Friday, May 1, 2009

Mayday. Humph.

Everyone knows that the most important day in May isn’t May Day, or Mother’s Day or even Queen Mother’s Day (which is what my mom makes us call her birthday). Noooo…. The most important day in May is the first Saturday, otherwise known as Derby Day. The Kentucky Derby is the bluegrass version of Cinco de Mayo, the main difference being the hats. I know because I grew up in Kentucky.

Mine was a quaint childhood, filled with hoopskirts and plantations.

Then I grew up and joined the Army.

The night I left my old Kentucky home for basic training I was a little nervous. In the seat next to me was another Kentucky girl. She was nervous too. I know because she told me, over and over, as she continued talking, non-stop, the entire flight. She was nervous and excited to be leaving her small hometown for bigger and better things. At one point she paused and said to me “Sorry about my hair….I had a little accident with the stove last week.” Sure enough one side was quite singed. (Let me tell you, there is no way in the world my mother would have let me leave for the army with my hair looking like that. Poor girl.)

My father was in the Army and at one point in his career had been a drill sergeant. He used to tell us bedtime stories about the many ways there were to humiliate trainees so I had a pretty good idea what was waiting for me at Fort Dix, and one thing I knew for sure was being associated with Chatty Cathy and her bad hair could only lead to trouble.

I was relieved when we were not assigned to the same platoon, we were however in the same company so I did see her from time to time (A battalion of soldiers is made up of smaller groups called companies, companies are then divided into platoons, got it?), though not really socially, because, contrary to popular belief, you don’t really have much down time in basic training.  It’s pretty much the same thing day in, day out. Early to rise, get screamed at and belittled all day, fall asleep before your head hits the pillow. After a while I didn’t care what day of the week it was. It didn’t matter anyway.

One morning as I was trying to get my breakfast in the mess hall without making eye contact with anyone (invisibility is the key to survival in Basic Training) I heard a loud southern voice proclaim “Happy Derby Day!!!” Time seemed to stand still. It was like that scene in Frosty the Snowman when Frosty shouts “Happy Birthday!” and everyone is confused because it's not anyone's birthday.  I looked up and there was my old pal with the singed bangs. Everyone was staring, my drill sergeants were looking at us, all that time I had spent perfecting my under the radar status vanished in an instant, we were the center of attention. (To be fair, so few interesting things happen in basic training that it doesn't take much for all eyes to be on you.)  I wanted to die!! “Huh?” I practically whispered. She just grinned “Did you forget? Today’s the Kentucky Derby!”

Um, yeah, I had been so preoccupied trying to live through the daily brutal assault to my self-esteem that I had forgotten all about a horse race. What had I become?

But so help me Stephen Foster that has never happened again.

Tomorrow morning my brother will call me and say “You pick a horse yet? You want me to call my guy?” Like he’s some goombah from New Jersey instead of a Mormon from Arizona who makes one $5.00 bet a year (unless of course he’s going for a trifecta, then he might bump it up to $10.00). I’ll probably read a little about the horses and then I’ll turn on the TV 10 minutes before race time. I’ll get all choked up for the winning jockey and his supportive family, then I’ll get back to my ironing.

It's important to remember your heritage.


Alexis said...

Your post makes me wish I had done basic training...oh wait, I mean glad I never had to do basic training.

My family, being mostly from Maryland, find the Preakness to be the big race for which they need to be able to watch. We used to take a trip every year and it always fell on the weekend the Preakness was held so we would have to find a bar to watch the race. I remember in 2002 being in Princeton in this cool little pub and watching War Emblem and being so excited that I actually made your granny and your mom and Jim watch the Belmont when we were in Indiana the next month. I remember being very saddened at his loss.

But I could always care less about the Kentucky Derby.

Homer and Queen said...

My family...football yes, Derby...not so much. Army? Seriously?

Heidi Ashworth said...

This is my fave post of yours I have ever read and not only because I know exactly what you mean by "Stephen Foster". I totally forgot that it is May Day. When I was a kid we would leave a baskets full of flowers and penny candy on the neighbors doorsteps early in the morning. Happy memories!

The Crash Test Dummy said...

HAPPY DERBY DAY! And happy May Day. That's big time in Hawaii. And happy Lei Day too.

I had no idea you did the military! WOWie!

I enjoyed this post.

Todd said...

Happy Derby Day soldier.

Karen said...

I love this post too! You are such a good writer! And you must be SO STRONG after going through all of that army stuff! And you're so refined to even know about the big hat race! You're so brilliant to remember your heritage!

There. Have I reversed any of the long lasting effects of your days in the army? I hate that they belittle you ~ you're awesome.

Banteringblonde said...

This is a great post - it made me laugh because I didn't ever get the big deal until I lived in the south!