day celebration by taking off the blinds. He has to take all his picnic gear and lawn chairs away from the shed entry before he can get out his rotothing, but soon he will commence the vernal ritual of pea planting.
There is concomitant pother as the dwelling is made ready for the vacation ahead, and also a certain amount of dashing about in station wagons for seeds and fertilizer. Some who still believe in "telephone" peas have to put up stakes and trellises. As the sun sets on Patriot's Day, the shot heard round the world never made the noise of the summercater bragging about how many rows he got in. One man who tills a cuplike plot of excellent soil between two granite outcroppings is the perennial winner -- he gets in 15 or 16 rows, and has never had to add that they are each two feet long.
These Patriot's Day peas do well. Having been dropped and covered, the seeds will respond and even if not attended again will do their job by the Fourth. But Memorial Day was thoughtfully provided for hoeing purposes, and back will come the caravans of "summer complaints" for that exercise. By Decoration Day our season has advanced so other things may be planted, including the setting-out of tommarters, and this procession of holidays will provide a wotsome garden for the day when the family arrives to "stay."
No doubt this recitation of our pea sequence will seem odd to folks at a distance, particularly in warner places where peas don't do so well and where, I'm told, many don't try to grow them. Our green peas do best in our nasty weather of April and May, germinating generously in the cool soil of Patriot's Day. Late planted peas dislike a hot spell, and don't come to table with the sweet and tender excellence of Independence Day. So there was great wisdom in the creating of this special Massachusetts holiday, when Redcoats were repulsed and Paul Revere's cry of alarm saved the nation. This foresight made the Fourth of July in Maine a real pea-pickin' day.