An old friend used to send us wildly incoherent postcards from exotic places he visited. He usually signed off, “Mayday – Mayday – Mayday” which more often than not signaled distress at reaching the bottom of a bottle of vodka.
After a trip, he often arrived at our house well after midnight and would fall fully clothed onto the couch. The next morning, over a breakfast of eggs, toast and orange juice, he would pull out paper wrapped objects from deep within the pockets of his parka.
He had exquisite taste in souvenirs. They were always well crafted and had the mark of a market rather than a stamp of a duty-free shop.
He would unwrap his packages without hurrying. One time it was a long lineage of nesting dolls, another time lacquered boxes with elaborate illustrations of folk tales, and still another time tasselled scarfs with intricate designs in chalky grey and mustard yellow.
He would arrange his things in front of him with precision, giving them space to breathe and be admired.
Though he avoided museums, churches, and monuments unless standing in the way to his hotel, he would talk about people he had met. He’d talk about drinks he had shared or he’d tell funny stories of being mis-understood or lost. He’d describe in detail long train rides and the sausages and breads he bought from street vendors. Sometimes he would mention the unexpected beauty of an evening sky or a view of a cityscape.
Then he would carefully re-wrap his gifts, tuck them into his coat pockets and go home where he lived with his mother.
In the fifth grade, I was accidently chosen to be a player in the traditional crowning of the virgin Mary on May Day. It involved a scraggly procession and the placing of a crown of flowers on a pretty near life-size version of the BVM (that’s Blessed) herself. It was heady stuff.
Nowadays, whenever May Day rolls around, I get a kick out of thinking that the BVM is saying, “Wow, May already — and here I am out of vodka.”