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Jun
11

Butterfield’s birthday

Like any conscientious dog owner, when his dog took a crap on their nightly walk around the neighborhood Ned had it scooped up and deposited in the little bag he’d brought for just such an occasion before the first fly even knew the transaction had taken place. Typically he’d finish the walk clutching the bag, but because he was friendly with the neighbor whose lawn his dog had done his business on he decided instead to just pop it into their garbage can, sitting at the end of the driveway awaiting pick up the following morning, and save himself the unpleasantness associated with walking around clutching a bag of smelly dog excrement.

He lifted the lid and was greeted by a balloon.

Not any balloon but a festively colored balloon with the words Happy Birthday emblazoned on it. It floated up right into Ned’s face as if to say “Finally! Free at last!”

Ned grabbed it and felt his blood begin to boil. “What barbarian puts a balloon in the trash still inflated?” he thundered to himself. He immediately vowed never to be civil to that neighbor again. “There are rules damnit. You don’t just sing the birthday song and insist people blow out candles and cut a few pieces of cake and then just walk away!” he said aloud and glared into his neighbor’s dark window. “There are protocols to follow. Would you just wipe the cake off your mouth with Old Glory and then chuck it?”

He looked at the balloon and for the third time that day wished that he had his bugle handy. He wasn’t sure “Taps”, also known as “Butterfield’s Lullaby” or by the first line of the lyric, “Day Is Done”, was appropriate but it certainly seemed so.

In July 1862, U.S. General Daniel Butterfield and his brigade were camped at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, recuperating after the Seven Days Battles near Richmond. Dissatisfied with the standard bugle call employed by the Army to indicate to troops it was time to go to sleep Butterfield asked his brigade bugler, Private Oliver Wilcox Norton, to rework the existing bugle call used to signal the end of the day. He did and it caught on. As for the name, prior to Butterfield’s bugle call, the lights-out call was followed by three drum beats, dubbed the “Drum Taps,” then simply “Taps.” When Butterfield’s call replaced the drum beats, soldiers referred to it as “Taps” anyway.

Butterfield’s bugle call was officially known as “Extinguish Lights” in American military manuals until 1891.

Ned couldn’t bring himself to just push the plucky balloon back into the garbage can and walk away. He knew that it would be bobbing up and down in the darkness, banging against the top, rustling and frustrated, and that thought would keep him awake all night.

“Damn it… I’m going to give this balloon the respect it deserves” and with that he tied the balloon to the lid and walked home, still holding the dog poop, returning a few minutes later with his bugle and a pin.

He untied it and couldn’t help but stare into his neighbor’s house again and hope that the inhabitants therein would see what was going on. That they would see him with bugle in hand and feel remorse and emerge from their abode and do the right thing.

But they didn’t.

So Ned played “Taps” right then and there, for all the neighborhood to hear and wonder about. When he was done he took the pin in one hand and the balloon in the other. The balloon that had done its part and helped someone celebrate a special occasion. To the very best of its ability. The balloon that still tugged skyward, plenty of life and cheer still within it. It seemed to yearn for one more chorus of Happy Birthday.

Tears began to stream down Ned’s face. “Day is done. Gone the sun. From the lakes. From the sky. All is well. Safely rest” and then he popped the balloon.

It fell limply over his hand. He lifted the trash lid and gently placed it inside.

He closed the lid.

His neighbor never did figure out why Ned was mad at him.

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