pipe band

For more than a few years, we’ve been away over the May long weekend. Last year it was to Edmonton where we helped Brendan and Cristen replace a porch and build a deck under a leafy maple in one corner of their Strathcona yard. For several years before that, it was to Ottawa to help Forrest and Manon build a deck, then a pergola the next year to provide support for grape vines to shade their summer dinners.

But for the first, oh, twenty years we lived here, we always went to the May Day parade in Madeira Park. When I was a child, my mum always took us to the Victoria parade and it went on for ages—every school band in the city and maybe even the province marching, floats, old cars, banners, clowns throwing candy, and is it just my imagination or was it always hot? My mum never bought us pop or cotton candy and we’d walk home afterwards, cranky and sun-burnt.

The Pender Harbour parade was always just long enough. A single marching RCMP officer in parade dress, a single band (a pipe band, with one black piper with dreadlocks providing the only diversity in those days), a couple of floats, kids on bikes with crepe paper threaded through the spokes, the volunteer fire crew sounding the sirens as they drove the firetruck, hoses spraying those unlucky enough to be within range. And yes, throwing candy. Some years the snow plow would be festooned with balloons. One year an eccentric woman marched alone, a hood covering her head, a papier mâché head carried under her arm, and a sign on her back reading, “Ann Boleyn can be found at the library.” After the parade, everyone went to the school field where a May Pole waited for the dance. And there was a basketball tournament my son Brendan waited for. Booths with games my daughter loved. Cotton candy. A beer garden adjacent to the barbeques set up by the local fishermen and where a plate of halibut and potato salad cost 5 bucks. You saw everyone you knew there. Grown children came back for the parade and the dance that evening.

This year we’re home. And Angelica is here. When John picked her at the seaplane yesterday, she asked if we could go to the parade. So we did. It hasn’t changed much, apart from the fact that old cars opened it, vintage ones I guess you’d call them, and then the lone RCMP officer who had to stamp in place for a bit as people took pictures of the old cars. One or two more floats. Fewer kids on the May Queen float because the demographic of this small community has shifted. Fewer young families and more retired people. But we bought fudge and watched the little kids next to us scramble for candy tossed by the firefighters. There was even a Volvo driven by an older couple who’d somehow entered the fray inadvertently and were simply driving ahead of the last float, trying to find their way out of the procession.  And I remembered every other parade, or maybe just one (because they were all so similar), the one where the playschool kids were dressed as Care Bears and the mothers had to paint a backdrop of trees and bears or maybe the one where the kids were a school of fish and we had to make cardboard fish for them to hang from their shoulders with suspenders. One year, when Angelica was in grade 6, she rode the May Queen float as one of the attendants. And it meant work for the mothers. I was writing about bears then, a long essay, “month of wild berries picking”, and I used the occasion as a postscript.

It’s nearing the long weekend when my daughter will join girls of her age to ride on a parade float as queens and princesses of May in our community. For this they need dresses, or gowns really, and a willing group of mothers to help plan and decorate the float.

My daughter’s gown is finished, a blue so true to nature that I keep seeing it around me—in the opening buds of pulmonaria and scilla, the intense spring sky, the carpet of a flower I’m not familiar with in an abandoned homestead by Sakinaw Lake where we go to collect long lengths of ivy to garland the sides of the flatbed truck that the mothers are transforming into a spring grove for their daughters.

The bear has been around this spring. We haven’t seen him yet although the dogs have been barking and running into the woods in the early mornings and we’ve seen the piles of excrement on our walks for the past two weeks. I’ve been studying them, wondering at the diet of the bear, how he can sustain himself on grasses and what appear to be shoots of thimbleberry and primeval horsetails. Wondering too, when I find piles on the trail that is one of our property boundaries, whether he was entering out woods or leaving them when he left his mark.

—from “month of wild berries picking”, Phantom Limb (Thistledown Press, 2007)

Today, watching the girls on the boat trailer their mothers had turned into a pirate ship, Angelica said, I remember that we were shown how we had to wave. Like this…” and she slowly passed her hand back and forth, like a young queen. For a moment, I was there in that time of wild berries, bears, draping ivy over the plastic lawn chairs arranged on a fern-strewn truck bed, imagining the girls enacting again the spring rituals of gowns and flowers, anticipating the dance.

may queens

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