Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Many little girls in my part of the world have a fascination with princesses. When I was a little girl, I had a fascination with queens. I didn’t spend a lot of time with other children until first grade, and I don’t think I had even heard of princesses until that time. I knew about queens from Queen Sara on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ("Don't judge me!" as Nonny would say), and I liked the idea of wearing a crown and holding a scepter just fine. I made my own crowns out of cardboard and aluminum foil. I put up signs saying that people could bow or curtsey to the queen (i.e. me). Except for my grandfather, who said that he would curtsey if need be, no one obliged. I did not banish anyone to the dungeon, though. Noblesse oblige, after all!

In second grade, I attended a first through eighth grade school in Newhall, West Virginia. For some reason,* the school celebrated May Day, complete with the May-pole dance, and a full court. Each grade chose a nominee for May Queen, then got her school photo pasted to a potato chip canister whereby we were supposed to put our coins inside for the person we wanted to win. (The school was always fund-raising, and this contest was yet one more way to get money.) The girls who didn’t win became May princesses, and got to hold court with the Queen on May Day.

My teacher asked me if I wanted to be the 2nd grade May Queen nominee. I surprised her and myself by saying, “No, I want to dance in the Maypole dance instead.”

My teacher was startled (as was I) and muttered something about my not necessarily getting to have that choice. Still, a few days later, my classmate Crystal and I became the 2nd grade representatives for the May-pole dance. We got to leave class periodically to go to the gym with the other dancers and learn to weave the long ribbons into an elaborately braided pole set on top of a car tire. We danced to a scratchy record that played “Greensleeves.” On the actual day of the performance, we got a bit muddled when the person who brought the Maypole to the center of the gym set it down slightly differently so that we couldn’t find our proper ribbons, but we were able to find our places (eventually) and start again.

The parents in the audience got to watch all of the performances, as did the first grade queen and her court of princesses in their frothy dresses. While I was dancing, I felt a brief pang that I hadn’t decided to be in the court because the performers showed up, did their dance, and went back to their classrooms. Still, I was so glad to have been a part of the dance. Even at the time, I didn’t know where I had heard of May-pole dancing, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. For me, the May-pole dance was a bright moment in an otherwise traumatic** second grade experience. I am thankful that I got to dance.

*I think it might have had something to do with May 1st being Labor Day in some parts of the world. I lived in a coal-mining town, so this reason would have made sense. I don’t know for sure, though.

**Until 1994, West Virginia allowed corporal punishment in the schools. My teacher would have sessions where she encouraged kids to tattle on each other and then the "culprits" would come up and be paddled in front of the entire class. I am not kidding.


Lone Star Ma said...

Good for WV for not allowing it anymore at least!

galetea said...

An anecdote from by-gone days....My grandmother was a teacher in a one-room school house during the days of corperal punishment and had to use the paddle on many occasions. However, one little boy swore at her one day and she slapped his face. His mother came in and demanded to know why my grandmother didn't spank him instead.

"I delt with the area where the problems was," replied my grandmother.

To show how things have changed....My mother, who's also a teacher, had to restrain a student who was trying to beat up another student. She put both her hands on his shoulders and told him to calm down. When the kid got home, he was afraid they'd be angry that he was fighting, so he told them that my mother had hit him. They threatened to sue her until the kid fessed up.

Nonny said...

Was this a Catholic grade school? Just curious, it reminds me of the good old days with the nuns and paddles. We didn't do Maypole though, I'm sure they thought it was pagen or something. We usually had a celebration for Mary where in we'd sing Mary specific hymns and then crown a statue of her with a flowers.

I'm sure you never got paddled though, right ;)

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Nonny, It wasn't a Catholic grade school, though they did a bunch of things that are illegal in public schools, i.e. school prayer and gambling (come on, is it really legal to have people who still only have one digit per age buy a "chance" to win a cake or a toy?). I was a newly good-girl, i.e. terrified, quiet, shy (quite a change from first grade), and I lived in fear of the paddle. I had a fantasy whereby all the children of the school would rise up, sieze the paddles, build a big bonfire, and burn them. Then, we'd march out of school, and there would be so many of us that the teachers wouldn't be able to stop us.

I did get paddled once. I was daydreaming, and the teacher told me to get out my spelling book. I didn't hear her. She told me to get up, and in a daze, I did. When she paddled me, I had no idea why she was doing it, and I was shocked. Afterward, Mom called the superintendent, and the superintendent said, "Yes, the system is not designed for people as sensitive as your daughter."

Let the record show that before 2nd grade, I may have been an unsocialized wretch, but I was spirited, bold and outwardly passionate. After second grade, that side of me went underground for a number of years. People said, "There is such a change in Alkelda! She used to be so wild and woolly, but now she is so well-mannered and good."

