In my birth family May was a sacred month because it held my parents’ wedding anniversary. Carl and Lillian were married on VE Day, he in his uniform and she in a lovely white dress and cloche-type hat with veil, in a chapel on the campus of the University of the Pacific, which at that time was still the College of the Pacific, in Stockton, California. They had met doing plays during college and kept in touch with their theater mentor, DeMarcus Brown, who made all the arrangements for their wedding while they were finagling leave, dad from the Navy and mom from the Coast Guard, so they could be away from their posts long enough to tie the knot. Every year dad gave her long-stemmed red roses of the same number of years they’d been married. His final bouquet had 62 roses in it.
May was also the month of my half-birthday, back in the time when I was young enough that being X-and-a-HALF years old was very important for people to know.
And, since I grew up in Indianapolis May was the big lead-up to the Indy 500, complete with princesses and parades and qualifying rounds and the sound of speeding engines eight miles away reaching the back yard where I was playing with lilacs and peony petals. I even got to be in the 500 parade one year, having won a sales contest at the diner where I was a waitress. Got to do my teen queen wave.
I got as far from Indianapolis as I could to attend college at Oregon State University, where May was the time of peak rhododendron and azalea blooms, the OSU campus all dressed up for a luau for about three weeks of heady color and flowery perfume. The sight of rhododendrons in bloom still makes my arms heavy with phantom textbooks while my brain thinks I’m crossing the quad on the way to go folkdancing in the student union.
May beauty in Oregon’s Willamette Valley
A few years later I got married on May 12th at St. Stephens’ Episcopal Church in San Francisco, just down the street from where I was working at the time. The pictures from my wedding show a large group of people smiling with tight lips, all of them my coworkers and family members, as not a single person from my ex’s family made the cross-country trip to attend his wedding. One of many signs I missed. I’m not sure about all those tight lips. I really thought that people were happy for us. My dad was never great at showing true joy so maybe he set the tone for all those relatives, most of whom were, in fact, from my mother’s side of the family, but still. Dad was a presence. He’d also paid for the wedding, so there’s that. There is one photo from the reception where dad is telling me a joke and I’m laughing as one only can at a joke told by one’s dad…that’s when I knew the joy was there, in spite of the tight lips.
The birth of my daughter meant that I got to celebrate Mother’s Day, also in May, but then May got really and truly crowded when my son was born on May 10th. So now we had mom and dad’s anniversary on May 8th, Robbie’s birthday on May 10th, my and my ex’s anniversary on May 12th, and Mother’s Day tended to get lost in the shuffle. In the years when Mother’s Day fell on the same day as Robbie’s birthday I had to swallow my chops and take a back seat while my ex would smile and say, “Every day is Mother’s Day!” and I didn’t slap him.
May in Louisiana is a mixed bag of good cheer and dread. Good cheer because the weather is generally some of the kindest of the whole year – – temps in the 70s or low 80’s and maybe even a light breeze once in a while. It’s shrimping season, which was quite the turn-on back when Tom and I had a shrimp boat and could catch our own each spring.
From ocean to table!
But May 2021 brought our second flood in five years, after which Tom gave the boat away because we were thinking we would move, until May 2022 when we were invited to apply for a special program through which FEMA would pay 90% of the cost of lifting our house. The parish officials said we would hear about our application by February at the latest but here it is May 2023 and no word yet. Now we brace ourselves for the hurricane season that officially kicks off on Memorial Day, to the sound of engines racing at the Speedway racetrack. I don’t give a rat’s patootie about auto racing, but I’d sure as heck rather be at the Indy 500 than in another Louisiana flood.
May is a force all its own, no doubt about it. A time of Beltane and sunlight, dinners on the screened porch and wistful thoughts of summertime travels, when the winter holidays feel years away. My family packed May full of goodness and I’m grateful for all of it.