I remember my first May Day celebration like it was yesterday. I was 7 years old and we happened to be staying with my grandparents for a visit. Bright and early on May 1st, my Grandpa whispered into my ear at the breakfast table, “Do you want to help me with a very special project?”
My smile stretched from ear to ear as I nodded with anticipation.
We snuck down to the basement and he started rummaging through a box, emerging with several colorful scraps of old wallpaper.
I watched his strong, wrinkled hands gently roll, twist and shape the floral printed paper into a perfect cone as he told me about the centuries-old tradition of May Day, an ancient festival celebrating spring.
I was as enamored with the story as I was with the beautiful basket we were creating. I helped him cut a thin strip of wallpaper and glue it across the top to form the perfect handle. He waited so patiently as we held the pieces together, letting them dry on their own sweet time.
When it was finally ready, he looked at me and smiled a knowing grin. “Now comes the fun part,” he hinted.
Up the stairs and out the back door of the house we went, into Grandpa’s wonderland. The grass was a rich green and stretched all the way back across the yard, stopping abruptly where the woods began.
But my favorite part of the backyard, and Grandpa’s too, was the garden. Being raised on a farm, gardening was in his blood. Even though he spent decades as a distinguished research chemist, donning a white lab coat as he created, tested, and refined numerous pharmaceutical drugs that helped many people, he was at home in the rich, earthy soil of his garden.
There wasn’t much to see in the garden on May 1st, as the growing season was just beginning, but my imagination filled the plot with rows of carrot greens peeking out of the ground, shiny red cherry tomatoes ripening in the warmth of the sun, and tall corn stalks hiding the most delicious corn on the cob I have ever tasted in my life.
But we weren’t looking for vegetables that day, we were hunting for flowers. Like outdoor detectives, we scoured the backyard and flower beds along the side of the house until we had put together a stunning bouquet of wildflowers in bright pink, lilac, and gentle yellow hues.
“What are we going to do with our basket, Grandpa?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” he replied in his gravelly voice as we put the finishing touches on our May Day basket.
He slipped his hand into mine and together we snuck around to the front corner of the house, peeking around it and scoping out the front door situation.
“Okay, we need to be as quiet as we can, are you ready?” he said with a sparkle in his eyes.
“Yes!” My heart pounded with excitement as we raced across the front yard and tiptoed up the front steps, clutching our gorgeous, handmade basket of May Day flowers like our lives depended on it.
Grandpa helped me hang it carefully on the door handle and then we rang the doorbell with gusto.
Quick as a flash, we practically leaped off the front steps and darted back to our hiding spot around the corner to watch what happened next. I didn’t even know Grandpa could run that fast, but he did.
A few seconds passed. It felt like an eternity to my little 7-year-old self, but silently we waited.
Would she come? Would Grandma notice the basket? I could hardly contain my excitement.
And then, the front door slowly swung open and Grandma poked her silvery gray-haired head out into the sunshine. “Hello?”
She glanced around for a moment, seemingly wondering who had rung the bell when the front step held no visitors. The door started to close when she saw it.
With gentle hands, she tenderly removed the overflowing basket from the handle and smiled a knowing smile.
Grandpa and I stifled our childish giggles as we nodded at each other in sheer satisfaction at our accomplished feat.
After the front door was closed and my heartbeat had slowed down to a reasonable rate again, I asked him the question burning in my young mind.
“Grandpa, why did we do that?”
“Every year,” he said, “I make a basket and fill it with the prettiest flowers I can find. I sneak it to the front door, ring the bell, and run away. And every year, Grandma opens the door and is surprised to find it there. I do it to show her I love her.”
I looked up into his blue eyes that were shining down at me with love and I determined that, some day, I too would have a love like he and Grandma had.
And now I do.
My husband’s and my love for each other has come so easily sometimes, and other times we’ve had to fight hard for it. But through the years of transitioning from engaged to married to kids and all the challenges, joys and heartbreak along the way, it wasn’t the big things that sustained us. It wasn’t the vacations or the big decisions or even the date nights that made our marriage strong. It’s been the little decisions, the daily choices to forgive, to laugh, to connect and to grow…the May Day baskets of our relationship…that have made all the difference.
Grandpa, I know you’re not here to celebrate May Day with me this year. But what you showed me that day has always stayed with me. And I love you for it.
P.S. If you’re looking for a fun way to breathe fresh life into your marriage, join me this month for the Same Team Marriage Challenge!
Like this post? You may also enjoy…