Wheeling Out the Buggy For a Proper Decoration Day

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MY grandfather's carriage shed was on the nether end of his long string of attached farm buildings, so one could go from parlor organ to wheelbarrow all the way indoors, sparing a struggle through January snowdrifts.

The old-timers who originated this custom did not foresee the Yankee tendency to store bric-a-brac and resting sundries in the between; so in time the occupant, in this instance my grandfather, avoided deep snow but spent his time climbing over beehives, cultivators, hoes with broken handles, whiffletrees lacking eveners, piled copies of New England Homestead, blueberry rakes, sap buckets, churns, berry baskets, and multiple residuals that might, some day, ''come in handy.''

Except that buggies didn't get used in the winter, it would have been far easier to have 10 separate buildings and wade in the snow. My grandfather's carriage shed was ample architecturally, but the only vehicle in it (not counting the wheelbarrow tipped up against the far wall) was his million-dollar patent-leather buggy, which he used one day a year in May whether it snowed or not.

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I do not know the precise difference between a ''rich man'' and a ''wealthy gentleman,'' but my grandfather was a compulsive attendant at county auctions and owned many things from both. His million-dollar, patent-leather buggy had come from the estate of a wealthy gentleman three towns over who had been a sweet-corn king with 10 corn shops and a racing stable.

Grandfather, overcome with desire, had paid $3 for the buggy, whereas he usually skipped anything over 50 cents. It was, of course, a magnificent buggy with rubber tires, special springs, patent-leather cushions and dashboard, extra footsteps, and filigreed whip socket.

My grandfather was never an elegant traveler, and when he took a crate of eggs to the farmers' union he used his utility wagon, which was never in the carriage shed but was kept under the Nodhead tree ''out back.''

The patent-leather buggy brooked no bedfellow, save the wheelbarrow, which no longer had a wheel. All else was kept in the barn.

The million-dollar buggy was strictly for Decoration Day. Decoration Day was, in a way, the only holiday observed on that farm. Even on the Fourth of July, Grandfather would cultivate tomatoes. On Decoration Day, he arose at cockcrow, put on his Grand Army uniform, arranged his general chamberlain hat, and ate his eggs and ham in full military regalia.

The musket he had carried at Gettysburg was displayed on two pegs over his kitchen fireplace, but on Decoration Day he lifted it down and stood it leaning against the table beside his breakfast.

The patent-leather buggy was never really dirty. For a few years, I had the honor of washing it each Decoration Day evening, whether dirty or not, and then when we ran it in the carriage shed we covered it with a dust cloth.

I never rode in that buggy. If I chanced to be with Grandfather on Decoration Day, I would walk on ahead, by my path through the beech woods, because he always gave a ride to two comrades who lived on the road. I would arrive at the village before the horse did, which describes the horse, not me. Garibaldi and Themistocles, my grandfather's work team, were too hefty for any buggy, but by springing the ''shafters'' he could fit Pegasus between them. Pegasus was a Belgian runt, ideal for cultivating beans, raking hay, and somewhat ideal for the buggy.

Decoration Day was not at that time an occasion for drawing the megabucks number, holding bowling league picnics, fishing for the biggest pickerel, and taking the children to a golf tournament. To my grandfather, the brave men, living and dead, who fought at Gettysburg were lads he knew, and their memories were scorched deep into his vivid recollections.

The little florists' pots of geraniums that he carried into the cemetery on Decoration Day didn't need names on them; he knew who was to get each. His steps were then equal to the quick march of Noble's band when taps had echoed and it was time to move along.

Now Pegasus would get his nose bag of oats and his bag of hay and a few minutes' rest from the hitching weight that had kept him in the maple shade. It was time for Congressman Daniel J. McGillicuddy once again to repeat Lincoln's immortal words and to promise his wholehearted support for soldiers' pensions.

The ordinary people had to pay, but Grand Army comrades and their guests ate free at the Decoration Day dinner of the Woman's Relief Corps -- baked ham, baked beans, brown bread, pies, pies, pies, and pies, and things to eat. Outside the Orange Hall, because there was no room for it inside, Noble's band played dinner music -- such as ''Marching Through Georgia,'' ''Linkum's Gumboats a-Comin', '' and ''Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground.''

My grandfather and Pegasus would drop off comrades Lamb and Small at their homes along the way, after lingering farewells, so I would be back at the farm by my path in the woods long before Pegasus came doddling into the dooryard. Pegasus went to his stall, and my grandfather and I would push the buggy into the shed. The next day I would wash it, wipe it down, and help my grandfather arrange the dust cloth. Then we'd climb over the beehives, broken hoes, and assorted heirlooms, all the way from the broken wheelbarrow to the friendly kitchen with its musket leaning against the table.

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