REMEMBER WHEN: April showers bring May flowers
“When April showers may come your way; they bring the flowers that bloom in May…” Judy Garland sang this song in the 1950s. May Day is almost a forgotten tradition and fading in popularity, some say. In medieval and modern Europe, a celebration for the return of Spring probably originated in ancient agricultural rituals of the Greeks and the Romans when they held such festivals.
May baskets are usually filled with flowers or treats and left anonymously on someone’s doorsteps or door knobs. May Day was definitely an event beginning in Andalusia’s first brick schoolhouses on East Three Notch Street. It is evident as we peruse the old local newspapers where programs were staged celebrating May 1. Later the May Day programs were held for many years on the Church Street School lawn. I can only surmise that when the new elementary school was built on Church Street around 1923, the lawn elevated from the street made a perfect “stage.” The street would be closed and the townspeople always turned out to watch the students who sang and danced in their colorful costumes, some in lawn chairs in front of The Gables and some standing in the street and on the sidewalk. Boys and girls in each grade would come out one group at a time and perform on the lawn. The event was always held on the first Thursday afternoon in May, and the crowds would gather with excitement.
Those students who participated still remember that there was a “theme” every year. A King and a Queen were crowned and were surrounded by a court of maidens (girls in the lower elementary grades). Mothers sewed costumes for days on end, and teachers taught dances and songs to the choristers. As early back as I can find a former student or teacher to remember, Mary Clyde Mims (later Mrs. Jake Merrill) was a director in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Miss Merilyn Jones became the music teacher for both elementary schools in the mid 1950s, and she became the May Day director for some 12 years. Former teachers Harriet Jay Hubbard and Jo Ann Lewis think that the last May Day at Church Street School might have been in the Spring of 1967. Mr. Cliff Brabham came that Fall to be principal, they remembered, and they don’t recall that the event was continued since Miss Jones had left the city school system by then to go back to college for pursuing her master’s degree. Some classes may have had some May Day activities after 1967 but no school-wide event.
Several social media sites lit up when the subject of May Day at Church Street School was mentioned. Here are a few of the many posts from former students.
Becky Kyzar Smith – “In 1959, the 2nd grade wore red, white, and blue and danced to the tune of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’ In 1960, I was a Garland Bearer in the court and wore a white dotted Swiss dress and carried a basket of red roses. In 1961, the 4th grade danced to a French tune, and we wore artist smocks and berets. In 1962, the 5th grade danced the May pole that had pink and white streamers. I thought that we would never learn how to wind the thing right. My sister Claire was in the court and wore a pinafore. My brother James Kyzar was a soldier when he was a 4th grader. The chorus sang ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.’”
Valerie Keith – “My mother took home movies when I was a 6th grader in Mrs. Johnson’s room. Lela Cope was the principal.”
Lynn Boyett Hinote – “Mom made our dresses. I remember being in the court. I wanted to dance so much instead of being in a pinafore!”
Tarldon Neese – “My May Day memory was in 1947. A group of boys and myself did a Russian dance complete with the full squat, front kick-out with one leg then the other. Arms were crossed and lifted up with eyes straight ahead. Mother made my black blousy trousers with a red vest. I wore a white shirt, black boots with shiny leggings, and a red half-cocked hat with a tassel. Our class went on to become part of the AHS Class of 1954, a long time ago. Behind Church Street School was still all woods way before a pool was built. Some of us left school every day and walked through the woods following two different trails on our way home. Great memories!”
Beverly Nall Pace – “I was a raindrop and the boys wore raincoats.”
Tom Sawyer – “When I was a 6th grader at East Three Notch School, I attended the May Day exercises. Some of us would walk across town after school dismissed over to Church Street School. I spotted the Queen, Lillian Privett, dancing around the May pole. Somehow I arranged for someone to tell her that I liked her. I could just imagine that pretty girl being my summer girlfriend and early 7th grade girlfriend. I was really looking forward to this upcoming party one weekend where I would get to see her, but unfortunately, I ended up having to go out of town with my parents knowing that I would probably lose her. Sure enough, another friend of mine stole her away! I think she eventually moved off before we got to the 9th grade. So weird are the details we can remember from that long ago!”
Gerald Jordan – “It wasn’t easy for a bashful kid like me!”
Mike Williams – “May Day was near the same time as when we had to go get those sugar cubes, the polio vaccine that replaced those shots.”
