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.

April showers

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

It is true that “April showers bring May flowers.” How we all look forward to those early daffodils, crocuses, and tulips. Their hopeful, fragile tips are stretching and surfacing in our gardens.

And our moods are lifted by the eventual sight of flowering shrubs and trees decorating yards, wildflowers adorning area roads, and dogwoods brightening edges of Michigan woods.
But when you live on a farm, April showers bring mud.

Mud on boots. Mud tracked into the house. Mud up the back steps. Mud clinging to clothes. Mud in the barnyards.

Everywhere mud, mud, mud!

In the late 1960s, our 4th grade class took a field trip to the “Conserv-A-Rama,” a program for elementary-aged kids where we learned about the water cycle and soil erosion. Mr. Dick Bailey offered hands on activities, demonstrating these interesting ideas at the Kellogg Biological Station.

When we returned home, my brothers and I applied these concepts as we played in the mud around the barns, digging tiny trenches to connect the various puddles, watching water run from one miniature pond to another, imaging the eventual emptying into the sea.

We relished mud: the slurping of our boots as we trudged and explored; our boot prints filling with water behind us; our experimental handprints; the mud pies and cakes slapped and shaped in whatever container we could find; and our happy presentation of the sloppy creations to one another.

“Here you go! It’s delicious!” or “Happy birthday, brother! I baked this for you!”

At the end of the day, we were incredibly dirty and satisfied with our unsupervised adventures. After those April showers and our uninterrupted play, our mother met as at the back door, firmly directing us to remove our boots and outer layers.

Eventually, our parents included a “mudroom” when they renovated our farmhouse. After we children had been outside, or our dad came in from his farm work and chores, we each had spots to hang our coats and place our boots. This sure was a wise and practical addition.

After raising three children—and operating a daycare when our children were young – a mudroom would have been wonderful. Like most tri-levels built in the 1960s, after outside play, our children stepped into our kitchen, where I was usually busy with meal preparation. Our little ones kicked off their boots, their little faces grimy and full of joy.

Mudrooms are still popular today. These spaces are showcased in design magazines, and you can find pictures of them on home renovation websites.

I hope children who live in these featured homes in the glossy magazines get good and muddy.

I hope they need and use a mudroom!

There are things I miss about living on the farm: the quietness of the evenings and the sunrise over the fields. I miss the planting and harvesting traditions and living so close to the land.

And sometimes, yes, I even miss the mud.

It’s a Fine Life.

Getting away

The shade of these old trees was one of my getaway places.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Everyone needs some space – a reprieve from the people or routines that fill our days.

When I was a child, I regularly sought time apart from my four little brothers. These were simple places: the coolness of the barn, the branches of the old maple, a favorite rock at the side of a field – all free and readily available to me. Once there, it didn’t take me long to regain an appropriate attitude and some degree of affection for my ever-present family. But I found such time necessary and still do.

My classroom of friends at Fulton Elementary School never spoke of vacations or spring break trips. Most of these children also lived on farms – or at least lived rurally with some chickens and pigs. Our livelihood depended on the careful monitoring, feeding, and watering of our livestock and the timely preparation of the land for spring planting. If my friends did take any trips, it was probably to spend time with grandparents or cousins.

But when I was in 5th grade, my parents planned a spring break trip to the Smoky Mountains. It was to involve lots of riding in the station wagon and overnight stays in motels with indoor swimming pools. We were so excited we could hardly sleep. The morning of our departure, we were loaded in the old Mercury – with a rumble seat in the back; our new comic books tucked beside us, and my mother’s tote bag filled with snacks and other tricks to distract us.

My brother Steve made one last run into the house to retrieve his pillow, fell from the top bunk, and broke his wrist badly, ending our trip before it even began. It took several months for 11-year-old-me to forgive him, and even then, it was with attitude only a big-bossy-sister can bestow.

When our youngest was five, our kids avoided injury, and we took our children to the Great Smoky Mountains and Mammoth Cave National Parks. We visited and toured both places and enjoyed the gorgeous mountain views from a condo we rented. This was our first – and only – official vacation besides our annual cabin visit in July. The time away and together was fantastic.

On our way home, we asked our three tired travelers their favorite part of the trip. As the children discussed their ideas, I recalled the beautiful wildlife in the Smoky Mountains, the purple and lavender sunrises from our condo’s balcony, the stalactites and stalagmites in the depths of the cave. There were so many moments to choose from.

Our oldest daughter piped up, “The best part was riding the go-carts!” to which her younger siblings enthusiastically and unanimously agreed, “Yeah, that was the best!”

My husband and I looked at each other and laughed! We didn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to ride go-carts and play miniature golf!

This one spring break adventure with our own children reinforced what my husband and I already knew: it doesn’t have to be a big expenditure or expensive travel to satisfy the need for a vacation and some much-needed time away. It can be as simple as pitching a tent in the backyard for an evening around a fire beneath the stars; turning off our electronics and playing old-fashioned board games with our children or grandchildren; or spending the afternoon in the hammock lost in books.

It’s a Fine Life.