May basket memories of long ago

Jerry Apps
One of the fun things farm kids like Jerry Apps did during the month of May was to make little paper baskets at his little country school, which were then delivered under the cover of darkness.

One of the fun things we farm kids did during the month of May was to make little paper baskets at our country school and then play “May Baskets.” It was a game where a couple of us kids, unannounced to the rest of the neighborhood, would fill our little paper May Baskets with flowers. Anything we could find, violets, apple blossoms, even dandelions.

Then in the dark of night, we would begin visiting the neighbor farms with kids. We’d hang a May Basket on their kitchen door, yell “May Basket” and then run like the dickens. The kids at the place where we hung the May Basket, would run after us, eventually catching us and joining us as we walked to the next farm.

The farms were a half-mile apart, so before the night was over, we would have walked several miles. But what fun it was on a warm May night, with all the sounds and smells of spring hanging in the warm air. It was a way to share the spring spirit with our neighbors.

Our biggest challenge, as we walked from farm to farm, was dealing with the farm dogs. Some were friendly, but a few of them would just as soon tear your pants off and chew you on the ankle as allow you to pet them.

I knew the names of most of the farm dogs and tried to calm them as we hung a May basket on their master’s kitchen door. After all, one of the dog’s jobs was to prevent the very thing that we were doing – sneaking up to the kitchen door in the dead of night. I don’t remember any serious dog confrontations, but a farm dog could never be ignored.

The May Basket tradition goes back as far as the 12th and 13th centuries In Germany. Some believe the ancient Romans practiced the tradition. Flowers have long been a symbol of the coming of spring, and thus should be celebrated.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Sharing flowers is one way to celebrate the coming of spring.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to