Memories of maypoles

A fun thing about making is the images and memories that appear in the middle of making something else. Recently, I have been playing with weaving or hooking wool strips through architectural and other found objects. This was going to be a blown-out wooden version of a foundation fabric with wide wool strips woven through the wood lattice.

And it is that. But when I lifted it to look at it from the bottom, with the long strips of wool hanging down, I was transported to the Allentown PA fairgrounds circa August 1975. Instantly. Weirdly. Unexpectedly. To the Maypole competition that was part of the city Parks Department annual summer festival.

Every summer, every playground in the city offered kids programs from 1-4 in the afternoon, Monday to Friday. A couple of high school kids were in charge of setting up and supervising arts and crafts, exercises, free play, storytelling and other activities. We were a group of about 10 regulars whose parents gently, lovingly, but decidedly booted us outside every day. Some of the activities involved practice for the end-of-summer celebration at the city fairgrounds where we’d be given lunch and free ice cream if we showed off our talents.

The last part of that summer celebration was the maypole competition. In early August, the poor teenagers in charge of us had to recruit enough kids in the neighborhood to join in. We practiced with near-zero enthusiasm for a couple of weeks, with only our imagination to conjure the pole and streamers in our minds. We needed a kid for each of the 20 or so strips of fabric that hung from a precariously placed wooden wheel on a skinny 10 foot pole. The fabric was cotton, I think, and the streamers were the 2 colors that represented our playground. The pole and the wobbly top were white. So were our shorts, shirts, ans sneakers, our uniforms for the day.

Early August in Allentown is hot and humid. We mid-pubescent sweaty monsters moaned through practice at the playground. We moaned all the way to the fairgrounds. When we arrived, we could tell who had been practicing, and we moaned again. The object of the maypole competition was to decorate the pole in a braid-like configuration. Each kid stood about 10 feet from the pole in a giant circle. Each held one strip, with a partner holding a contrasting colored strip. We were to weave in and out of each other’s paths as we circled the pole, moving into closer circles with each rotation around the pole. the prettiest pole won. I don’t ever remember winning…

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