Bad Memorial Day

Photo: © Stefan Hengst. All rights reserved.

It’s Memorial Day and we are not going to our grandparents’ or to a parade because we’re supposed to have a picnic. But our mothers’ boyfriends and their wolf pack of growly friends drive up, wearing shirts with palm trees and pineapples on them. One of them carries a big box of records, and they’re all smoking marijuana cigarettes. They aim the speakers at the backyard and play, “The harder they come, the harder they fall.” Our mothers didn’t tell us this was going to happen. This was not the plan. The boyfriends don’t even hide their marijuana, they don’t even pretend to like us.

Beverly Donofrio reads “Bad Memorial Day” at Cagibi’s Fall 2018 Hudson Valley Retreat

We kids have our own pack. We run out of the house, and Kitty and I try to pop wheelies down the hill by the hockey rink and the younger kids throw pebbles in the road. Then Kitty wants to make a play to show our mothers, about a Martian family that’s vegetarian and eats grass. So we all run to the field to pull up grass and weeds, but then Sylvia, Kitty’s little sister, bites off a daisy and starts to chew. “It’s poison!” Kitty screams. “Spit it out!” Sylvia obeys by spitting a glob at Kitty, then she spins like a top, falling and twirling, twirling and falling.

We hate it when Sylvia acts crazy. But we hate it more when our mothers do. So, guess what they’re doing back at the house? The guys are gone because our mothers probably picked a fight with them, and now our mothers are lying on blankets in the backyard, drinking wine straight out of the bottles, which we are never allowed to do with milk. They’re sitting up and falling down, giggling like they’re being tickled. But they’re not.

What were they thinking?

There was something off about our mothers that day—in a desperate frenzy of fun, as though a switch had flipped, sending a carousel into warp speed, horses flying.

I look at Kitty and Kitty looks at me and we’re both thinking the same thing: We have to save Memorial Day. “You said we could play softball.” We stand at the edge of their blankets. “You promised.”

The mothers don’t make excuses or start a fight. So we all pitch in carrying bats and baseballs, getting the sunblock and hats for everybody, and a big bag of potato chips. One mother pulls a wagon with paper plates for bases, a bottle of water, a big bottle of orange soda, and bottles of wine that roll into each other and I wish would break. Then instead of choosing sides, one mother says, “I don’t want to hear the whining and the fighting and Boohoo, it’s not fair. We’re playing mothers against kids.”

We don’t even get a vote. And at first the mothers are extra nice; they let the little kids swing till they get a hit. They pretend to miss catches. They run like they’re stuck in quicksand and never tag anyone out. But that doesn’t last very long. Pretty soon one of them whacks the ball instead of tapping it. They laugh at the little ones chasing the ball forever, they laugh when one of us has a tantrum and throws the bat.

What were they thinking?

Back at the house we’re starving. “Where are the hamburgers, where are the hot dogs?” My mother cooks a package of hot dogs on the stove and hands them to us in buns without plates. When I say, “We need catsup,” she says, “You know where it is.”

The mothers never fire up the grill, they never eat a single hot dog. They’re all outside on the blanket while in the kitchen we squirt catsup at each other. We don’t even want to go outside because the mothers are shouting like they’re having a fight. But they’re not.

But we yell from the porch, “You promised. We want toasted marshmallows. You promised.”

My mother stomps into the house, pulls the marshmallow bag from the top of the fridge and hands it to me. We kids gather wood and make a fire in the pit. Kitty and I help the little kids. We collect pointy sticks and count out the marshmallows evenly. We eat every one of them, our fingers sticky and caked with ash, our faces gooey magnets for dirt.

We’ve stopped paying attention to our mothers, and then we hear them singing in the bathroom. We try to go in, but the door is locked. We knock, we shake the door, we pound, we kick it, “Let us in!”

They answer, “Go away. Get lost.” One of them says, “Go play in traffic,” which makes them laugh like hyenas.

What were they thinking?

We don’t get sad, we get mad, and we see an opportunity. Everybody runs home for their squirt guns. I climb on a chair and get mine from the top shelf of the closet. And then we fill them with wine. There are no sides. Everybody’s the enemy. We’re all targets, we’re cowboys shooting from horses, we’re Jews running from Nazis, we run through every room, we run in the yard and down the middle of the road. We shoot at windows, the road, the sky, the bushes, the trees. We even get my cat, Squeaky. Then back at the house again, we hear the mothers still singing, and we want to get them, we want to get them good.

We sneak round the back and spy through the window. Three mothers are in the tub, one’s sitting on the toilet and another’s on the floor, all singing, “I am on a lonely road, looking for something, what can it be…”

We shush each other and tiptoe to the front of the house. We make a huddle, we make a plan. We’re in it together.

We kids sneak back quiet as Injuns, then Kitty and I help one of the others up onto our knees. Quick, we lift up the window, he turns the shower knob, and blasts them with water. We soak our mothers to the skin.

They scream but they don’t yell at us and we aren’t punished, not even when they see the house stained purple with wine. Maybe they think they deserve the big mess. The next day, they have hangovers. We don’t.


by Beverly Donofrio


Bevery Donofrio.jpg
Beverly Donofrio is the bestselling author of three memoirs, Astonished, Looking for Mary, and Riding in Cars with Boys; three children’s books; and many personal stories, in print, online, on NPR and PBS. She has appeared at the Moth, and teaches the art of memoir writing around the country.




About the Artwork

The accompanying artwork is by contributor Stefan Hengst.

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