By Sharna Johnson: PNT fact finder
Unique in its annual tradition, the community of Portales has years of memories from Maypoles gone-by. Beautiful dresses, dream-like dancing to heart-scoring music and the uniting of classmates right before they cross into their adult lives and leap into the great unknown.
These things are all part of the magic of Maypole for these ladies who participated as seniors, and in some cases helped their own daughters prepare for their own twirl of tradition.
All share in the sentiment that it was, for them, a night to remember forever and one that will be indelibly etched in their memories of growing up in Portales. From the Great Depression to the turn of the century, these ladies have shared their memories:
Juanita Davis Putnam, 1935
“When I was a young lady of 17, I was one of the lucky ones who helped wind the Maypole. We asked some boy to escort us to the floor but the boys didn’t dance with us. We waltzed around the pole. When the dance was over, the boys escorted the girls out of the gym.”
Putnam was chosen for Maypole since she lived in town and could stay late for practices. Coach Browns wife and Mrs. Bonner were the sponsor for the class of 1935. Steeped in the Depression, it is thought that no photos were taken of the Maypole celebration for this and several other years. Portales High School has no yearbooks from 1929 to 1935 in its library.
Words of advice to future participants: “To those dancing around the Maypole this year…you will never forget nor regret participating. Go on and be successful in your endeavors.”
Betty Gerber Miller, 1944
At a time when so many of the boys had gone off to fight in World War II, only girls wound the Maypole. Miller recalls that she made her own dress out of blue net, taffeta and lots of white lace because, like many others, she did not have the money to purchase a gown. Her mother took her photo outside with a box camera. She remembers the girls were all so beautiful in their pastel dresses with full, flowing skirts. Her partner that year was her best friend, Gena Bess Shinn.
Words of advice to future participants: “Education is the key to a better life. What you make of life is up to you. What counts most in life is what we do for others. Remember that you are important, as I’ve always heard God doesn’t make any junk.”
Joletha Heflin, 1962
Maypole stands out as one of the favorite memories from her senior year. “I still remember “Lady”, Mrs. Frances Richardson, teaching us the dance. The long nights of practice culminated into a wonderful night of magical wonder.” Heflin recalls Joe Van Bullard crowning Janet Slaten “Queen of May”. Between the choir singing, the words of wisdom from classmates and flowing tears when the school song was sung it was a night to remember.
Words of advice to future participants: “Set sail with your dreams, for you never know where they may take you, because when you have found your hearts purpose, then you have truly found paradise. Your senior year will be one of your most memo0rable memories”
Linda Usrey Long, 1962
Asking Jeff Cantrell, a good friend and “the best dancer” in her class to be her partner in the ninth grade, Long was thrilled to be nominated as queen when her senior year rolled around. Even though her good friend Janet Slaten was elected queen, she didn’t mind losing since Cantrell would be her winding partner and she was asked by Slaten to be an attendant. “Maypole was an absolutely enchanting evening for me anyway. Every girl looked so beautiful and the boys were all so handsome. I was extremely happy, but at the same time, tears welled in my eyes at the thought of everyone going their separate ways, I have not seen Jeff and so many others since graduation.”
Words of advice to future participants: “Enjoy your Maypole. Look around carefully so that you won’t forget your friend’s faces. The memories will be priceless.”
Sharon Davis, 1968
For her class, Davis recalls, Maypole participation was required. “ I was chosen to give the closing address and sang with the choir. The evening was just beautiful and every year I enjoy attending the Maypole evening and reliving those special memories.
Words of advice to future participants: I would encourage this year’s participants to savor the moment and not to make too many changes to the tradition. The graduates of Portales High School are watching you and cheering you on.”
Marilyn Borden Rigsby, 1969
Saying that Maypole was more than a fancy dress-up occasion, more than an end to 12 years of education. Rigsby states that “it was a TRADITION”, one that is still alive both in continued activities and in the memories of those who participated in the past. “Maypole was more than a moment in time, it was a time for each class to come together as friends and classmates, a time to celebrate an end, a farewell to one another, to our teachers, to the school and to our past and to look toward the future…we had finally reached a point where childish things would be put away and the future was knocking on our door. When I think of Maypole, I am forever reminded of those famous lyrics … faded photographs light the corners of my mind … for the way we were.”
Karla Partin, 1973
The styles of Maypole dresses and the musical selections have changed over the years, Partin says. In the late 1960’s, when Partin first began attending Maypole, the dresses were mostly straight with an empire waist. She recalls that music choices such as “Edelweiss” and “Could I have this dance for the rest of my life” have added a beautiful and touching element to the tradition. “The memories I hold of Maypole are keeping tradition – a common bond shared by graduates of Portales High. It is a time of working together with friends to make “class night” an evening to remember. It is amazing that teachers and sponsors would devote so much time to make this event special to the group of graduates. It is an event that I will always remember fondly.”
Words of advice to future participants: “Enjoy it while you are there, life flies by quickly. The friendships are what it’s all about.”
Carrie Miles Mead, 1979
As she helps her own daughter prepare for Maypole, she is flooded with memories. “It seems lie just yesterday that I was hunting for the perfect dress and enduring the long practices. I was so anxious for life outside of high school.”
Words of advice to future participants: “Remember to count your blessings in family and friends. Look to the lord to make decisions and guide you through life. You will make mistakes, have sad and happy times, succeed and fail, but He will carry you through it all if you just ask. Congratulations and good luck!”
Tina George Lee, 1982
Feeling blessed to be part of the tradition of Maypole, Lee believes it has stood the test of time in part because of the wonderful people in Portales, including her mother Barbara George – the director of 26 Maypole celebrations. She reminisces “I had such a wonderful life in P-ville because of my friends and family and the events such as Maypole. What a night in my life.
The boys don’t ever want to do Maypole but they love it as much as the girls. It’s like a big family night. Everyone has a great time.”
Lee and her friend Brenda Harmon were flower girls as young children. Harmon was the queen, and Lee an attendant when it was their turn in 1982.
Words of advice to future participants: “Lean on the strong Christian principals that were instilled in you as you were growing up. Keep waltzing until your knees give out — then go watch your children and grandchildren waltzing and let them fill your hearts with love. See you at Maypole!”
Micah Thompson, 1992
Watching brothers, sisters and cousins wind the pole and waiting for your turn is something you dream about growing up in Portales according to Thompson. Partners were determined in junior high and they were made to swear, that no matter what, they would fulfill their promise to wind with you when the time came. “For a girl”, Thompson says, “Maypole is all about the dress” she remembers searching various cities and boutiques trying to find the perfect wedding dress that could be ordered in pink. “The night was truly a memorable one for me. It was the culmination of years of dreaming. It was spent with best friends and we loved every minute of it.”
In the years following her Maypole, Thompson’s dress was sold to another winder, then to a pageant queen and finally it was returned to her “I hope that someday my little girl will put the dress on, look in the mirror, and twirl!”
Words of advice to future participants: “Watch your hoops when you sit down! Drink in every moment and enjoy it.”
Emily Partin, 1998
Daughter of Karla Partin, Emily participated in Maypole 25 years after her mother but they share in their fond memories of the tradition. “Maypole will always remain a fond memory and even a capstone to the High School years. It was a time to bond with my graduating class and say good-bye to friends that I might not see again. There were no separations of social groups, but instead it was a chance to share a wonderful connectio`n with those in the same graduating class.”
Words of advice to future participants: “Enjoy the moment
because you will never be in that exact place in time again.”
— Compiled by Freedom Newspapers Fact Finder Sharna Johnson.