Popcorn on the bottom.
Then small cookies, if possible.
A sweet note.
And fresh flowers.
A variation of those uplifters go into a tradition called May Day baskets, which Kris Brunkhorst, of Waverly, learned in childhood and has practiced since.
The tokens of appreciation have become so deeply rooted in her family history that she considers them an integral part of the spring rituals.
Designated as a way to mark the departure of winter and the advent of spring, May Day baskets appear to be a fading tradition in this country.
Its spirit is epitomized by a picture from the digital archives of the Library of Congress. Taken on April 30, 1927, it features Mrs. Grace Coolidge, then the First Lady and three children, two of which were identified in the caption as Nan Norton and Elizabeth Ann Taylor, presenting her with a basket of daisies. The idea was to showcase the importance of Better Health for Children Movement, according to the caption in the digital archive.
In 1938, another image from the same archive echoes a similar message. This time, then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is kneeling in the middle, presumably to be closer in height to the standing children, then 4-year-old Joan Perry, on the left and 7-year-old Carloyn Brown on the right, both wards of the Community Chest, according to the caption. That basket was delivered on May 2, which FDR had designated as Child Health Day, according to the archive.
But the story of the May Day baskets, as lived in the Midwest, and as told by Kris, strikes a slightly different tone than the ones in Washington, D.C.
Kris, who is the historian of the Waverly Garden Club, said that in Europe, the tradition involved decorating the homes with boughs and greens picked from the woods to mark the arrival of spring.
Growing up in Marion, her mother, Sharon Nielsen, nurtured a love for the May Day baskets tradition, which she and her three daughters, Sandy, Deb and Kris, all enjoyed.
At elementary school, where the celebration was also observed, Kris and her friends used milk cartons from the school or wallpaper samples to make cones for the baskets.
“Traditions are a very important part of my upbringing, and I also try to instill them in my children,” she said.
Kris said that in her household, to this day, she celebrates the tradition, and her friends and neighbors get a May Day basket from her. This year, Kris and her husband, Bob, a former state legislator and Waverly mayor, helped deliver some of the baskets.
Among the recipients was their son, Zach, a student at Wartburg College, who shared it with his fellow students. The couple’s daughter, Karalynn, a nurse who fought on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, also made baskets and shared them with her neighbors and with her co-workers.
Kris said that while she was growing up, it was common that if a young girl would drop off a basket at the doorstep of a house where a boy lived, she would ring the doorbell and run off, before the boy could run after her to steal a kiss.
When she started delivering May Day baskets in Waverly, however, she would ring the neighbor’s doorbell and wait for them to answer the door and visit.
But this year, since the pandemic protocols are still in place, she reverted to her teenage practice, but for a different reason.
“I would ring the bell and leave,” she said.
She said she also prepared baskets for her students at Hawkeye Community College Adult Learning Center where she teaches. Kris enjoys telling the story of the May Day baskets as she has lived it in the past 50 years.
“It’s a little bit of the teacher in me,” she said. “I typically don’t have an activity without a lesson behind it.”