May ritual has strings attached

When May 1 rolled around at Melbeta Public Schools in the Nebraska Panhandle, it was not a routine spring day, but time for the little folk to dance around the maypole.

At Melbeta, I didn’t learn much about such cultural activities as ballet or opera, but I wasn’t totally deprived. By the time I was out of the second grade, I knew as much and probably a lot more about maypole dancing than most of today’s sophisticates.

The maypole dance was just a small but important part of our annual May Day festivities, a musical evening that began with the crowning of the May Day king and queen selected from the senior class. The maypole dancers were students in kindergarten through second grade.

In mid-April, the maypole was taken from the storage place under the floor of the stage. The ribbons hanging from the top were wrinkled and grungy, but good enough for practice. On the big night, the pastel ribbons were freshly starched and hung from the top, which was capped with a cluster of crepe paper roses.

Each year, the new coordinator would let her creativity run wild, creating intricate patterns for the dancers. Let me explain a little about maypole dancing. When weaving intricate patterns with ribbons, one must hold the ribbon with the proper amount of tension. This is tough for a little kid to judge. Too much or too little results in a lopsided maypole. Teachers became highly agitated with a wrong move such as going under the partner’s ribbon instead of over.  

Our teacher would begin to make funny, jerky movements when the design was just about complete and somebody let go of the ribbon. That someone was usually Richie, the shortest kid in the school. Richie would clasp the ribbon tightly in his tiny hand but couldn’t hold on to it as the ribbon became shorter and shorter.

Just moments before the end, with success in reach, he would lose his grip and the intricate design would collapse. Our teacher never turned a beautiful pastel pink in keeping with the other spring colors of the maypole, but a vivid purple.

By the time the annual event was to take place, the elaborate designs she had envisioned a few weeks earlier digressed into a simple checkered pattern.

School ended a few weeks later, and we never saw her again.

Joyce Ore

Joyce Ore writes delightful stories about life with a dose of humor and sprinkle of nostalgia. Her column appears Saturday in the Tribune.

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