Ah, the merry month of May has begun, and so has my annual lament: Why don't the schools celebrate May Day ON May Day?! I know I sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but doggone it, some things shouldn't be messed with.
Back in my day (as we fuddy-duddies are fond of saying), May Day pageants were held on May 1. Unless, of course, the date fell on a weekend, in which case we celebrated on the school day closest to the big day. Other than that, May Day was May Day, even if it happened to be a Wednesday. And it lasted the whole day, no schoolwork allowed. May Day was Play Day in Hawaii.
My favorite May Day memories are of Makawao School in the 1960s. Back then, almost all of the elementary schools on Maui served kindergarten through 8th grade. With each class enjoying its turn in the spotlight (sunlight, actually), the pageants took up most of the morning. Some years, the program was all Hawaiian; other years, it was a musical tour of the world. We practiced diligently for weeks, learning simple folk songs and dances. One year, we gathered our own 'ili'ili (small flat river rocks used like castanets) for our sit-down hula to "Pearly Shells" or "Pupu Hinuhinu" - I can't remember which. But I can vividly recall hunting for the perfect stones in Iao Stream.
Funny, in all those years of multicultural dancing, I never got to frolic around a Maypole. I don't think we ever had one during my time at Makawao. The closest we came was the square dancing we did in the 6th grade.
Of course, the pageant was only part of the day's festivities. We arrived at school dressed in our finest aloha attire, bedecked with all sorts of lei, from bougainvillea to bozu. We gave each other candy or crack seed lei and garlands of plumeria that we'd strung ourselves. We wore special lei too, ordered from the florist. Carnation lei were popular then, as were vanda orchids, sewn Maunaloa style. One year, my mom gave me a fuschia akulikuli lei, as thick as a double carnation. But the fanciest one I ever had was a gorgeous jade lei. It didn't have a scent, but the incredible shades of green and blue made up for the missing aroma.
We usually had a good half-hour or so to admire each other's lei before filing out to the grass quadrangle for the pageant, carrying our chairs. Following the performances and picture taking, we returned to the classroom and changed into T-shirt and shorts for the afternoon relay races. I wasn't particularly gifted in sports; in fact, I was a flat-footed klutz. But I was pretty good in the potato sack race, probably because my low center of gravity gave me an advantage over my more athletic classmates. Shorter legs mean less distance to fall.
After the relay races and presentation of ribbons, we were finally allowed to indulge our sweet tooths. I think it was the PTA who set up soda booths and snack bars out on the lawn. Yick Lung seeds and Hershey candy bars, normally considered contraband, were sold for nickels and dimes. We munched on potato chips and Popsicles, shave ice and ice cake. We even tore apart our edible lei and separated the good candies from the junk ones, which we gave to our parents. They'd eat anything, just so no food went to waste.
May Day is a special day for me, beyond my Makawao School memories. My late husband and I were married exactly 24 years ago today. I chose May Day for our wedding day so that I would always be assured of receiving a lei on our anniversary. Pikake or white ginger would be perfect, I told Barry. But he wouldn't cooperate. Instead, he'd urge me to buy my own lei and he'd take me out to dinner. Lei giving just wasn't in his nature. I could understand and forgive that; after all, he never sang "May Day is Lei Day" at his grade school in Texas.
I never did get myself an anniversary lei. Stubbornly, I expected each year to be the one in which Barry would surprise me. Now that he's been gone for six years, I guess I can let go of that fantasy. Today, I'm going to buy a lei of fragrant white flowers and wear it in memory of our 18 years of marriage and in honor of Lei Day.
On second thought, I'm going to make it a candy lei and eat the whole thing for dessert after I treat myself to a nice dinner.
Happy May Day! May you get the lei you want today.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.