Bob Mitchell: Have you ever wrapped a May pole?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Bob Mitchell Ozark Views & Comments

This is the time of year in days long past that tradition called for the wrapping of the May Pole to observe the complete arrival of spring.

The tradition wasn't very popular with most of the participating kids, especially the boys who were required to wear their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. That meant there would be no wrestling on school grounds, no races, no marble games and especially no mumble peg activities. If any of these have to be explained further, that might be the subject of a future column.

May Pole wrapping occurred on the school campus area immediately outside the south door of the stone gym, now known as the J.C. Duncan Gym. It was in that area where swing sets were once located, where the metal poles were 12-15 feet tall. At the top of these poles were attached possibly 20 streamers of alternating colors. The material must have been substantial because they received some pulling and tugging over a period of rehearsing. This wasn't any part of any activity, but always happened anyway.

Attaching those streamers was usually the duty of the custodians, who may have been assisted by some high school boys who would climb the tallest ladder available on the campus.

The object

Even though electronic devices of today didn't exist, there was music available. Groups of youngsters would grasp the streamers in boy/girl formation around the poles. At the signal of the music, they would begin marching around the pole with the streamers in hand and wrap the pole until it was a solid color.

Then, at a signal, they would reverse their travel and take the streamers off the pole. The second phase of the performance was to weave in and out, first in front of the participant next to you and then behind the next in line, again until the pole was wrapped, this time appearing with an alternating color. The next operation was to reverse the activity and get the pole unwrapped.

There were three or four of the poles in this section of the playground, each possessing their own color of streamers.

How these streamers got fastened to the top of those poles and exactly how many of them existed, is beyond my memory.

Part of carnival

Most generally, this was part of the school carnival that might have been this time of the year. This type of activity was possibly a part of the physical education program back in those days.

Some of the time there would be a flag drill performance that accompanied the May Pole program, usually featuring a different group of students.

These activities were held about the time elementary students were moved from the West Seventh Street school building into a brand new structure. Kids were glad to get off the hill and out of the building where classes might be in the basement or on the second floor. Most of them missed the possibility of sneaking a climb and slide down the fire escape slide on the back of that old building.

This was all going on about 1940 when my class was in the fifth grade, and there was no climbing the steep hill to get to school. There was even a level playground instead of the one that lost some softballs on the slanted hillside of the old school. One holdback of the advantages around the new school was the ball field, which also served as the rodeo grounds once a year.

When softball season rolled around, it was necessary for students to spend some time removing cow piles that were plentiful around the field. Fences had been previously removed.

Points changed

That school carnival, which featured activities in the gym, provided a number of money-making programs -- for general school use supposedly -- changed from domestic goods about this time to scrap metal scrounging over the countryside. This was the World War II era, and metal was a sought-after item for the war effort. Instead of bringing canned goods to be sold, youngsters would cover the rural areas and town streets, looking for any piece of metal that might be brought to town, weighed and providing points for their particular class.

During those early years, high schoolers might be recruited, since they might put their hands on an automobile to haul this metal. Our class was fortunate to have Bill Barber and his grocery delivery horse-drawn wagon to travel back roads and pick up any piece of rusted metal we might find along the way.

Most generally, boys preferred this approach to the point system much more than wrapping a May Pole.

Don't forget that Sunday is Mother's Day!

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.