Memorial Day was one of those American holidays I had heard of but really knew nothing about. I knew it vaguely marked the beginning of Summer and that was it, the sum total of my knowledge. It turns out that it echos Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day in Britain, a time for the nation to pause and remember the dead of their wars. I guess I did not twig that because it is marked in May rather than in November. I am culturally hard-wired to associate such commemorations with slate grey skies, sombre colours and drizzling rain. Originally called Decoration Day, the traditions of the holiday apparently emerged during the Civil War with family visiting war graves and memorials to remember their lost loved ones and gradually evolved into a three day weekend that has been co-opted to somehow celebrate the beginning of summer at the same time as being a solemn reflection. That is quite an odd combination.
Memorial Day happened to fall this year on the youngest Pict’s fifth birthday so we were obviously celebrating and being festive. We, therefore, did not attend any parades or commemoration services as the juxtaposition would have been confusing and possibly a bit distasteful.
Our celebration of the mini-Pict turning five began on Sunday with a trip to Elmwood Park Zoo, an animal park not too far from home base. Our first stop was to see the eagles. The boys have seen eagles in flight but it was good for them to see the scale, the bulk and power, of these birds close up. They were also amused to see one eagle walking in a way I can only describe as a gawky sashay – definitely much less graceful than when in flight. Then we went to see some “snowbird” giraffes who live in Florida but some to Pennsylvania in the summer. Does Florida really get too uncomfortably hot for African mammals in the summer? A viewing platform allowed us to get pretty close to the giraffes. The kids enjoyed seeing one perform the splits in order to drink and to get close enough to its head to see it’s long purple-blue tongue.
We saw a snoozing fox, lazing bighorn sheep, dozing wolves and – right at the very back of its enclosure – a slumbering cougar that rolled over from its back to its belly just like a moggy cat. Clearly it was a tad hot for the animals as many more – such as the bobcats – were completely idle. I guess I too would probably be prone to laziness if I was cooped up on a baking hot day.
The indoor animals were, therefore, much more active. The boys loved seeing the alligator roaming around in its tank. She had her snout pressed against the glass for a while and when she clambered out of the water they were able to see her impressive claws and powerful legs. There were also lots of writhing snakes and swimming turtles. One enclosure housed some iguanas, a funky South American porcupine and a pair of Golden Lion Tamarins. My oldest son found the latter to be captivating and swiftly became engrossed in watching them groom each other. I have to agree that they do have such gorgeous little faces.
The boys fed sheep and goats in the petting barn, watched bison urinate in impressive quantities, stared burrowing owls in the eye, watched some capybara faeces give new meaning to the game of “Pooh sticks”, witnessed a jaguar being spoon fed, watched one turtle hustle another off a rock and felt the pelt of a coyote. They also had a blast playing in the playgrounds around the park. All in all it was a fun day out, relaxing and laid back.
Memorial Day itself was the birthday – his fifth birthday but his first ever birthday in America. This was the first year when the littlest one has had mounting excitement and anticipation building to a head of steam in advance of his birthday. In a victory for his numeracy skills, he had been counting down the sleeps until his birthday. He was almost combusting, therefore, when I woke up and saw all of his presents and cards on the coffee table. He was over the moon with each card he opened and with each gift he unwrapped.
We then went for a play in the school playground.
Then, because it was a glorious scorcher of a day, we had a barbecue for dinner – or “barbecube” as the now five year old calls it.
And, of course, special cake for dessert.
And so a great long weekend of family fun was enjoyed by one and all.
And now only one Pict has yet to experience a birthday in America.