Thursday, May 1, 2014

A most memorable May Day memory

Happy May Day, Comrades.
I imagine all of us who have reached a certain age remember seeing those scary news photos of the annual May Day parades that used to take place in Moscow and other cities in the Eastern Bloc. In many countries, May Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist and anarchist groups.  It has been an important official holiday in countries such as the People's Republic of China, North Korea, Cuba and the former Soviet Union. May Day celebrations typically featured elaborate military parades in these countries, with giant tanks, huge missiles on trailers, and rows and rows of stern-looking soldiers.
But in many other parts of the world, the first Day of May simply celebrates the first days of spring, like in Germany, where it coincides with the annual spring festival called Walpurgisnacht.  Most of my thoughts of the day are quite happy ones. And even that one year when my little world nearly came crashing down around my ears is now a memory I can look back at with something resembling humor.
Sort of.
The May Day of my youth was celebrated with May Baskets, which were small, usually handmade vessels made of straw or paper and filled with flowers, sweets or both. We would laboriously craft them with construction paper, pipe cleaners, crayons and white school paste, then place them at a friend's door while shouting "May Basket" and running away. The running part was most necessary, indeed, as the recipient of the basket was supposed to chase you.
And if they caught you, they were suppose to kiss you, which was, of course, a fate worse than death when I was ten years old.
So, since very few of us actually wanted to either kiss or be kissed, it all quickly evolved into a pretty well-planned affair. If you were the recipient of a basket, you might sort of explode out of the door so as to make the first few yards of the chase kind of interesting. But chasers in the know knew enough to pace themselves just right so that the deliverer would make it to their mom or dad's car just in time to avoid any gooey physical contact whatsoever. Likewise, if you were the one running away, you knew that you were protected under the same unspoken agreement if you just maintained a reasonable jog on your way to the safety of the family Ford.
One year, I was sidelined by a sprained ankle suffered in a fall incurred during an illicit visit to a mile-high treehouse built by my older brother and his buddies. So I was forced to sit on the porch in the same rocking chair I used while watching the Grampa Happy cartoon show on Channel Four. The May Baskets were a mite hard to come by that year, as most of my friends took one look at me sitting on the porch and feared I had lost my mind and actually wanted to catch and kiss them.  Finally, my mother took pity on my plight and lettered a sign that she put on the top step.
"HE CAN'T RUN," it said, which was just enough to convince at least some of my more daring friends to leave a basket.
I finally met my most memorable May Day one year when Linda Sue came to call. Now, Linda Sue's name wasn't actually Linda Sue, though I'm betting quite a number of my grade school classmates can figure out her true identity without much trouble. She was a nice girl, and pretty good looking, to boot, though I could have cared less about that kind of nonsense when I was in the fourth grade. The problem wasn't with Linda Sue at all.
It was her dad.
Unlike most of our parents, who were a generally dour, no-nonsense bunch, Linda Sue's father actually had a sense of humor.
Or, at least he thought he did.
This, of course, would have normally had no bearing on me, as kids and adults rarely interacted in those days except when absolutely required, like in school, Cub Scouts, church and little league baseball. I don't know what drove Linda Sue's dad to do what he did on that fateful day. All I can do is tell the startling story.
After Linda Sue dropped off her goodies and shouted "May Basket," she played strictly by the rules and scampered towards her dad's waiting car. I burst out the door, then settled into a slow, steady lope that would give her plenty of time to reach the vehicle and hop in right before I caught her and planted a big, wet one on her, an unheard of occurrence that was just about a likely as me literally jumping over the moon. All was going exactly according to plan and the time-honored rules of the game right until the moment Linda Sue reached the car and grabbed the handle that opened the right front passenger door.
She tried again.
Nothing again.
Yes, the cruel fiend had locked the car doors.
What happened next remains sort of hazy some fifty or so years later. I remember seeing the shocked look on Linda Sue's face. I remember watching her dad laugh as she struggled with the door. The rest is still kind of a blur, though I know if I had actually kissed the winsome Linda Sue, I'd remember it still.
"You looked like you were going to faint," said my brother, who was watching from the window.
"I thought Linda Sue was going to throw up," he added.
It's many, many years later now, and I'm thinking that perhaps the old May Day holiday deserves to be resurrected. We have plenty of crayons and I've got a stack of construction paper somewhere. There ought to still be some Easter candy on sale, plus, I'm sure white paste glue and pipe cleaners are still available somewhere in my hometown. So maybe, just maybe you'll see my grandsons and me making the rounds later on today.
They know how to run, that's for sure.
And I absolutely, positively promise I won't lock the car doors.
After all, I do have a sense of humor.

1 comment:

  1. John - great column. I remember May baskets. It's interesting how certain communitites did and didn't do this. When I went to work in Elmhurst, they had never heard of this custom. Guess we small towners just like kissing! So kisses to all the Sloans. And may your baskets be filled with M&Ms.