Friendly May Day


“I wish we could have a May Day like the ones Mama used to have in England,” Susie said as she sprinkled water around two spindly lilac sprigs in a big bucket.

“Everyone is too busy,” said her older sister, Margaret, who sat by the doorway churning butter. “The fields need to be cleared and the gardens must be tended. There isn’t time for parades and Maypoles.”

“Everyone here in America is so busy getting settled that no one has time for fun,” Susie replied. “But it’s spring, and someone should do something special to celebrate even if it’s only you and I.”

Margaret thought for a minute and then said, “I know what we can do. Mother used to tell us that the day before May Day some people in England would leave branches of trees outside the doors of different homes.”

“That doesn’t sound like fun to me,” said Susie.

“But it was the kind of branches they left that made it fun,” Margaret explained as she looked into the churn to check the butter. “If the person in the house was pretty, then they’d leave a peach branch. A plum branch was left for a gloomy person, a branch with thorns for a very mean person, and an apple branch for a pleasant and good-natured person.”

“That sounds fun,” Susie said with a smile. “Let’s do it for our May Day celebration.”

“All right,” Margaret said. “While I churn the butter, will you go gather some branches? We ought to leave a plum branch at Miss Grumpy’s,” she added as she nodded her head toward the rickety cabin beyond the meadow that separated the two houses.

Miss Grumpy was really Miss Grundby, who lived by herself and was always complaining about something or other. She didn’t seem to want any friends, and no one ever visited with her.

Susie hunted for branches all afternoon. She found several thorny ones, and near the church was a wild plum tree. North of town she found an orchard with apple and peach trees. Susie quickly broke off small branches of each, being careful not to injure the trees.

Just before dark the two girls began delivering their May Day branches. They left an apple branch at the blacksmith’s house and a peach branch at the house of Susie’s friend Jill. At several other houses they left both apple and peach branches.

“Now let’s take plum and thorn branches to Miss Grumpy!” Margaret suggested.

“That’s a good idea,” Susie agreed, and before she could think twice about it, they ran across the meadow and put a branch of thorns and a plum branch on Miss Grundby’s doorstep.

The girls tried to smother their giggles as they hurried home and got ready for bed. They didn’t want either Mother or Father to ask them what they’d been doing all evening.

After Susie was in bed, she began to think about the fun she and Margaret had had delivering the branches. But the more she thought, the more uneasy she became when she remembered the plum and thorn branches on Miss Grundby’s doorstep.

As she lay in bed unable to sleep, a noise just outside the door startled her. What if someone is putting a plum or thorn branch on our doorstep for me, she wondered. Susie knew she had often complained about the work she had to do, how she hated having her hair combed, or because she didn’t have a new dress. Maybe others had known about her complaints.

It would be awful for anyone to see a plum and a thorn branch on the doorstep, she decided. And Miss Grundby will probably feel the same when she finds the ones we left.

Mother had said that Miss Grundby was old and not well. Susie suddenly remembered how grumpy she felt sometimes when she was ill and how good she felt when everyone was kind to her.

Quietly Susie got up, dressed, and tiptoed out of the house. The orchard was too far away to walk in the dark and there were no peach or apple trees nearby. As she looked around wondering what to do, Susie had an idea. She ran to the lean-to in the back of the house and then hurried across the meadow to Miss Grundby’s house.

Susie tossed the thorn and plum branches into the field and replaced them with her lilac sprigs that she had carefully tended all spring. Then she quietly slipped back into her bedroom and soon fell asleep.

The next afternoon while everyone was working, Susie and Margaret heard a bell ring. They ran outside to see what the noise was all about.

“Look! Look! It’s Miss Grundby,” Susie called to Margaret. “And she has a Maypole!”

The pole wasn’t very tall and the streamers on it were thin and not at all the same color, but Susie thought it was the most beautiful Maypole she had ever seen. At the side of it Miss Grundby had a little table, and on it were heaps of cookies and a large pitcher filled with punch.

Miss Grundby kept ringing the bell until a crowd gathered and the people started talking and laughing together.

“This is May Day, isn’t it?” the blacksmith shouted as he ran home for his fiddle. In a few minutes he was back and began playing a lively tune.

The blacksmith’s wife said, “I’m glad you remembered May Day, Miss Grundby. We’ve all been working so hard that we didn’t even think of a celebration this year.”

“I’m not the only one who remembered,” Miss Grundby answered with a smile. “Someone else reminded me of May Day. Someone wasn’t too busy to leave a bucket with two lilac springs on my doorstep this morning. And I’ve always thought no one wanted to be friends with me.”

“We’d all like to be friends, Miss Grundby,” Susie said. “And we’re glad you decided to help us celebrate May Day.”

Margaret looked at Susie with surprise. Then she walked over and gave her an understanding hug.

What a wonderful day this has turned out to be, Susie thought. It’s spring, and I feel as if I’m about to sprout and start blooming myself!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Ginger Brown