May Basket Day

By Robert Petrich

I wish my mother had warned me about May baskets.  She was born and raised in the rural Midwest and must have been familiar with the tradition known as May Basket Day.  Perhaps she thought she'd never have to explain why a girl would give a flower basket to her son on the first day of May. 

When my mother called me to the door, Annette was still there for everyone to see.  I was told later that if she ran away I was supposed to give chase and try to steal a kiss.  She probably was waiting to just say hello but I was unprepared for her innocent gesture and reacted rudely by closing that door. 

How many excuses does it take to rationalize bad behavior?  I was young, just seventeen, twenty days away from my high school graduation but still six months away from my eighteenth birthday.  A previous girlfriend had drifted away and I had moved on to think only of myself.  How could I afford to attend college?  Would I be drafted?  Should I just go ahead and enlist?  My parents would have to sign the papers but the recruiter said he could mail them to my father who was still in Vietnam.

After graduation, Annette went to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and I to St. Paul to find work.  I didn't stay in touch with friends from high school and didn't see any of them again until a reunion 30 years later.  There I learned, that though I became a soldier, Annette was the one to die tragically young, just two summers after I last saw her that May Day long ago.

I have kept people at arm's length all my life and feel the emptiness in my soul.  So, I will return to South Dakota in April when it is often cool and wet and walk the muddy fields of my uncle's farm to find the first spring flowers before they die.  I will shape a mat of Phlox into a floral basket and weave in Pasque Flower and Prairie Rose.  

I hope it's not too late, to place my love and regret, in a May basket on Annette's grave.