2009.05.06 Missing: the May Basket

Written 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.

  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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