Holidays

A May Day Memory

First published four years ago today. Today the memory returns. 

I have a very wonderful memory of a long-ago May Day in the 1940s. My mother and I were staying with my grandmother in Lansing, Kansas, a tiny town at the time, notable only because it was the home of the Kansas State Penetentiary, where my grandfather had been quartermaster for many years. He had suffered a stroke and my grandmother needed the help of my mother to care for him. So she and I left my father in Kansas City and settled in with my grandmother for what was to be a stay of a few months.

Life in Lansing was very different from that in the big city! I was enrolled in the elementary school and much to my amazement suddenly achieved an unfamiliar status as the most popular girl in the class, owing to my big-city resume.

I didn’t know there was anything special about May Day, but late that afternoon the doorbell rang repeatedly. When I answered, there was no one there, only a series of paper cones filled with wild flowers  which had been hung on the doorknob by anonymous admirers. I can honestly say it was one of the best days of my life.

1901 —May Day in Central Park, Maurice Prendergast.American artist 1858-1924
1901 —May Day in Central Park, Maurice Prendergast.American artist 1858-1924

The celebration of May Day seems to have been a pagan religious custom. Later secular versions included dancing around a May Pole and the leaving of May baskets, a custom that so enhanced my childhood self esteem.

6 thoughts on “A May Day Memory

  1. Thank you for sharing those great memories. It’s funny how sometimes the smallest of things leave the biggest impressions.

    I also enjoyed the painting you included. Impressionism is my favorite art period, and although technically speaking Maurice Prendergast is considered post-impressionist, it’s close enough for me.

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      1. I’m sure you’ve heard from students who fondly recall something you did as a teacher that made a difference in their lives. I still hear that about my father. What I remember about you is the way you related to your students, treating us as young adults. There was an intellectual respect you had for your students that drew the most out of us. You expanded the way I thought, the way I viewed the world I would later find that among a number of my better college professors, but I don’t remember having another experience like that in high school (or before).

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      2. What a lovely thing to hear on this beautiful spring day! As teachers, we never know what little thing we might have done or said that had a great impact—either positive or negative. Sometimes it haunts us to think that we might have unwittingly done some damage to tender sensibilities. Most people, of course, do not tell former teachers how they were affected by their teaching. I am thankful that the internet has made it possible for you to make me so happy by telling me. I admired your father greatly as did so many others. He was a marvelous administrator and a good friend.

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  2. How wonderful. That is a great memory. I remember making a maypole on the play ground in elementary school and running through it holding the ribbons. May is a glorious month. Flowers, mother’s day and my son’s birthday. Happy May Day to all.

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