Monday, April 30, 2007

Female Bonding in the Olden Days

When I was a girl, May Day was special in my home town. Teachers rustled up all their vases out of the closet, because they were gonna have a deskful. Even the BOYS brought some. But after school was a woman/girl celebration that I now know was celebrated in some towns and not others. In my town, on May Day, the girls made construction paper baskets, filled them with flowers, and hung them on the doors of the women they most admired. It might be a teacher, a friend of the family, a grandmother. We knocked or rang the doorbell. Then we ran like crazy to hide on the side of the house out of sight. The door would open. A woman's voice would murmer, "Oh! How pretty!." Then she would call out, "Thank you." And the door would close. Sometimes no one was home, but the woman honored always managed to work her delight over the surprise bouquet into the next day's conversation.

May Day bouquets weren't just about living where the flowers bloom. I have met women from the Midwest aware of the custom, and women from the South who aren't. I don't know when the custom died out, but it's been a long time, I think, since a young girl slipped a small basket of posies on the door of a woman she admires and rang the bell. Shame about that. I think it was a rather special female bonding gesture.

Mother would pick up me and my best friend from school and we would go home to work on the baskets. It's not that we had legions of women we wanted to give them to (for which my mother undoubtedly gave thanks and probably guidance in that direction), but there were usually four or five. Or six. The baskets were easy--cut a strip off one end of the paper for a handle, and roll the remaining paper into a cone and glue it. Glue on the handle. While the glue dried, we picked the flowers and put them in a 3-lb. coffee can with a little water. Then we transferred the whole mess to the back seat of the car so Mother could drive us to each designated house (being a small town, everyone knew where everyone lived) and we could fix up our fresh bouquets as we went. She would park around the corner or down the block so our car wasn't spotted. Sometimes we reconnoitered the bushes around the house for hiding places to duck in when the getaway would take too long. Fun stuff.

I don't remember doing it much after oh, say seventh grade. That became baby stuff for the younger girls to do. But the women never tired of the bouquets, often saving wilted, bedraggled specimens in vases and glasses for days. One teacher received six one year. She was so overwhelmed she almost cried. It WAS a big deal. We girls were telling these women, "You are someone I like. I respect you. And I would like to grow up to be something like you." That was quite an accolade.

Funny thing about that. My mother was an extremely popular teacher. Kids loved her. But in all those times of her lugging Sarah and me around, I don't remember whether there were bouquets on our door when we got back home. There must have been. But I really didn't notice.


Merry Jelinek said...

Now there's a tradition that should never have died out! We didn't do that as children, I remember hearing about the May Pole, although that wasn't one of ours, either. I'm Catholic and live in the Chicagoland area, so perhaps the May Crowning of Mary overshadows the whole May Day celebration.

But that's definitely a celebration I'd like to rekindle with my own daughter, I bet she'd love doing that! Now I'm going to ask a rather stupid question, when is May Day? May crowning is the 5th, is it the same?

Bob said...

One was on the porch yesterday, I didn't know what it was. Jayne filled me in somewhat, you clarified it more. Not quite dead yet.

night lightning woman said...

May Day is May 1--a much more gentle celebration than parades of soldiers and immigration rallies, don't you think? Bob, I'm wondering if the old tradition has "morphed" to include both spouses, not just the woman. It's a delight to hear the custom survives here and there. Merry, I'm too techno impaired to link, but I've saved you in my favorites and am also enjoying a number of your links. I'd like to know more about the book club blogs.

Merry Jelinek said...

Book Club Blogs started over at my other blog, on It was a really wonderful community site and the first place I ever blogged, which turned out to be a bigger blessing than I could have imagined. Anyway, that site keeps going down, and many of the more prevalent bloggers have moved to different arenas, which is one reason I moved over to blogger...

The first book club blog was in March of 2006 on My Antonia. I did a five part discussion, breaking down each part of the book into a blog of its own, and the bloggers who participated had all read along and joined in the discussion in comments. Then another blogger took the next discussion, and so on - each giving a choice of two or three books, the readers help pick which one the group wants to read, and the host leads the discussion and sets the date for all the readers to be prepared.

I just posted the first entry for Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley - though it was supposed to be started back in March and was delayed for a number of personal reasons, and then the fact that I moved my blog here...

Please do stop by if you have time. If you haven't read it yet, you might still enjoy the discussion, and at the end of one book club blog we usually pick a new blogger to lead the next discussion.

I'm enjoying your blogs, too, by the way. I'm so glad I stumbled on your posts, and I have you blogrolled, too.