No More Mr. Nice Pie

No More Mr. Nice Pie
Drawing by Retsu Takahashi

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Day Then, Cookie de Mayo Now

For those of us who attended P.S. 104 (“The Bayswater School”) in the 1960’s, the first of May was welcomed with great celebration. The annual May Day festival was a school-wide event, culminating with the soon-to-be graduating class of 6th graders featured in the May Pole dance. That was a highly coveted spot because it involved the weaving of the ribbons around and around and…  I never achieved ribbon-weaving status because we moved to the Garden State in December of my 6th grade year.

The younger students performed lesser known dances, sort of square dances in the round. As 2nd graders, we circled the perimeter of the May Pole, never daring to come in contact with an upper classman, let alone brush anywhere near the satin ribbons in a fine assortment of spring colors. The 6th graders were both hip and cool; not only could they follow the intricacies of the “May Pole,” they knew how to do the “Mashed Potato” and the “Twist” and the “Pony.” (I knew this because my older brothers had a record album entitled “Teen Dance Party” and my very best friend at the time, Betsy Bushel, also had cool, older siblings.)

I recently conferred with Betsy about May Day in the ‘60s to make sure I had this right. What I remember most vividly about our 2nd grade participation in May Day was what we wore. My mother and Betsy’s mother were responsible (meaning they probably were the only two mothers who volunteered) for the crafting of our costumes. This was pre-MARTHA and I doubt they had access to acid free cardstock or archival papers. My mother and Mrs. Bushel painstakingly fashioned hats for the boys out of sheets of dark green crepe paper. They were pointy and had a vague resemblance to something Peter Pan might have worn. The girls wore a floral number, our heads pouffy in pink crepe paper blossoms that affixed to a white oval of oak tag. These modest headdresses covered our Pixie cuts and pigtails and tied under our chins with two strands of ribbons. Betsy confirmed my sense that the girls wore white blouses and navy blue skirts. I believe the boys wore white shirts and black trousers, maybe even a necktie. I’m fairly certain we wore navy blue knee socks but I’m stumped when it comes to the footwear. We had Buster Browns and saddle shoes for school, and patent leathers for special occasions, but sneakers were reserved for gym days and after school. On May Day, what with all the swinging, twirling and allamanding right and left, not to mention walking in straight lines across the playground, we most likely wore our white Keds (or P.F. Flyers) to avoid scraped knees.

Not all mothers worked full-time during our Wonder Years, so there was quite a crowd in attendance, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the exquisitely executed choreography. The closest we came to having a Dance Captain was our teacher, Mrs. Roston who wore her white hair in a modified beehive twist, held in place with dozens of bobby pins.  I will admit that I was rather jealous of the 6th graders who were clearly the star players. Not only were they better dancers, they were not suffering from any costume challenges. To begin with, our hats did not quite bend properly nor did the ribbons rest comfortably under our chins. Our botanical headpieces were all slightly askew, made infinitely worse once we began to dance. More disturbing were the green crepe paper hats worn by our male classmates. Most of the boys sported crew cuts and many of them plastered down their cropped tresses with some sort of 1960’s “Product” (probably Brylcreem). We weren’t old enough to be using Dippity Do (that was reserved for the 6th grade girls). The combination of the green crepe paper and the hair cream resulted in grease streaked hats that were coming apart at the seams. Our pigtails and Pixies plus ribbons were a tangled mess. No one seemed to care except perhaps our biggest fans, our mothers, the milliners. It turns out that my mother also shared her talents in maintaining the miles of May Pole ribbon. She painstakingly ironed away the curls and creases from the previous year, a veritable marathon of ribbon pressing. The freshly ironed satin was then meticulously wrapped in tissue paper, hand-carried back to school and affixed to the May Pole.

My current take on May Day is quite different. It begins the countdown to Mother’s Day, with a brief detour by way of cinco de Mayo, or what I affectionately call cookie de Mayo. The merry month of May features not only a day dedicated to Moms, but an entire month peppered with graduations and confirmations, a day all about (and most deservedly so) teachers, and ushering in the big finish known as Memorial Day. It seems only fitting that the 5th of May should offer a little interlude for those of us gathered around the Bakers bench, rolling and cutting and icing cookies, and those involved (that would be me) with the baking-of-the-pies for the kick-off to summer.

So on this very Monday, the cinco of Mayo, I’m all for a pre-crazy May holiday. And in my way of thinking, it wouldn’t be a holiday without a little pie. This week’s recipe for Blackberry Buttermilk pie captures some of my favorite flavors, inspired by one of my dog-earred cookbooks, The Coyote Café by Mark Miller. You might say it’s a bit of cinco de Mayo in a pie shell, with a spirited whipped cream finish. It may even be worthy of its own Mariachi band. But a good one, not the Mariachi Band that plays regardless of the hour on the N, Q, and R trains. (Or so my city dwelling daughter tells me.) Merry Mayo one and all.

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