Memorial Day brings out the best in Americans, and oh, how we need it now, remembering all that makes our nation so special, during this nightmare of a presidential campaign. At least for one day we feel connected and sing “God Bless America” together, for many of us not just a song but an urgent prayer!.
Strangely, there was no Memorial Day when I grew up. Instead we honored veterans on Armistice Day, November 11. Some of us got out of high school to sell red paper poppies in downtown Orlando, to benefit the American Legion. My post was in front of Yowell-Drew-Ivy Department Store on Orange Avenue. The only veterans we knew were from World War I. World War II was underway, but Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Isis, and other future war horrors were never imagined then.
So my May Memories begin just remembering the fragrant, lovely warm air of Maytime down South. (I lived in Gainesville, Georgia in grammar school days.) A delicious scent came from dewy new grass, pink, red, and yellow roses spilling over garden fences, the heady sweetness of gardenias, and so many other fresh, growing, blossoming things. They combined in a delicate, delicious fragrance blown on the soft May breezes. Better than any perfume in bottle. I can still detect that wonderful scent today, when I go out in our yard, slow down for a few deep breaths – and for an instant am a child again in May..
Another May Memory: permission from Mother to go barefooted (we didn’t say “barefoot”). Off came our stodgy, tie-up Buster Brown school shoes. Hooray! At first I would mince along gingerly, like a sissy. But when my feet got a little tough, ah – the ticklish, delightful feeling of tall grass cushioning your feet in games of Kick The Can, Hide and Seek, Mother, May I?, and Snake In The Grass. We’d wash our dirty feet at night before going to bed, sitting on the side of the bathtub.
I need to back up. I forgot to tell about the very first day of May – May Day, when two really Big Deals happened!
First ,May Day Baskets. Do children still do this? I confess I didn’t with my five little Ryles. But I loved doing it as a child. Under Mother’s guideance my little brother and I would cut colored strips of construction paper and weave them into a little square basket, one strip glued across the top for a handle. Mother would put a few pretty flowers inside. Then came the really fun part. We would sneak up on a neighbor’s porch, hang the basket on the doorknob, knock or ring the doorbell, and scoot away to hide and spy on them as they opened their door. Wow – mystery, surprise! I felt almost like Nancy Drew.
The other really Big Deal was May Day at Brenau College, which was just two blocks down the street from our house. I don’t think any little girl ever enjoyed anything more than I did that beautiful event each year. The audience sat under the big oak trees on the campus, around a stage platform. It always began with the march from the opera Aida, (a recording), trumpets royally sounding ta-ta tah, dum dum dum ta ta ta.Then the beauties of the May Court appeared two by two, almost floating in their long gorgeous dresses under the trees to the stage. They wore the most delicate pastel colors: two in lavendar, then pale pink, daffodil yellow, sky blue. Finally, the May Queen herself, as splendid as any bride in her white frills and lace. To entertain the court, girls holding colored ribbons then danced around the May pole, until it was covered like a tall upright rainbow. And little Nancy Dendy felt I’d been right in the middle of a Fairy Tale come true!
One last sweet May Memory: wearing a rose to honor your mother on Mother’s Day. In our church (First Presbyterian at the corner of Green Street and Brenau Avenue) just inside the door was a huge basket of cut roses, red and white. The elders and deacons would help us choose one. Being a little girl so imaginative and romantic it was ridiculous, I remember feeling so, so sad for every person I saw wearing a white rose…wondering when and how their mother died, so sorry they were part orphans (even though they may have been gray- haired oldtimers!)
The poet wrote “What is so rare as a day in June?” But he was British. What did he know? It SHOULD be “what is so rare as a day in May?” And what is better as we grow older than happy memories to live through again?