I wasn't "good." I was scared and simmering with anger. There's a difference.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

There are many tales and legends connected with the maypole dance. It's essentially the dance of the Spring, a joyful call for rebirth and renewed fertility. I'm so pleased you knew this dance in the back country of West Virginia. There are many English village greens that still have maypoles and the dance is certainly performed each May Day in numerous locations. As for your second grade teacher she sounds like a sadist but there are times I'd like to "paddle" some of my students with a bloody great baseball bat!

brian said...

First time visitor from Fridaysweb. I like the maypole idea, but in today's schoolboard paranoia about school prayer and the like, anything pagan is not encouraged. School paddlings are a very angry topic with me. They still occur with great quantity in many southern states, in particular Texas, Missouri and South Carolina.
Thanks Brian aka hummingbunny

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Lone Star Ma: It certainly took them long enough!

Galetea: What happened to your mother is NOT fair. Why is it so hard to have a happy medium (or at least something resembling "medium")? I can totally empathize with Yorkshire Pudding (and yes, YP, my teacher was a sadist, but I don't think she was a wicked sadist so much as a spirit-broken person who let the system get to her), but in the end, flogging doesn't work. Still, where is the protection for teachers? Teachers are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to discipline.

Brian, Thanks so much for visiting my blog! Regarding paranoia about anything remotely religious in the public schools, it seems like we've thrown out the baby with the bathwater (my favorite cliche, really). Multi-culturalism, people, not mono-culturalism!

By the way, May is the big month for the Virgin Mary. Also, Joan of Arc's feast day is this month. St. Dymphna's, too. Also, it's my daughter's birthday on the 10th. Hurrah for May! Next year, I am definitely putting May baskets on people's doors and going to the May Faire.

Anonymous said...

As Alkelda's mother, I must confess to sadness at how much I did not interpret accurately what was going on with my wonderfully imaginative child. And as I remember it (though with the caveat that "memory is the playground of the imagination"), the call to the superintendent was because Alkelda was so upset that other children were being spanked,and I was frankly horrified.I had to walk a careful line, being an outsider in a very closed community, but the response I got, which Alkelda related, was the last thing I expected and left me speechless.

galetea said...

Kids are totally being deprived of their pagan holidays in schools nowadays. Everyone remembers the fun of the good old fashioned Halloween parade? No more, I'm afraid. In Frederick County, MD, they're now required to have a "Harvest" festival rather than dress up and trick or treating! :P

Martyn said...

It's a lovely custom, good to see it still practiced in the US. Seem's to be something of a renewed interest in a lot of these customs over here.

goddess of clarity said...

We never had the May Pole dance at my Catholic school, though we did have the May Queen along the lines that Nonny mentions. We'd have an election from among the eigth grade girls and the winner got to wear a white dress and place a crown of flowers on the head of the large statue of Mary at the front of the church. The eighth grade girls carried gladiolus with which to form an arch for the May Queen to process under. All nicely pagan for a Catholic school, wouldn't ya say?

My main memory of the May Queen Mass was that we had to go to church at night and that the whole school had to line up in order by height. It took a whole afternoon to get everyone lined up in the proper order in the parking lot. Once the nuns had gotten all the heights aligned perfectly, you were assigned a number so you would know where to stand on the big night. And woe betide you if you lost or forgot your number. Corporal punishment was not unheard of at my school, either.

Fridaysweb said...

I remember May Day and dancing 'round the pole from a very early age. I have no idea why I remember this - I was 3 the first time I did it - but I do remember just how incredibly fun it was.

I also remember corporal punishment. I remember how cruel Nuns could be -as I went to a Catholic school for a few years - and remember how humiliated many children were because of it. I believe that was when I decided that humiliation was NOT the way to teach a child discipline and that submission was NOT healthy.

By the way, I absolutely love travelling through WV when we go north. While it becomes the butt of many jokes, I don't think I've ever met a kinder lot of folks than those in the small towns of WV.

abcgirl said...

i've always wanted to dance the maypole (or at least see a maypole get danced) but i've never yet had the pleasure.

on the topic of paddling, in my elementary, the principal was the only one who did the spankings, but the teachers had their ways of punishing as well. i remember one particularly dismal teacher who (in first grade) dumped a child's desk out onto the floor and had him pick it up because it was too messy. i also remember one time when the principal came into our classroom and picked up a little boy who cried everyday --picked him up by his shoulders and held him at the principal's eye level, shook him and said something like, "your mother would be ashamed of you for crying like this all the time." which was horrifying to me because i was crying every day too. (we had recently gotten a new teacher because of some staff shifting and the new teacher was older and less fun than our first teacher had been and some of us were understandably upset.) ah well, the trials of early elementary school.