Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day Musings

This is the book of my childhood. It was published in 1955. I loved it beyond measure because it was about families and neighborhoods. I've always been a domestic girl, caring most about my home and family. Amazing how we can see the roots of our adult selves in our child selves.

Each day of the year has a page long entry, and the book follows all the families on What-a-Jolly Street throughout the year. From January 2:

The name of the street was really Trufflescootems Boulevard. Nobody called it that, though, because the street wasn't long. It was very short, and twenty-two children lived on it. Twenty-two, imagine that!

Where twenty-two children live and play and yell and shout and ride their tricycles and wagons and bikes and play with their dogs and cats and rabbits and turtles and monkeys and parrots - well, you just can't call a street like that Trufflescootems Boulevard, can you?

So nobody did. When they came to that block, they always smiled and said, "My what a jolly street!" And pretty soon that was the name of it - "What-a-Jolly Street."

The kindly looking woman on the cover is Mrs. Apricot. I remember thinking this was a delightful name. Living in nineteen-fifties New England, I had never seen a real apricot.

At the end of What-a-Jolly Street lived old Mrs. Apricot. Yes, that was really her name - Mrs. Apricot, and she looked like one, too, soft and rosy and plump.

She is the woman who teaches the girls how to knit. The girls help her cut squares for a quilt and help her bake cookies. The book is full of stories Mrs. Apricot tells to all the neighborhood children. One entry might be about her early life out west where there was real fire danger when it didn't rain in the summer. From her, I learned what tumbleweed was and that Abraham Lincoln was 'the man who loved books.'

This is a book where families are primary. The parents feature prominently, and the children learn from them as they set the table or eat supper together. It sounds all too good to be true in these times where 'problem' books are everywhere, but as I wrote another time, this really was the life we all lived. Let's see, on my section of the street there were fourteen kids I can think of right off the bat. We really did eat supper with our families, and most of our playtime was in the neighborhood. I didn't venture too far away until I was older (and even now am only a few miles from my childhood home).

The book has a map showing the houses and where everyone lives. I was so taken with it. You may see that it wasn't enough for me to have the little code on the bottom - I had to fill in the names of who lived where.

Here is an early attempt at cursive, telling me I was reading this in the third grade, a year after the book came out.

The May Day entry.

I'm quite sure I made a basket one year, and put it on my own parent's door, but honestly I could be remembering the book instead of real life. :<) May Day to all of us in our little town meant the May Ball. It was put on by the Lions Club, and everyone went. The place was swarming with pre-teen children. We all wore fancy clothes, and in fact I spoke of my dress, as my 'May Ball dress.' We did dances like the Bunny Hop and the Hokey Pokey, and had the most wonderful time. There was always a queen, and one year that honor went to my friend Anne, the same Anne as in the April Love post. Sometimes at school we would dance a Maypole which I loved.

On this May Day, we are heading down to Michael's college for a 'Battle of the Bands' in which he and his band are featured. Not quite the stuff of What-a-Jolly Street and childhood memories, but still family-centered, and looked forward to with love.

Addendum: I just read in my local paper that the May Ball is still going strong after 60 years!


  1. I'm sure I had this book also ... the cover looks so very familiar. Oh, how I wish I had it now

    thanks for this one, Nan

  2. Janice, mine is missing the last day of the year. :<( I actually saw it in a local used bookstore years ago, and almost bought it so I would have the complete book. I just found a couple used copies through Amazon for $50. Steep, but if I didn't still have my book, I'd probably pay the price. :<) Went to alibris and found much higher prices, so maybe 50 is a deal.

  3. Not seen this book over here. It's lovely isn't it when you discover a book you loved as a child?

  4. What a lovely childhood artifact to have since it evokes such wonderful memories. Have fun this weekend.

  5. Cait, it is the actual childhood book. I've owned it for over fifty years now!
    Lisa, yes, you are so right. And when I read it now, I like it just as much as I did all those years ago.

  6. OMG, I had the same book! In fact, I believe it is one that has been passed along to my younger daughter! I used to LOVE this book! I also remember Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories (these ones: -- I'm not sure where they are...hopefully, they've been saved for my grandson. Happy May Day, Nan!

  7. How lovely to have a story for every day, I would have loved that, as would my children. Mrs Apricot is my kind of heroine!

  8. Nancy, that's so great! And the writer's name is Nan Gilbert. Not on the cover, just inside. Some different from today when sometimes the author's name is bolder than the title, and always on the inside pages.:<)
    Carole, if I had two, I'd send you one. Oh, how you'd love it. All children need a Mrs A in their neighborhoods.

  9. Nancy, I just looked up Uncle Arthur's and they sound very different - Christian moral tales.

    I hope both are still in your family!

