I can’t wait till Wednesday. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. Here’s why:
I was in third grade on March 4, 1960. Thank God it was Friday. I and my 49 classmates were a little sleepy, probably from staying up late studying for the big English test. Would we be able to tell an intransitive verb from a transitive one when the chips were down? Let alone knowing when a participle is dangling? Tension was in the air.
But Sister Peter Marie, one of my favorite teachers and an all-star nun dodgeball player, always seemed to have something up her long, black habit sleeves to put us at ease.
On this day, even she looked stressed out.
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“Does anyone know what day it is today?” she asked, uncharacteristically deadpan.
Hands shot up.
“The last day of school this week?”
“No English test day?” Wise guy.
“54 days till my birthday.” That was me.
“No, class,” Sister said. “What is today’s date?”
We answered in unison: March Fourth.
And that’s just what she did.
Standing up straight, rigid as a toy soldier, she high-step-marched all the way around the classroom. It took us a few seconds — march forth, get it? — but we thought it was hilarious. A couple of kids even joined in the march.
Then it was back to third-grade business. And a stern warning not to tell any of the second-graders what just happened. Apparently, this was Sister’s shtick every March 4, so she didn’t want us spoiling the fun for years to come.
I thought Sister was a genius. That no one else had ever thought of this before. So I filed it away in my memory bank and I’ve been using it one way or another every March 4th since. (OK, except for five or six times when I forgot about it until the date was passed. No wonder my wife hides all the calendars at this time of year.)
I tried it at home. My sister, who was in Sister Peter Marie’s class before me, was wise to it. Some of my bothers spoiled it by saying “the fourth of March.” Another brother had no clue what date it was. Mom didn’t get it at all.
I got the whole class to try it with our sixth-grade teacher, a rare guy teacher, who was new at the school. It was great. When he said March 4th, the whole class (minus a couple of goody-two-shoes) got up out of their desks and marched toward Mr. Harrigan. He was mildly amused, but the class loved it. I was surprised some of my grades weren’t higher that year. ...
High school met with mixed success. Father Hurkes gave us one of his patented over-the-glasses looks. Father Svobodny got a kick out of it. My college roommate thought it was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard of. I tried it on the copy desk in Corpus Christi. And countless times on my sons. “Geez, Dad. That was funny when you were a kid?”
Turns out, after looking at the Internet (warning: dangling participle here), the entire world is in on the joke.
There is even a MarchFourth Marching Band (M4 to its fans). It began as a Fat Tuesday party in Portland, Ore., on March 4, 2003, and has morphed into one of the nation’s top live touring acts year-round.
Now, that’s a March 4th party that got out of hand.
Lots of important stuff has happened on March 4. (What good is a column if you can’t learn some good trivia from it?)
In 1789, the first Congress of the United States met in New York City, putting the U.S. Constitution into effect.
In 1791, Vermont became the 14th state. Welcome, Vermont.
In 1837, the city of Chicago was incorporated. Good news for Cubs fans.
March 4 was a big day for female firsts: 1917, Jeannette Rankin, of Montana, became the first female member of the U.S. House of Representatives; 1933, Frances Perkins became U.S. Secretary of Labor, the first female Cabinet member.
Proud to be born on March 4: Casimir Pulaski (1745), the Polish American general, who is responsible for me getting out of school for his day each year; legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne (1888), destined to win one for the Gipper; actress Patricia Heaton (1958), who made “Everybody Loves Raymond” a lot funnier; and Chaz Bono (born Chastity Sun Bono to Sonny and Cher in 1969), who is now a guy.
That’s a lot to think about on March 4. But just remember, if someone somewhere comes up to you on Wednesday when you least expect it and says “What day is it?”, smile and say “March Fourth.” Just don’t tell the second-graders.