May Day Queen
by Ruth Hammond Barrus
"We have a very important announcement to make this morning." As tall, affable Jim Roskelley spoke these works a hush fell over the Smithfield Sunday School and all 15 year old girls sat breathlessly forward on their benches. Retta pressed against Rachel Mather, her slender lovely friend, and whispered, "I'll bet it's you."
Jim Roskelley continued, "As you know the committee for choosing our May Day Queen from among our young ladies met this week, and after much consideration a choice has been made". Then Brother Roskelley paused, ---- a long pause, ----- and the expectancy that surged up from the rows of young ladies met the pause, resulting in a humorous release of smiles and light laughter. Then, looking at Retta, the speaker announced: "The committee has chosen for their 1893 May Day Queen, Sister Retta Hale." The resultant whispers that followed the announcement momentarily covered Retta's confusion, but as she felt nearly three hundred eyes searching her out she became pale and a little frightened. When, however, she saw friendly, happy smiles that accompanied those eyes, she responded with a shy but grateful smile and happy tears rimmed her eyes. Rachel hugged her and whispered, "Oh, I am glad it is you."
When quiet had settled again over the audience the Sunday School Superintendent continued: "On May 1st, unless bad weather interferes, we will all meet here on the Tabernacle square by 10:00 a.m.. The queen and her maids will ride on a special wagon in advance of the other teams, and we will all proceed to the canyon. I am sure you are looking forward to this as I am, so let's all be here, ten sharp, May 1st.
Happily Retta received the congratulations of her friends after church that day and a smiling family that later met around the Hale Sunday dinner table. A joyous spirit had been missing from the Hale home for nearly nine months, and on that day all seemed ready to welcome its return. It was nine months ago while Retta was herding cows down by the railroad tracks that she had received word that her older sister, Katie, had died in far off Samoa where she was on a mission with her husband, Joseph Merrill. Retta ran home into the arms of a sobbing mother. Unbelief fought with reality as the family tried to understand that they would never see on this earth their beloved Katie again. All the family, except for Katie's husband, were denied the comfort of seeing his lovely daughter in death, and a longing for her filled them with sorrow and unrest. Katie and her new-born son, Aroet, were buried in a strange land, a fact that was hard for this united family to accept. True Latter-Day Saints cannot long remain in mourning however, for they ;know that a righteous spirit is gloriously welcomed into an eternity of happiness and service; and they know also that they will not long be separated in eternity from those they love if they too live righteously.
So the coming of spring this year meant more than the awakening of earth to its responsibilities, it meant to the Hale family renewal of courage and determination to live better and serve their Father in Heaven more that they might again be united with Katie. Radiant Retta, as queen of the May, symbolized to them that they must do all this cheerfully.
In 1893, the average girl was allowed one new summer dress which they could wither have on May day or the 4th of July. This May day called for a special dress for Retta, and her older sister, Grace, new an excellent dressmaker, joined with the expert hands of Mother Hale to make this dress an occasion. Yards of white voil were gathered at the waist, and many tiny stitches were made to insert lace and trimming into those yards. As the dream of the dress grew, Retta looked down at her scuffed high-buttoned shoes and said a silent prayer -- "Oh please have mother let me wear my slippers!" One day, during a dress fitting, she actually approached her mother about the slippers. Mother Hale doubtfully shook her heard. Retta's uncertain health was of constant concern to her. Looking into her daughter's pleading face she said hesitantly, "Maybe - - - - If the weather is good and warm".
"Oh! It will be warm! It must be warm!" excitedly came from Retta.
Mother Hale had more to contend with than May day dresses. Father Hale was determined that their two pet mule colts were going to accompany them to the celebration, and she was determined they would not.
"Pa, you can't take those mule colts up there; they'll be a nuisance and you know it."
"Now ma," he coaxed, "they won't be a nuisance to anyone. People have been coming miles to see these two colts, and I figure I'll just tie them to the surrey and then folks can see them without going to all the trouble to come way out here. It's a celebration were going to anyway, and some folks would rather see two good-looking mule colts than an old maypole braiding. They are as tame as kittens and they'll be a lot of fun for everyone."
Mother Hale knew that further argument was useless now. The girls had romped and played with the colts since they were first born and they almost seemed human in their response. Retta and Viola in trying to find suitable names for them desired them to be unusual ones, and finally decided to call them Zebi-Dee and Zebi-Dan.. At the call of their names the colts would come running, nuzzling their noses in the extended food-filled hands. The colts were petted and spoiled by everyone who came near them, and their Rhone bodies and tall ungainly legs shone with much brushing. Their upraised mule ears bespoke an unsatiable curiosity that found them always on hand much as a faithful eager dog. They are a stimulating sight, mused mother Hale.
As the first of May came closer, Retta arose each morning anxiously viewing the weather from her bedroom window, hoping there would be no clouds. For three days their had been no clouds, and now there were only two day left. Maybe, - - - Oh maybe, she would get to wear her slippers. The slippers had been highly polished and put under the bed. Surely a queen shouldn't have to wear shoes on May day, wishfully thought Retta. A cloudy day met the sun that last day of April and rain showers fell freely in the canyon and valley. It looked almost as if the celebration would have to be postponed, but the sun managed to expel the clouds by afternoon and plans for the next day continued. That night Retta's long black hair was washed and brushed and carefully rolled on strips of folded newspaper so that she could have long curls that next day. This task never ailed to bring Retta to the question, "Did Rebecca Jones hair nearly turn green when her mother curled it?"
"Yes, it was very green, and it wouldn't wash out, so they had to cut it short."
"Imagine," giggled Retta, "anyone using old green window blinds to curl your hair on."
"I don't think Mrs. Jones will try it again," answered mother Hale.
"Mother," said Retta in careful voice, "I have worn these shoes all winter, and I don't think they'd look very good with that beautiful white dress, do you?" I tried on my last year's slippers, and they still fit, and Rachel and Bertha are going to wear their slippers tomorrow. Please can't I wear them? Please?"
Mother Hale looked at her daughter whose big black eyes burned brightly in the pale face, and she remembered the many days this daughter had been ill at home the last few months. What should she do?
"Today's showers will make the canyon heavy with moisture for tomorrow. You know, Retta, that wet feet will mean the sick bed for you again. We must do what is best. I'll go to work on these shoes and have them shining like new. I know most of the girls there will be wearing their shoes."
Retta comforted herself the next day as she took her place on the specially decorated wagon with her maids of honor, that the full skirt just about covered the shoes if she pulled her feet back under the chair she was sitting on. She thought a little resentfully how she didn't get her way with Ma, but Pa did, for there was Zebi-Dee and Zebi-Dan in full brightness tied to the surrey. As she watched them a minute she was forced to smile at the frisky twins who were continually twisting around trying to see everybody and everything at once. So shoes were soon forgotten in the happiness of those around her and in the anticipation of the day ahead.
As the procession wound up the canyon the freshness and greenness of spring broke joyfully on everyone much as a lovely voice that you have waited long to hear. Little patches of purple violets and white crocuses were conspicuous among the tender green shoots of grass. Quaking Aspens and Haws bushes were sending out tiny shielded leaves. The pines glistening with dew, looked the protectors of all this new life which dispelled the gloom and worries of winter. The canyon opened into a small clearing, and there in the center was a platform and the throne for the queen. Retta and her maids of honor were escorted to the throne where she received her crown and was made the ruler for the day. The program consisted of speeches from leaders of the ward, readings, singing, and concluded with the braiding of the Maypole. Young girls dressed in colorful pastel dresses, curls and braids flying, danced in and out with their streamers to the rhythm of those clapping and singing around them. Retta looked much like the spring she symbolized that day, - young, radiant, and full of joyful eager anticipation. Her face reflected appreciation and thankfulness for everything that happened and everyone seemed to respond with the same spirit.
Lunch and games and visiting followed the program and as the afternoon waned, father Hale made preparations to leave. As he helped mother toward the surrey, the both exclaimed, "The colts are gone!"
"They couldn't have pulled themselves loose," he exclaimed. "You get in the carriage and I'll look for them." He didn't have far to go. Attracted by merry laughter he found a large group of boys around the queen's throne, and gracing it as best they could were Zebi-Dee and Zebi-Dan. with crowns of flowers on top of their heads.