Sherry Pouncey – “I was a Garland Girl in the 6th grade. I am pretty sure that Ann Maloy was the Queen. She was absolutely gorgeous!”
Benjie Nall – “I was in May Day from 1960-66 and one of the themes was ‘The King and I.’”
Harvey Donaldson – “For 5 of my 6 years at Church Street School, I participated in the May Day program (1950-55). In 1951 due to the construction going on of the new 1st and 2nd grade annex building, there was no May Day program. In the 1st grade, I was a grasshopper with hood and long tail. In 3rd grade I was a butterfly with a black and yellow costume and cellophane wings. Betty Jane Peavy and I were dressed in Easter outfits in the 4th grade. We paraded down the front steps to the music of ‘Easter Parade.’”
“In the 5th grade, Margo Russell was a maiden in the court of Queen Kaye Bell and King Donnie Sharpe. I was Margo’s escort decked out in a black hammer- tailed coat. Years later Margo damaged my ego by telling me that I was chosen as her escort by our teacher Barbara Baker not by Margo.”
“‘Circus’ was the theme in my 6th grade. Many of my 6th grade girl classmates were in the May pole dance wearing tutus which attracted the attention of us 6th grade boys and the jr. high boys in attendance. Mary Ben Merrill was the queen that year (1955), and she chose Frank Rentz as king. The only other royalty I remember were Claire Roberts (queen) and Tommy O’Neal (king) in 1953.”
“When I phoned Margo recently to verify my facts, she responded that my May Day memories were generally true but jumbled. She further suggested that my recall of the grade school events from 70 years ago might be evidence of my advancing senile dementia!”
Diane Southwell Williams and Suzy McGraw Hedges – “When we were 6th graders, Carol Henry Moore was the queen and Stanley Sasser was the king. Suzy was a princess in the court. Diane played a tonette in the chorus and sat next to Sissy Studstill. All of the girls in the court went to beautician Dot Dixon to have their hair done for the program. The girls in the court carried a single pinkish-red plastic rose. Suzy remembers being a clown in 1st grade where she wore a red and white costume and a fairy in 2nd grade wearing a yellow costume with sequined wings that her mother made. (Those girls went on to sing in the AHS Glee Club as members of the Class of 1966.)
Jimmy Mott – “I was a pole dancer (#%+?@x)! The good ole days! Fun times and fond memories.”
So many classmates posted their memories in “Growing Up in Andalusia, Alabama” like Vickie White Cowen, Joann Northrop Koehn, Clark Wilson, Donnie Wiggins, Caroline Eiland Busbee, Jerry Bullock, Larry Jones, Michael Holloway, Casey White, Susan Young O’Keefe, Phillip Barnes, Tonya Leigh Blackburn, Barbara Patterson Eiland, Mary Jo Braun, Bennie Bozeman, John Eiland, Bonita Hayes Platner, Ann Proctor Fuller, Barbara Jeffcoat Rogers, Genia Johnson Dorman, Jimmy Floyd, Gerome Brackin, Jolaine Martin Sims, Steve Bryant, Larry Oliver, Marianne Martin Chapman, Pam Mullen Doster, Debbie Ham, Irma Phillips Smith, York Harold Weant, Barbara Henley, Richard Anthony, Kathy Merrell Southhall, Wayne Sasser, Shirlene O’Neal Allen, Beverly Nall Pace, La Juana Berry Grief, and Cathy Mancil who stated, “Brings back precious memories.”
Other Kings and Queens not listed above that can be remembered are Richard Anthony and Karen Bennett (1958), Jimmy Hutto and Sharon Gatlin (1959), Joe Wiggins and Dorothy White (1961), Jake Preston and Katherine Anthony Dubose (1962), Kenny Horton and Becky Kyzar Smith (1963).
Teachers mentioned in that era (I am sure there are many more!) were Harper, (Griffin) Lewis, Bush, May, Johnson, Adams, Findley, Griffin, Hamiter, Palmer, McInnish, Davis, Timmerman, Starnes, Smyly, and Foshee.
Thanks to Betty Radcliff Kleiss, former Church Street School teacher, who helped to head me in the right direction to gather some of this information. Send more, friends, and it will be included in the files of the Covington Historical Society whose
goal is to preserve and publicize the history of Andalusia.
Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a local real estate broker and long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.