May Day is supposed to be a celebration of spring, but to me it represents the anniversary of an annual childhood crime spree and brings back traces of the anxieties associated with it.
I loved the part of May Day that took place at school. I loved dancing around the schoolyard flagpole with my classmates as each of us held on to one of the colored crepe-paper streamers that teachers had attached to the pole. I loved making May baskets, cutting strips of (usually green) construction paper with our little blunt-ended scissors, then weaving and pasting them together into basket shapes. The at-school part of May Day was always fun.
The problem started when the bell rang and it was time to go home. I needed flowers to put in the May basket before I could give it to my mother. We had flowers at home in my grandmother's garden, but those wouldn't do. For one thing, Mother might have recognized Mammaw's flowers. For another, the whole point of the gesture was to arrive home with a basket of flowers and surprise her.
So I stole the flowers.
Every May Day from first grade through fourth I'd leave school and walk home by whichever route offered up the easiest pickings. As I walked along the sidewalk I'd try to appear nonchalant (though I probably didn't know that word then), but my eyes were roving stealthily, searching for showy irises, splashy roses -- any blossom that was large and bright. (Here's a tip: if you're stealing flowers, steal big ones. You can fill your basket faster with fewer chances of getting caught.) When I spotted one, I'd check to make sure no one was watching, then I'd make a mad dash into the yard, break off the stem, and run like crazy until I was at least two houses away. Then I'd do it all again, several times more, until my fragile paper basket was full. My crime scene was about six blocks long. By the time I got home, my nerves were shot and I couldn't wait to hand off the basket of evidence to my mother, who never once asked where I got the flowers.
They say confession is good for the soul. This time next year, if I remember, I'll let you know if writing this has diminished my guilt. And if I don't remember, then I guess you can assume it worked.