Years ago at Harlan Elementary School, “May Day” was synonymous with “Health Day.” It was kind of a field day with all sorts of athletic contests held on the football field in Georgetown. Students in grades one through six participated. There was a parade of school children in costumes marching through town accompanied by their teachers. The May Queen rode in the back of a decorated truck. Once on the playing field, three- legged races, potato sack races, relays and jumping contests were conducted. Both boys and girls were eligible to participate and prizes were awarded.
One of the highlights of the day was the weaving and unweaving of the “May Pole.” The dancers practiced for weeks in the gymnasium in order to learn the moves without getting all mixed up. The practice ribbons were made of muslin; the real satin ribbons weren’t attached until “that day.”
Some of the children who participated in the annual event wore blue ribbons attached to their left shoulder, while others wore red ribbons. There was a reason for that. Earlier in the school year, a battalion of local doctors visited the school and gave cursory health examinations to every pupil. Students were measured, weighed, scrutinized for lice and malnutrition, and had their throats, eyes, ears and teeth examined. If the child’s health was found “wanting,” the school nurse informed the parents. Whatever was found to be wrong must be righted by “May Day.”
Some of the doctors who donated their mornings to the school’s health program back in those days were: Clark Bailey Sr., general medicine; J.B. Jones, J.R Hughes and C.P. Mayhall, dentists; Robert Marks, Milus L. Gunn and Joseph W. Nolan (my father), to name a few. Red-headed and freckled Eva Hicks was the school nurse who assisted the doctors and made notes on the students’ health cards.
If a student had his cavities filled, his tonsils removed, his lice gotten rid of, or in other words, followed the recommendations of the doctors and corrected those things which needed attention in order to be in “perfect” health, then the student was a candidate for a blue ribbon on “May Day.” If those things were not corrected, but might be later on, then the student was given a red ribbon.
“May Day,” next Tuesday, might be a good opportunity to visit a neighbor or to offer a wee flower basket in honor of the occasion. If not, perhaps a smile or just a friendly “hello” would suffice. Traditionally, May 1 is the day here in Southeastern Kentucky when old and young alike shuck their long pants and shoes for shorts and sandals. Also, the first day of May gives youngsters the green light to take off their shoes and go barefooted for the remainder of the summer.