Posies on porches

PosyIt came as a bit of a surprise to me this morning, but it turns out that what they say is true: It’s really May 1.

Crazy, right?

April always feels like the dress rehearsal for spring to me, all leisurely and make-believe.

And then the first of May attacks — jumps up all over me like a cat in the middle of the night, demanding food.

April is practice, but May? May is spring for real. You can’t ignore it anymore — it plants its paws squarely on your chest and breathes on your face until you finally wake up and give it its due.

Maybe it’s a combination of the fact that part of me still lingers in the academic year, and so I get frantic in May, thinking of all the finals and papers and packing and the heartache of friends departing for summer that is coming.

Even though that hasn’t actually been coming in May, for me, for almost 20 years.

And part of it surely is the fact that I grew up and still live on Cape Cod, an intensely seasonal place that is driven hard by the push and pull of the seasons. And May? May is when all of the madness begins.

So for a lot of reasons, May 1 definitely marks the beginnings of things. Which means, of course, that it also marks the end of things.

When I was young — say, between 10 and 15 years old — I used to get up very early on May 1 and secretly deliver little posies of wildflowers to the doorsteps of our neighbors. I lived in a very old, sea-captain-y sort of neighborhood, where we were tucked in between the ocean and a saltwater cove, set high up on a hill that all the old maps called Lilac Hill. And it was — it was absolutely filthy with lilacs, each spring. In June, though. Not in May.

It was also filthy with very sweet, very kind, and — to me — very mysterious ladies in their 80s and 90s, each of whom lived alone in her enormous, decaying Victorian house. My mother, who is a nurse, visited a few of them daily to give them their B12 shots. I always wanted to go with her, because I was fascinated by those houses and those ladies, but Mom told me that she needed to respect their privacy and not bring over a little girl when they were going to be standing in the middle of their kitchens with their panties down, getting poked in the behind with a needle.

I guess she had a point.

But oh, those houses. Gingerbreading on the front porch, scuttles and widow walks on the roof, and Sandwich glass collections scattering light in the front parlor window. The smell of starched linen and tea water boiled in old kettles. Dirt freshly turned in the front yard, making way for the lupines and hollyhocks to follow. Peeling paint on the low white fence rails by the road, which my brothers would come over and paint later in the season, after they had mowed the lawn.

And oh, those ladies. Fascinating. Mysterious. Repositories of complicated histories and past lives. That’s how I saw them, at least. Stealth teenagers, undercover young brides, all masquerading as elderly women through no real choice of their own. Rheumy blue eyes that quivered at me when I came over for cookies after school. Veined, mottled, beautifully tapering hands that shook as they rested in their laps.

One of them had written a book about her family, about her grandfather’s diary that she had found in the attic, his memories of growing up in the neighborhood during the whaling days, and her memories of growing up in his house, later. Some of the ladies had gone to grammar school with my great aunt, in whose house my family now lived, or my great grandmother, who later taught their children in grammar school at the schoolhouse down the road.

Some of them had been married several times. Had lost sons to wars. Had seen their last names engraved on plaques in forgotten traffic circles across town, commemorating one thing or another, the bronze turning green with age. The flowers beneath tended each year by the garden society.

Oh, how I yearned to be friends with those ladies.

So I must have read somewhere that it was an old tradition to deliver anonymous posies before dawn on May Day, and I spent a few years trying to revive the tradition. The lilacs aren’t in bloom yet on May 1, so mostly these posies consisted of tiny grape hyacinths and mayflowers, I think. I can’t really remember, except that they were small, scraggly little things, and I never had enough ribbons on hand to tie them up satisfactorily.

The first year I did it, I used little baskets, plundering my great aunt’s old collection and scattering them up and down the street, never to return. But after that, all I could manage was little clusters of flowers, tied up with a scrap of fabric. Possibly with a note attached, which I probably signed with a large, mysterious “X,” knowing me.

For all I know, they blew away in the wind before those ladies even opened their doors. I have no idea.

I never told anyone else that I did this. I certainly never discussed it with the ladies. But I think about it, every May 1.

It made me feel connected to what I thought life was like in my neighborhood a hundred, two hundred years ago. It was all a fantasy, of course, but it worked for me. And I hope it worked for them, too.

I hope they found those posies, and that they made them smile.

I hope they know that what I meant by them was I see you. I’m glad you’re here for another spring.

Do you see me, too?



Image by Pewari Naan

1 Thought.

  1. This post really spoke to me. Just the other day, my mom and I were talking about “invisible people” in our society. I used to be more aware of others and drawn to connect with them, but I’m afraid that some not-so-kind years have dulled these sensitivities a bit and caused me to turn inward. I want to be the kind of person who anonymously leaves flowers on the porches of elderly women just because it’s May 1st. I want to be the kind of person who really sees people, whether I myself feel seen or not. Thank you for this, Beth!

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