Maypole tradition fraught with danger

By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers

It’s a mystery to me how a pagan fertility dance ever found a place in Bible-thumping Portales and became a 77-year honored tradition.

I’m speaking, of course, about Maypole at Portales High School. While I didn’t attend this year, I got close enough to the action this week in putting together our coverage for the PNT to experience some pretty frightening flashbacks.

Yes, yours truly wound the Maypole; well technically the girls wound the Maypole while the guys stood at attention around the pole.

Did I enjoy it? Most guys who have participated would either take the “Fifth” on that question or say something polite like, “It was kinda fun.” I’ve been one of those guys for the past 29 years, but I must speak out.

No guy ever had fun wearing a tuxedo. Wedding night, after the tux was off, doesn’t count.

Another part of this week’s flashback was the unexpected and timely visit of my own Maypole partner from Oregon. A gathering in her honor the week before this year’s Maypole found the conversation eventually turning to the event.

I was relieved to find out that her feet, which I stood on through most of that Maypole nightmare, healed well, and she wasn’t crippled for life as I had imagined she would be. I learned to waltz, a major accomplishment for a kid raised in a Church of Christ family, but I will admit I was no Fred Astaire.

The actual Maypole night was, I’ll confess, “kinda fun.” But the practices and the dress rehearsal (yeah, I had to wear that tuxedo two nights in a row) were cruel and unusual punishment. There were better things to do than the twice-a-week or more practices in a hot gym.

Barbara George, our Maypole mentor, screamed at us through one practice that we were going to go as late as needed to get things right. The next practice she used the break-down-and-cry tactic, where it was pointed out that we were about to be the first class to break the tradition of Maypole and not be able to have one. Somehow she got us ready though, and the big night went off well.

At least 29 years later, I don’t remember any disasters. All the poles stayed upright, no one tripped and fell, and Mrs. George’s stroke was postponed for another class.

The tradition of the girl asking a guy to wind Maypole, sometimes years in advance, is fraught with danger. One friend at last-week’s gathering related a story about being asked to Maypole by a cousin as they were growing up. He had to turn down a girlfriend’s offer. Another said he had started dating someone else and had forgotten that a previous girlfriend had asked him to wind. She hadn’t forgotten, however, and he said the situation wasn’t pretty.

For my own part, I was asked early in my senior year. I knew I was trapped; my partner was a good friend. I knew my mother would know I had been asked, and not to wind would have shamed the tradition that stretched back to my grandmother.

The custom is weird and out of place in today’s world. But the tradition is rich and unique to Portales High. So suck it up, guys of the class of 2007. That phone call you’re getting about now is your Maypole date.

Karl Terry is a waltzing fool (half right). He’s also managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481, ext. 33, or e-mail: