In May, the smell of lilacs, Viburnum and dandelions filled the air, just in time for Mother’s Day and the May Crowning. Bonita and I kept an eye on the lilac bushes, two at the side of the house, and one on the way to the barn. We prayed they’d be ready to pick by Mother’s Day. Mom loved flowers.
Every year St. Joseph’s had a May Crowning; the whole month of May was for Mary, but only one day was for everybody else’s mother. I guessed that’s what happens when you’re the mother of God, but that didn’t seem so fair to me, ’cause Mary only had one son and he was perfect, so her job was easy. My mom had nine kids; ‘course lots of work got doled out to the Big Kids, leaving Mom to sew all day and go grocery shopping.
Sister said the girl who got to be Queen of the May and crown Mary on Coronation Sunday was always somebody really special, and every single girl she chose in her whole, entire life went on to become a nun. She gave me her pinched look when she said it: not the kind of look that said, ‘somebody like you, dear,’ I was pretty sure she was thinking, “Fat chance, kiddo.” Sure enough, she chose Annette.
Annette was another friend from school and catechism. Her mom was super-strict and made her and her two big sisters, Cecilia and Marie, wear old-fashioned dresses way down half-way to their ankles, so Annette’s legs hardly showed at all, and got in the way of running fast. My best-friend-on-the-bus Betty said Annette and her sisters were named after the Dionne quintuplets; some Canadian babies born way back in the Depression who were like twins, only five instead of two. I heard the doctor said those quints were tiny as baby rats when they were born, but Good Housekeeping changed it to puppies, ’cause most moms reading Good Housekeeping hate rats and that would make them sad to think of babies looking like rats. I know my mom hates rats, but she loves babies, no matter what they look like, so she’d probably be okay with tinsy rat-looking babies, too.
Annette got to walk up first in the Coronation procession, carrying a pillow with a wreath of all sorts of pretty flowers made of silk. The rest of us walked along behind singing:
Mary we crown thee with flowers today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May. Ave, Ave, Ave Mar-ree-ya, Ave, Ave, Mar-ree-eee-ee-ya!
Annette was super nervous, almost shaky-afraid that she would drop those flowers. My Best Friend Ever, Connie, said she never wanted to do something like that. I would. I would march right up there, climb up that little ladder, with no helping hand at all, and plop that crown of flowers right down on Mary’s head snug as a bug in a rug, then I would turn and smile at everyone.
I was pretty well-known for my smile, especially after I lost all my teeth. Uncle Gerald took a picture of me all by myself, just smiling out huge with no front teeth, everybody said it was the best smile they ever saw. That was after I stuck my tongue out through the hole, while Uncle Gerald was taking a group picture, and I made Dad so mad he jerked me aside and gave me a good talking-to about how much better my smile was than a tongue sticking out, and I should be ashamed. I sure did get a lot more attention with that big toothless smile, so I had to admit, Dad knew what he was talking about. He was a pretty smart for an old guy.
After church, everybody said how pretty Annette looked and what a good job she did and how maybe some day she would be a nun. Annette said no, she was going to be a cop, which made everybody laugh in that she’s-just-a-kid-isn’t-that-cute, sort of way, and turn their heads to the side to see who else was laughing at Annette’s silliness. I could tell Anntette felt kind of embarrassed. She whispered to me and Connie, “I going to arrest people like that someday.”
After church Bonita and I checked on the lilacs. The purple flowers were all balled up tight like tinsy clumps of grapes about the size of B•Bs, but oh, they smelled so good. I pulled a branch down close to my face and sniffed that sweet aroma down deep. Grandma’s bottom dresser drawer smelled just like that from the sachet she put in there. She kept a bunch of brand new white nighties with lacy collars in that drawer. She told me she was saving them for when she was dying, so she would look pretty when she had to stay in bed all day long.
Annette never did take vows of chastity, neither did Connie or I; Betty wasn’t even Catholic. Sister’s perfect record had no chance of surviving the me and my friends. I lost touch with Betty. The last time I saw Annette, she sneaking into homes and garages, repossessing furniture and cars from people who didn’t pay their bills. That was the year after we graduated from high school. Connie and I both got married when we were nineteen; we both got divorced, too. Connie runs a nursing home where my Aunt Annie stayed for a while. We caught up with each other not too long ago. She’s still the Best Friend Ever.