It is May first, and I sit here wondering when I stopped giving and getting May baskets. Is there such a thing anymore? I’d need to ask around. In Enid Oklahoma it was May Day, and it was a big celebration that took much preparation.
In grade schools, as we called them then, children spent days cutting out strips of pastel-colored construction paper and wove them carefully into square baskets with the guidance of the teacher. The last longer strip was carefully glued to each side to form a handle. White paste clung to tiny fingers as they held the pieces tightly as they dried. After the baskets were filled with hand-written folded notes of Happy May Day and good wishes, the children added candies or flower petals and carried them home. The baskets were carefully placed on door steps of neighbors or relatives or mothers. Leaning in to knock on the door, the children then jumped quickly from the porch and into the bushes or across the street and waited for the surprised recipient to exclaim over the basket and look from left to right trying to discover who had honored them with this gift of May.
The sixth grade girls had spent the day learning the basics of winding a May Pole. Long pastel colored streamers hung from the tall pole and each girl grabbed a ribbon and began the dance of weaving in and out and around and under creating the perfect design. You could hear the teachers instructing and occasionally yelling to “halt” when a mistake had been made. Then the music would start again and the weaving commenced until there was no more ribbon left to wind.
Across town, the high school was preparing as well. Ballots were counted and the announcement was made of May Fete King and Queen and their runners-up Court. Girls raced home to wash their hair and roll it in orange juice cans to dry under the plastic hoods of home hair dryers. Fingernails were lacquered and strips of black fake eyelashes were glued along liquid eye-lined lids. Ankle length dresses of organza, lace, satin and tulle erupted from clothes hangers on the backs of bedroom doors and a dozen net petticoats lined the walls on hooks or nails waiting to fill the dresses like air into a circle of four or five feet. In a few hours we would look like birthday cake dolls stuck deep into the center of layers and layers of frosting. Our satin heels had been dyed the exact shade of our dress and the lapel boutonniere for our date sat in the refrigerator all dewy and fresh. It would be matched to our wristlet floral corsage a few hours later.
Somehow Spring Lake Parkhad been transformed into a wonder land of lights and roses and our parents sat in rows of folding chairs as we lined up in pairs to enter. The Rose Garden was in full bloom with yellows, white, reds and pinks and their aroma wafted in the air. Fire flies lit an early sky and the orchestra began to play. And in that magic we followed the May Fete Court as we floated along the side-walk around the lake, up and over the man-made water fall, and back full-circle. The chosen May Pole dancers twirled around three tall metal poles intertwining the multi-colored ribbons into things of beauty.
I wonder now, fifty years later, how much I accurately remember because as a teen we see through a gauze-like veil and everything is muted by innocence and rose-colored glasses and high school love. Ahh – to have some of that back. To see the world like Alicewhen she was very very small.
Years later I would notice what a small patch of ground the rose garden covered. And the lake seemed man-made and artificial and the water-fall seemed miniscule as well. But once a year in high school, we created May Fete and we left the park and pushed and shoved and squeezed our yards and yards of tulle into car seats and danced in the dark gymnasium and held hands at the punch bowl and kissed good night on the porch steps.
It was May Day, 1963, in Enid Oklahoma. I wonder if it is still celebrated today. I wonder if it was just a local tradition. I wonder if it was a national celebration. I wonder who my date was that year….