On the first day of May I hung a May basket on the doorknob for my wife, Marsha, The Almost Perfect Woman.
Seventy years ago every kid hung a May basket filled with candy on his/her true love’s door, knocked and ran. If you were unlucky enough to stumble and be caught, you got a kiss. Your memory is better than mine, but I think we even made May baskets for art class at the one-room school.
I had to go to town for the basket filler and remarked to my brother, who went with me and offered me $1.38 as his share of the gas, that 50 or 60 years ago you could have bought a candy bar most anywhere in St. George or Rockland. But we had to look hard to find a store.
We did pass a cute little shop that said “Candy” on it, but if you buy candy in cute little shops, you’re probably also paying your kid’s full tuition at Bowdoin. So we continued on to the chain grocery store where we could buy in bulk.
I entered and looked at all the signs over the aisles. “Coffee.” “Paper Towels.” “Cleaning Supplies.” I was about to ask someone where the candy shelf was when I saw a whole rack of tooth-numbing sweets right next to the magazines that advertised “A Flatter Tummy in Only 10 Days.”
So I slipped into line behind a woman who had — it was either $340 worth of groceries or $440 worth of groceries to run through the machine. At the customer’s request, the clerk counted the cash twice and even then demanded another $40. If you think someone in your household is spending too much for groceries, you don’t get out much.
The Hershey bar I selected was an off-the-shelf 99-cent model. You usually can’t go wrong with chocolate. I think Hershey bars were a nickel the last time I bought one, but it was a nice thick candy bar for today’s money. Pure chocolate with no tooth-busting nuts. When I picked it up, I was surprised just how thick it was for 99 cents. Then I noticed that I had picked up two of them and that most of what I had in my hand was wrapper.
Marsha is not supposed to eat candy bars, so in buying one and lovingly hanging it on a doorknob within her reach, I am going against her doctor’s orders and certainly doing nothing to contribute to her health and longevity. But, knowing that I am weak, every day she leaves an inviting pot of coffee that I shouldn’t drink on the kitchen counter.
So our marriage is like so many others in that every day we seem to delight in dragging each other down a little bit more.
But you’ve got me talking about our domestic habits when I wanted to tell you about the May basket. I dumped out all the change and cough drops I keep in a small tin peanut can that lives in my truck and covered it with a colorful picture a grandchild had taped to my office wall. I added a small colored strip for a handle and had in my hands the nicest May basket seen in my cellar in years.
I also put a strip of colored paper over the gross brown candy bar wrapper to doll it up.
Then, I crept out of the solar radiant-heated studio-office of Maine Private Radio, hung it on the doorknob to the room above and knocked.
You will recall from your reading that the person getting the May basket is supposed to run after the person who hangs it and give them a kiss. That’s the way it used to work. But I had forgotten that nowadays neither one of us amounts to much when it comes to running. Which might be why you haven’t seen all that many folks in my social set hanging May baskets lately.
If you’d like to research the quaint old custom of hanging May baskets, you might begin your studies with Holman Day’s poem, “That Maybasket For Mabel Fry.”
With beating heart and trembling hand, the 9-year-old hero hangs his heavily laden May basket on a weathered West Buxton door that would delight the eye of a Wyeth, knocks and runs. The ragged but beautiful Mabel catches him and they pause …
“While (her) little imps of brothers gobbled every blessed mite
“Of the candy in that basket — Mabel didn’t get a bite.”
The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland, heard on WMPG Community Radio and visited at his website: