May 30th was promoted by John A. Logan, a commander in chief and member of The Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans in 1868. Other military figures and states have declared responsibility for decorating the graves of fallen soldiers and being the birthplace of the holiday prior to Logan. Waterloo, New York is cited as the birthplace of the observance two years earlier. Federal law didn’t establish the last Monday in the month of May as Memorial Day until 1971. Now an official holiday to commemorate all those who fought and died for our nation.
As an angsty rebellious teenager my idea of Memorial Day was different. I didn’t have the gratitude that I have now for those who serve America in the armed forces. While I have many regrets in life, I know people say you shouldn’t have regret but I do, and not enlisting is one. My Dad and my Grandpa both served in the U. S. Navy, and I almost enlisted twice but both times I was deterred by work and family. When the pandemic popped off I looked into the Navy Reserve and just missed the age cut off, I’m old plus I have too many kids. They want a sailor with no dependents. In hindsight I should have enlisted right out of high school, but what’s done is done.
I’m from the Whitestone-Flushing section of Queens, NY and I spent a great deal of my formative years at Memorial Park, or Memorial Field of Flushing proper. Memorial Day wasn’t just honoring and remembering, it was also a celebration of the park itself, our park and our friends.
I couldn’t wait for Memorial Day to arrive. I would link with Drew and we’d head to the park early. I couldn’t wait to see all of our friends and hang out. We would purchase our red solo cups from LOOT, and begin filling it with foamy domestic beer from the kegs hidden behind the handball court. The wall itself was an integral part of the keg party, it provided cover from the street but it was also an illegal sign in sheet. I was eager to see who tagged the courts the night before and what attendees would write on it throughout the day, and eventually it was us vandalizing the wall as well.
The MPB keg parties were the best. It was beers and burgers. Handball games and black books. Conversations and laughs. But with all that brotherly love comes complications. Alcohol and ego can be a firestorm. The 90s were an incendiary era. Violence was another component of park/crew life. Fights were unavoidable. We were a territorial lot who maybe took offense to some guest, some friend of a friend who behaved out of pocket, and honestly it didn’t take much. It could be a one on one or a massive brawl. It happened less as we got older but I think we kept the party contained, the invitation wasn’t as open, just crew.
The police were another problem, but then again they were always a problem. Does it even need to be noted that we never had permits for the party and a good portion of the kids at the earlier jams were underage. The last keg party thrown at Memorial on Memorial Day was in early 2000s.
Jeff Capp took the reins and orchestrated the MPB kegs on an arbitrary day during the summer at Eisenhower Park, in Westbury. Those parties were great, but the park was always missing, and after a good run, when the attendance became problematic, the party was over. Everyone is older, live in different places and have families and careers, and it becomes increasingly difficult to get us all in the same place.
Today is more than just a barbecue, it’s about celebrating all the people who sacrificed everything for all the things we take for granted on a regular basis. I’ll salute the flag and raise a beer to the fallen and say, thank you.
And to my friends, who I have nothing but love and respect for, we collectively have experienced a great deal of loss over the last few years. I’ll raise a beer to our fallen as well. Maybe we should bring the kegs out of retirement and take it back to the park next year, for old time’s sake.