1 May 2020, 4:13am

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Cornucopia: My Mom, the Maypole Dancer

My Mom, The Maypole Dancer

By Kate Chamberlin


Let’s get one thing straight about what a maypole is. My Mom didn’t swizzle   on a tall, metal pole on a small, spot-lit stage in a smoky strip joint.

Traditionally, the maypole is a tall, wooden pole festooned with spring flowers on top and colorful ribbons or streamers flowing down.

The anthropologist Mircea Eliade theorizes that the maypoles were a part of the general rejoicing at the return of summer, and the growth of new vegetation. In this way, they bore similarities with the May Day garlands which were also a common festival practice in Britain and Ireland.

the dance is performed by pairs of boys and girls (or men and women) who stand alternately around the base of the pole, each holding the end of a ribbon. They weave in and around each other, boys going one way and girls going the other and the ribbons are woven together around the pole until the merry-makers meet at the base.

My feisty, stay-at-home Mother had a quick wit and a winning smile that made her brown eyes twinkle. She had a knack for finding adventurous and creative like-minded friends where-ever we moved. My teenage years in Riverwoods, then a neighborhood in Deerfield, Illinois, were full of interesting surprises.

The Hike and Bike Club members were Elanore B., a whip-thin, mischievous, Tomboy of a woman; Barb ., an intelligent big boned task master; Connie Q., an elegant, slim woman with professionally coiffed pink champagne color hair; and my Mother, a pleasantly plum woman with naturally curly, dark  brown hair. They always invited other moms and children to join their trips. One trip took them on the back roads to the restaurant over the thruway. They parked their bikes at the chain-link fence and trouped into the dining room to use the bathroom and eat ice cream.

Another hike took them along a farmer’s road beside his corn field. They stopped to share a raw ear of corn for their snack.

I think the Maypole Dance on May 1st was probably Elanore’s idea. They took weeks to plan what they’d wear, who would be invited, what snacks to serve, and of course, which punch with a punch to drink.

The sacrificial sapling to be the pole had been carefully chosen from the woods behind our home, replanted in the grass just off our brick patio, and decorated with a floral bouquet atop the pole to hold the crepe-paper streamers fluttering toward the ground.

Each woman made her costume from a diaphanous fabric of different colors that flowed and swirled around their middle-aged bodies, more or less gracefully. Each had fashioned a floral wreathe for her head, as well as anklets for their bare feet.

The luncheon refreshments were festively set out. The guests were enjoying the punch on the patio. The Maypole dancers were cued to preform; however, the clouds quickly rolled in and began to drench the party.

Everyone picked up something and retreated into the house. A little deluge didn’t daunt the fearless nymphs. The show must go on.

While the guests watched from the sliding glass doors and windows facing the patio, the four nymphs gathered around the Maypole, each holding the end of a streamer. The rain soaked their hair and plastered their filmy costumes to their bodies  like Saran wrap. They joyfully wove in and out of each other, weaving a colorful tribute to spring, and especially, the sudden spring rain.

By the time I arrived home from school, the guests had helped clean up the mess before they departed for their own homes. The four nymphs had changed into dry clothes and were sitting around the kitchen table finishing off the refreshments and punch. They proudly showed me all the colorful stains on their arms and faces from the wet crepe paper streamers. They were comfortable in their friendship and successful in their lark.

Who knows? Maybe their next adventure will be to try to swizzle around the stripper’s pole.


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