She lived down the street from us in a tiny house with her baby and a small dog. Her husband was in the service, and so she was alone.
I didn’t realize then how important the neighborhood children were to her until just recently. I share the space in this old house with myself and wandering artists and international students.
Her name was Elizabeth, but we called her Betsy.
On May Day of each year Betsy taught us how to make May Day baskets. My sister and I sat in her kitchen with art projects strewn across the chrome table. The linoleum floor was littered, too, with pieces of pipe cleaners and unwanted construction paper.
With the baby (name forgotten in time) in the high chair, we cut and glued each little basket according to Betsy’s directions. If we cut too deeply she just laughed and gave us another piece of paper. Once the cones were cut we curved them into baskets and stapled them together. The pipe cleaners became the handles.
Our hands were small and not too nimble so it took us a long time to make the baskets, but once finished they were a lovely piece of art. We cut out small photos of tulips and daffodils, and we made circle flowers to glue on as decorations.
When we were getting bored of the project, Betsy brought out Kool Aid and Vanilla Wafers for a treat. Back to work we finished up the cone baskets. We knew what was next; Betsy opened a cupboard and took out a huge bowl of hard candies. I remember thinking it was as good as Christmas or Halloween. The colors of peppermints and butterscotch candies were so vivid on those spring days. We filled the baskets to the top and then had to pour out a few. Some of the leftovers ended up in my pocket, to later end up in the back of my dresser drawer.
When all the baskets were finished, we put them in a cardboard box and we put the baby in the stroller. Now the fun would begin. At each house in the neighborhood we took one basket out of the box and hung it on the doorknob. We rang the doorbell and ran and watched from the next house. I was sure they never saw us as we peered out from the bushes. Sometimes no one came out, but in those days, most women were home. They came out on the porch to look around, but they never saw or heard us giggling in the bushes.
On to the next house … and the next … and the next until the box was empty except for the last one. We went to our house, ran it up and waited for mom to come out to be surprised. She always was as she looked up and down the street wondering who had left this lovely surprise.
We walked back home with Betsy, and if we were allowed to stay for supper, she opened up Campbell’s tomato soup and served it with crackers. We loved having supper with Betsy. At our house we always had a big formal dinner. Our clothes had to be clean and we were expected to be sitting at the dining room table when dad walked into the house.
Betsy’s kitchen was our dining area; we just moved the scraps of leftover art supplies to one side. She put our soup in big cups so we could drink out of them.
This week we celebrated May Day, at least the calendar did. The ancients called this day May Day Beltane, who is a mysterious character from the Celtic world. It is also the cross-quarter day to summer.
I did not find a May Day basket hanging on my doorknob nor find neighborhood children laughing and giggling in the bushes. I suppose that was my fault. I am probably the only one who thought about it, and I do keep a studio full of art supplies.
But it was cold and rainy on May Day. Maybe I will make a new proclamation and make June 1 the new May Day. I mean the flowers are barely blooming and even though I didn’t want to turn on the heat, I did.
So if you find a basket on your doorstep on June 1, just pretend it is the first of May … listen for children giggling … come out and take a look around, but pretend you don’t see us! Happy May Day!