I love visiting with my friends Sulo and (Little) Annie Lahti. They live in Quincy (a locality close to the town of Clatskanie). Sulo raises feeder cattle, and Little Annie (when they can afford child care) substitute teaches. Little Annie is a stunning blond who is anything but little; she can easily measure six foot without shoes.
Some years back Sulo sheet rocked and paneled part of his barn. He thought it would be a great place to invite his friends over to play cards and drink some of his home brewed wine. Annie had other ideas. Their house and living room were very small and Sulo's winery had enough space to serve as a great entertainment room for their friends.
I never bothered to ask Sulo what sort of remodeling permits the county required him to have, in fact, I am not sure if he ever bothered finding out himself. Like a lot of country folk, Sulo believed that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission.
My wife, Claudia, brought with her some homemade bread, and Annie was warming it in her oven.
Doc Harry arrived with his wife Carolyn. Carolyn brought a beautiful meat, cheese and wild rice casserole. They were followed by Walt and Mary Karnosh.
Mary smiled and said: "I brought us some Pierogies and Polish Donuts. I hope you have some sour cream to go with the Pierogies? I may be a Czech, but I have a Polish grandmother who taught me how to make good polish food…"
I asked "What's a Polish donut?"
Mary smiled: "Harry will like them. They are called Paczki and are filled with fruit, cream, and rum or vodka."
Harry reached for one, while his wife looked daggers at him.
"You don't need that. Wait until after we eat," groused Harry's wife.
Harry ignored his wife and bit into a Paczki. He smiled and seemed to exude ecstasy.
"O.K. time to eat," said Annie as she lifted a ham on to the table.
Sulo picked up his four year old daughter Emmi and set her on a booster seat.
He said a short grace and everyone commenced eating.
Mary stuffed some food into her mouth. "Did you hear about all those Commies celebrating May Day?
Annie glanced at Mary: "You mean the parades in China and Cuba?"
"No, I mean those protesters in Portland, Eugene, and Washington D.C." countered Mary.
Claudia looked up from her food and said "I remember when we used to enjoy Mayday. I hate having to give up a great day because of someone's politics.
Doc Harry, who is an expert on practically everything, looked up from his food. "The origins of Mayday go way back well before the time of Christ."
"Pagan Communists," quipped Mary as she reached for more food.
"Mayday goes back lots further than any Communists," said Doc Harry. The month of May is named after the Roman Earth Goddess Maia. She was originally a Greek mountain nymph and is identified as the most beautiful of the Seven Sisters (Pleiades). She was the mother of Hermes (Mercury), the God of Magic. The Celts and the Saxtons celebrated May 1st as Beltane or the day of Fire. Bel was the Celtic God of the Sun. It was widely celebrated in old England and in Western Europe. Other names for Mayday are: Cetsamhain (opposite Samhain), Walpurgisnacht (in Germany) and Roodmas (the Catholic Church's name). The name Roodmas was an attempt by the church to shift people's allegiance from the Maypole to the road that Christ walked. May 1st was a day of great bonfires, and lots of flowers. It was a festive holy day to celebrate the first spring plantings. I remember reading somewhere that people would have to start their bonfires new. That is, they could not borrow coals from someone else, but had to rub sticks together or use flint and steel. They would light fires on the tops of hills at night and then roll down fiery wooden wheels."
Mary looked puzzled, "fiery wheels?"
"Sure," said Harry. "It was sort of like our lighting fireworks, only they didn't have the advantage of gun powder. They would also string ribbons from the tops of tall trees or poles and dance around them. That's where we got our Maypole tradition. In the old days villages would compete with each other to see who had the tallest Maypole. They would have beauty pageants and pick the prettiest girl in the village to be Queen of May and preside over the Mayday festivities.
Harry helped himself to some of Sulo's wine, and after taking a long swallow continued "Mayday always was a day of feasting, dancing and love making. Oliver Cromwell and his English Puritans didn't like that sort of thing. They hated the idea of someone having fun, so they banned Mayday celebrations in 1644. Fortunately, Cromwell didn't live forever. After he died, Charles II was restored as King of England. The first thing that Charles did was exhume Cromwell's body, and cut off his head. Cromwell's head was put on display for nearly 20 years outside Westminister Hall.
I snickered. "I hope it wasn't put on top of a Maypole."
"Can't say," replied Harry.
Little Annie, showed her perfect teeth and said: "They still celebrate Mayday in England and Scotland. Villages will select a May queen and a court of ladies in waiting, and people will dance around a Maypole and have a great time."
Mary narrowed her eyes at Annie and snickered. "That's 'cause they are all a bunch of commies and socialists over there. Mayday is now a commie holiday, something started by Russian bomb throwers"
Doc Harry swallowed some more wine and laughed. "The Medieval guilds also celebrated Mayday. It was called by many 'Labor Day.' The US Labor movement adopted it in 1886 and the Knights of labor held a Nation wide strike to demand an eight hour work day.
Annie looked up. "I remember reading about that. They had a riot in Chicago's Haymarket square. I seem to recall that the police killed about 6 rioters and the next day a bomb went off and killed some policemen and injured a bunch of people."
Harry nodded. "The interesting thing is that no one is sure who really was responsible for setting off the bomb. Some think it was anarchists, others seem to insist that it was accidentally set off by 'agent provocateurs' hired by factory owners. It doesn't matter; the police blamed the Knights of Labor. The State of Illinois arrested and hanged four labor leaders for this event, despite any clear proof that they were responsible. This was a very important event. In 1889, the International Working Men's Association declared May 1st as an international working class holiday in commemoration of the Haymarket event. Because of this, much of the world now celebrates May 1st as Labor Day."
"I bet they don't celebrate it in Finland." Said Mary with a smirk
Sulo Lahti looked up from his plate and smiled. "Actually they do. People drink Kilju (that's kind of an undistilled drink made with water sugar and yeast) they wear masks and throw water bombs and sound horns and march in the streets. They have lots of fun, and sometimes even demonstrate about something serious.
Claudia looked across the table at Harry and said "I still remember when we used to enjoy Mayday, and I really mean it when I say that I hate to give something up because of people's politics. When I was a girl we used to have a maypole at school."
I butted in with: "I remember that we used to have different colored ribbons. We used to wear them around our head and make crape paper cummerbunds. We would pretend that we were pirates, or French Musketeers and fight with card board swords."
Claudia continued: "We used to pick flowers and put them into baskets. We would then leave the baskets on people's porches, ring their doorbells and hide."
Harry snickered. "Bill and I used to do stuff like that too, except we did it on Halloween"
"Yeah" said I. "We didn't have baskets, we used paper bags with dog poop, and we would light them before we rang the door bell."
Sulo, Walt and Annie laughed, while both Harry's and my wife gave out murderous looks.