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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Let’s Go a-Maying…

There’s not a budding boy or girl this day

But is got up and gone to bring in May.

From “Corinna’s going a-Maying

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

 Spring Hay

May First, May Day in the Tualco Valley. If poet Herrick and his sweet Corinna could fast forward to the Valley today, they would be in for quite a drenching. It’s like the weather gods have confused April First with this day a month later-- as if there were such a thing as a May First joke.

Around noon the clouds thin just enough for Gladys and me slosh around the Tualco Loop with the top down. (Gladys’s top is always down,of course.) The outing will be my only exercise this May Day as the tradition of prancing around a decorated pole is nearly a defunct ritual in these enlightened times—certainly is here in the Valley. I believe the May Pole celebration is more a European and British tradition than ‘tis stateside. The faux Bavarian town of Leavenworth boasts a May Pole in the community square, and I’m sure it will see action today. I don’t in the least begrudge the Leavenworthers their May Day gaiety (polarity, perhaps?) and wish I was present to watch the town’s comely lasses weave their way around the pole. Truth be known, however, on this day of ushering in the May, I’m thankful there’s a mountain range between me and all that accordion music.

While I’m not inclined to exhume my beverage-stained lederhosen and schottische around the flag pole out front, I am about to practice a May Day ritual that’s been performed in this household since the late 1970’s. Back in those days when I was doing battle in the trenches at Snohomish High School, teaching English as a foreign language to the native speakers of it, I had as a student a delightful young Welsh girl. Gwyneth Arianwen Myrick was her name. Gwyneth was May personified, spirited, dimpled, rosy cheeked, blue-eyed, a blessing to have in class. On May First that year, Gwynnie approached me after class and asked, “Are you going to give your wife a May basket today?” I hadn’t planned on it, I told her. Hadn’t ever done so before. “You should, you know,” she scolded. And I did and have been doing so every May Day since.

In those days my May baskets came from the florist’s. I would order them a few days in advance, pick them up May First, and daughter Marika would do the honors: place the basket on the front porch, ring the doorbell, and dash around to the rear of the house where I would let her in. In the meantime Mom would open the door to find nothing there but a basket of colorful spring posies. Sometimes-- if she had forgotten the date-- she would honestly be surprised.

Several years later I took an adult evening class to learn the art of basket weaving. (Yes, such classes do exist.) The class was coed. My presence made it so: I was the only man there. I applied the skills I learned in the course to craft my own basket, one constructed of all natural materials, most of which I collected from our yard and thereabouts: grapevines, filbert withes, the tendril branches of Alaska cedar. The “gods eyes” I fashioned from husks of corn from last year’s harvest. Strips of willow and cedar bark filled in the gaps. That basket has become our all-purpose holiday basket. Pots of poinsettias fill it during the Christmas season; later, around Easter time, the basket brims with spring primroses; and come May Day, it blooms yet basketIn recent years I have filled the basket with flowers from the yard, a customized arrangement, I’m sorry to say, more inclined to color than style. (I have yet to take a flower arranging class, coed or otherwise!) There have been years, however, when the yard was florally deprived due to a late spring. Then off to the florist’s I would go, taking along the holiday basket with instructions to fill it with spring color and have it ready for me pick up on May Day.

This May Day the yard  is in bloom and   a variety of blossoms and color are available, enough to fill the little holiday basket to the brim.

Now that Marika and Avi have their own home, I’m the one who must ring the doorbell, stumble around the side of the house, and and try to make the effort a surprise. But it is a tradition I delight in, for it is a way to bring May indoors. It is, of sorts, a floral nostalgia, reminding me of little Gwynnie, reminding me, too of those wonderful days when we had a child in the house to ring the doorbell and dash away.

About three hours from now the doorbell will ring announcing a basket of flowers on the doorstep and the same someone who has done so for years will open the door, feign surprise, and “fetch in May.”  May Basket '10

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  1. Wonderful entry...wonderful memories. I'm sorry I'm not there to do the ding dong ditch for you anymore. However, the thought of you attempting such a surprise alone has me smiling. I will never forget the thrill of May Day at home. :)

  2. What a sweet story and a beautiful basket too. I weave baskets from reed but I liked your natural materials woven basket.