By Earl Goldsmith
May Day has been observed since ancient times by celebrations of one type or another all over Europe, and even included an event called "Winding the Maypole" in some areas. But this story is not to be about the historical aspects of May Day. Instead, it is to be about May Day in Henryetta while I was growing up there.
maypoleMay 1 (May Day) was quite an event for Henryetta grade school kids.May Day was sort of a change to the approaching summer and boys, and some girls, had begun going to school barefoot by then.
A special thing we kids did was make "May Baskets" (little boxes of folded paper) and find wild flowers (like dandelions or clover to put in the baskets. Then we'd sneak onto someone's front porch, put the basket down, knock or yell "May Day" and run away to a place where we thought we wouldn't be seen, but at a place where we could see their surprise when they found the May Basket. Maybe we even wanted to be seen so they the people who lived there would know who left the May Basket. But Henryetta's big May Day event was the May Festival at Cameron Field. All grade schools participated and the big event of the program was the winding of May Poles by the sixth graders from each school, except that the fourth grade at Roosevelt and Francis Willard wound the poles for those school because they just had four grades.
I don't recall that junior and senior high participated, but they might have. Each school had a May Pole, so there were six Maypoles along the football field for the six grade school, Washington, Irving, Webster, Jefferson, Frances Willard and Roosevelt. I don't think St. Michaels participated. The main activity was "Winding the May Pole" and each pole was wound several times - in order from the youngest students to the sixth graders (or fourth graders for Roosevelt and Francis Willard).
In winding the May Pole, each student held a long streamer that was attached to the top of the pole. Boy-girl student couples circled around the pole and weaved inside and outside of other couples going in the opposite direction. Each couple had two streamers. Those going one direction were red and those going in the opposite direction were white. The weaving inside and outside of successive couples caused the streamers to show different designs down the sides of the poles. Younger grades performed simpler weavings. And the weavings got more complicated with each increased grade. Regardless of the grade level, there was always the danger that couples would miss the correct weaving and the streamers would get out of place and become tangled on the pole. That is what all of us dreaded.
It took a lot of practice before the May Festival, and even practices with other schools and at Cameron Field, to make sure all the schools were doing it in the same way and at the same speed. When I was in the fourth grade at Roosevelt, we practiced twice at Irving and twice at Cameron Field. Each time, we had to carry our May Pole to the other location. The streamers were wound tightly so they didn't droop as we carried, and there were several boys and girls along the pole to make sure the pole didn't fall with disastrous effects.
The biggest problem was that the top, carried at the front, tended to slip off one of the boys' shoulders and, to keep it from hitting the ground, another boy was right behind the first one and other boys and girls were all along the pole. During the performance, all the boys wore white shoes, trousers and shirts. The girls wore fancy hooped skirts with white pantaloons and a fancy spring bonnet. I don't know when Henryetta's May Festivals ended. I think I recall practicing at Cameron Field in 1941 when I was in the fifth grade at Washington school, but I certainly don't recall any after 1941. A lot of things changed with our entry into WWII.