2009.05.06 Missing: the May Basket

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Has anyone hung a May Basket on you yet this year? “Hang” is the proper verb to use with May Baskets, although I’ve never seen one hung before. They’re always just quickly plopped on a porch.

Or at least they were in former times. I don’t know when a May Basket was last created in Morenci. Do they still exist?

It seems as though they died long ago. Here’s a column I wrote in 1989 about the death of the once-popular spring activity. I don’t recall ever receiving any response.


Dear friends, we are gathered here today to mourn the death of an honored Morenci tradition, the passing of an important part of our local heritage—the May Basket.

This all started when Old Joe Farquie burst into the office in a rather agitated state. Wait a minute. Who’s this Old Joe fellow?

Ben learned a song from a kids’ tape that he says goes like this:

“I know a man named Old Joe Farquie,

His house was 40 stories high.

And every room in that house

Was filled with chicken pie.”

I think I’ve heard that song before, but wasn’t it Old Joe Clark? No way, says Ben. It’s Old Joe Farquie. We figure he’s getting him mixed up with Joe Farquhar. Here’s Ben’s favorite stanza. I hope you’re not eating when you read this.

“He never married the school teacher,

I’ll tell you the reason why.

She blows her nose in old cornbread

And calls it pumpkin pie.”

So, as I said, Old Joe Farquie came into the office quite distressed despite the pleasant May Day weather. He had asked about a dozen kids if they knew what a May Basket was all about and no one knew. His own son just laughed at him.

It appears that the May Basket tradition has skipped a generation here and just died out. For those who don’t know of the pleasures of this event, this is how it works.

You go down to Duane’s Market and ask Paul to get a cardboard box out of the basement for you. Then you buy some crepe paper at Gardiner’s 5¢ to $1 and decorate the box. You make a large quantity of popcorn, throw in a bunch of candy and you’re ready to go. Ideally, this should be a cooperative effort. You meet at the park at 7 p.m. and everyone brings something to put in the basket.

Then everyone travels to Mr. Lamley’s house, for example, quietly places the basket on his porch, yells “May Basket!” and runs. Mr. Lamley has to run out and catch you. Anyone he catches (this was a few years ago, remember) is on his team and they help with the catching.

Then you can either allow yourself to be caught—food and friendship—or you can just hide out in the field and go back home long after the popcorn’s gone.

This is what we used to do, kids. Stop laughing, it’s a lot of fun. It’s not some dumb game like “Kick the Can.” That’s what my mother played when she was a kid. I never saw the attraction in it.

May Baskets are (were) apparently a local phenomenon. I did an informal survey at college once, asking kids from around the area if they used to “hang” them. Only two people had even heard of them, and one said the baskets were allowed only on May Day, unlike Morenci where the entire month was game.

With this broad base of readers throughout the nation, let Old Joe Farquie and me know if May Baskets are surviving in your area.

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