Ruth Bass: Oh, say, can't you see by spring's early, bright light?

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RICHMOND — The few times we went south during the April school vacation often included having breakfast in a diner somewhere with the waitress wanting to know why the kids weren't in school. "Patriots' Day," they would answer in unison. "What's that?" she would inevitably reply.

So, they would tell her. They could have started with, "Listen my dear and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere," but at least they didn't say anything rude like, "You don't know?" Apparently, however, many outside of New England are unaware that Patriots' Day, a Massachusetts and Maine holiday, is when you and I became us. Us. A people standing at the beginnings of the road to U.S. — the United States of America.

Celebrated these days on a Monday, for the convenience of commerce and tourism, the real day commemorates April 19, 1775, when anger peaked and shots were fired in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord. That was the start of the American Revolution.

Now farmers would fire at red-coated British soldiers from behind stone walls, Paul Revere and William Dawes would gallop through the area to warn that war was on, that people were rebelling. Tea party had meant ladies pouring a hot drink, but now stood for dumping boxes of tea into Boston Harbor to protest taxes. It was when the death of a few citizens was given a crowd-rousing title of the Boston Massacre, when lanterns in a Boston church signaled that the Brits were coming. Within months, it would involve victories and defeats, starved and frozen soldiers at Valley Forge and hundreds of future Americans taking arms to — whether they knew it or not — create a new country.

Commemorated forever in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ("Hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year"), the holiday now means days off for some workers and closing of all public schools in this state. It means shopping and a three-day weekend but also celebrates more of a start for spring than the vernal equinox in March. Bikes and daffodils come out, the peas go in, and the eco-conscious decide to hang the laundry outside.

It's also been embellished by great side events. In 1897, shortly after the day received its official status (1894), the Boston Marathon had its first run and has been going ever since, a race named after a battle for liberty in ancient Greece. Skilled runners from all over the world dream of qualifying for a coveted number in Boston's race, and hundreds will fill the route and TV screens across the commonwealth once again today.

Football took on the patriot word in Massachusetts, but it's the Boston Red Sox that star today. As Jerry Remy remarked the other night, only the Red Sox would have a four-day weekend of games with four different starting times. Today, the first pitch goes at 11 a.m., and fans are likely to emerge from Fenway in time to see the late runners pushing through Kenmore Square. Years back, the race started later and reached Fenway about the time the game was ending.

Like any athletic event, the Boston Marathon has had its exultation and its despair. In 1980, we came down from Yawkey Place in time to see the best runners come in. The applause intensified as Canadian Jacqueline Gareau went by, and people were heard to say, "First woman in, right?" Yes, but it took awhile for her to get the nod. Rosie Ruiz had sneaked in and eventually took her place in history as a woman who crashed the marathon by popping into the field for only the last part of the race.

The worst, of course, was four years ago when two brothers planted bombs near the finish line, killing and injuring many. And Boston, in Patriots' Day style, proved heroic in the awful moments after the blast and added special honor to the day ever since. As spring springs, it's a day to remember how strong the state's roots are.

Ruth Bass has raised a new flag in Richmond. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.

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