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May Day surprises

Grape hyacinths are a May Day bouquet choice. Photo by Leeanne Seaver.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

When we were in early elementary school, my friends and I sat cross-legged, watching the sixth graders sing and wrap ribbons around a makeshift pole in the tiny Fulton Elementary School gymnasium. Our patient music teacher, Mrs. Morley, played some brisk, cheerful numbers on an old upright piano, and smiling, ponytailed girls and embarrassed, blushing boys ducked and wrapped and circled in time to the music, singing their springtime song.

It was the first time I had heard of a Maypole, and we were mesmerized by the spectacle of this May Day Drama. It seemed so intricate — the boys circling one way, the girls the other. And how I loved the ribbons—long and many colored.

At our house, ribbons were special. I had two satin ribbons — white and pink — carefully tucked in my dresser drawer, that my mother tied in my hair for church or holidays.

I loved the sight of those endless May Day ribbons — oh, to be old enough to join in this dance!

I had no idea this tradition existed: May Day to me was all about flowers and “surprising” my mother and grandmothers with little May Day bouquets.

Perched like a queen on top of the hill, my paternal grandmother lived within sight of my bedroom window. I loved walking to her house — quail hid in tall grass at the end of her driveway, a pussy willow bush awaited the pinch of my fingers, and gravel crunched delightfully under my shoes. Up her driveway was the only place I was allowed to walk alone, and my grandma’s smile — and sometimes a raspberry-filled Archway cookie — waited.

My maternal grandmother moved to a home around the corner from our farm after my grandfather died. By the time she moved, I was old enough to ride a bike over to see her and to drop off the customary nosegay. This grandmother kept us busy with crafts, made homemade bread and jam, and often tucked money in our pocket.

What a childhood we had!

Flowers can be scarce in Michigan on May 1st — some years we have heavy snows the first and even second weeks of April, and frosts can nip tender flowers or cold weather can even delay buds. Some years it was a challenge to gather enough blooms. My tiny bouquets were mostly wild purple violets, perhaps crabapple tree blossoms, sometimes sweet lily-of-the-valley, and, of course, brilliant yellow dandelions, which quickly wilted in my hands.

My brothers were never interested in leaving flowers on our grandmas’ doorsteps, knocking sharply, and running to hide behind a nearby tree. If it had involved rigging water-balloons above their doorways, they would have been all in! But I enjoyed it and remember our grandmothers exclaiming “My, what a surprise!” and my excitement and pleasure.

When they were young, our children carried on this tradition and delivered a few little bouquets around our neighborhood, and our grandchildren enjoyed presenting me with a bright yellow bouquet.

Oh, how I love a dandelion bouquet collected by sweet little hands! Don’t you?

It’s a Fine Life.

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