  10. Sadly, I didn't have a "May Day Musings" book in my childhood,but it does sound a lovely book. My childhood reading ran to "Just Mary" stories and Anne of Green Gables.

    Isn't it nice to have these lovely childhood memories. I sometimes wonder what the youth of today will remember fifty years from now, surely not "Buffy The Vampire Slayer".

  11. Nan
    That is my book too. I have it here and love it still.
    Mine is about as worn as yours.
    So glad I still have mine

  12. Isn't it great to have your much loved book from childhood?? I have my fairy tale book from when I was really little. It's on a very special shelf!

    Hope your May Day was a happy one!

  13. Nan, What a wonderful and "very Nan" post! I didn't have this book, but did grow up with storybook characters too. Somehow those well loved stories become a part of one's own life story, don't they?


  14. I remember illustrations in a book very like that one.

    I loved those maps on the inside covers - I was like you - pouring over it trying to figure out where everyone lived.

    I lived in a neighbourhood like that too - and I'm happy to say my kids grew up in one very similar. Hopefully my grandchildren will have the same - if they live here on PEI, they will have a better chance of it.

  15. Donna, I can almost see and feel my library's copy of Anne of GG. No picture cover, just a plain book. I loved it so much. I still have my childhood copy of Anne of Windy Poplars (and I have told you that's where the farm name comes from, right??) though an old dog chewed the cover. :<( I don't know the Just Mary stories but will look them up. I think what kids remember is largely dependent on what books their parents buy or borrow for them to read, or what books the parents read to their kids. Some kids find books on their own, but I think most of them find them on a parent's lap or snuggled up on the couch.

    Mim, I am so tickled that you have it too. I happened on to a neat site yesterday that you may enjoy perusing:

    Pamela, you know I just don't like and never did like fairy tales. They scared me, and though I've read a million times how good they are for children - that they help kids work out situations, it just wasn't the case for me. I've always liked 'real life' stories, people I could identify with or might want for friends. Even now, I can't read fantasy or sci-fi. :<)

    Aisling, I love that- 'nan post.' Maybe you could write sometime about the books that meant a lot to you.

    Island Sparrow, I would have liked growing up on PEI myself!

  16. I wish that I had read this book when I was younger. How wonderful to have the maps on the endpapers. That's my kind of neighborhood!

  17. Doctor Mom, not too late! It still gives me lots of pleasure, and maybe even more, as an adult!

  18. Love this book. I need it for my two little granddaughters.
    Oh yes, I remember the hokey pokey and the bunny hop!!

  19. Jolly Street!!!!! Wow! This is so cool! What a great book and a wonderful concept! Wish I lived there.

  20. I have a copy of this book and absolutely love it.

  21. I love it that you still have this book and took those close up shots of your key-code. What a great post.

  22. That's great that you kept books from your childhood! We had a book for our kids called 365 Bedtime Stories but it was a newer version from the one you grew up with. They loved that book!

  23. I gasped - I haven't seen or touched that book in - still counting - years!

    I saw my childhood bookcase and remember it sitting on the bottom shelf next to a book that was same size etc. with a lime-ish green color. I remember reading one of them when I was home sick from school.

    It is wonderful that you still have your copy. I read through the comments before adding my voice and while I sighed a bit at the prices for used copies - the $50, while a bit pricey - sounds about reasonable for this treasure.

    Wonderful post - especially the photo of the book which tipped me off that I was in for a very enjoyable walk down Memory Lane.

  24. One Woman, they'd surely love it.

    Laura, this is your kind of book - the illustrations, the homey feel

    Jodi, I'm so pleased to know this.

    Thanks so much, KSV

    Sherri, is your copy about What-A-Jolly Street??

  25. Oh, I love old books from childhood! And the all important "this book is mine!" ownership scrawl of first signatures, wonderful!

  26. Linda, the limeish-green one wasn't East O' The Sun and West O' The Moon, by any chance?? This is the book beside 365 Bedtime Stories on my shelf right now. Wouldn't that be amazing?! It was also a childhood book, and though the cover isn't that color, the end is. They are Norwegian folk tales. And I'm with you - I'd pay $50 for the old book.

    Susan, I do cherish them. And even more wonderful for me is seeing my mother's handwriting or that of an old childhood friend in some of them.

  27. Hi,

    The lime-greenish book was same format as 365 - a story a day. I wonder how many children it influenced to keep a journal?

  28. Linda, I'm really curious now. I wonder if we could scout it out on the internet. Let's see, a google search for lime-greenish cover, story a day. :<) I had a diary off and on when I was a kid - mostly in high school.

  29. Oh Nan thank you for pointing me to this post ...This wasn't a book from my childhood nor from my children's (I'm sure I would have read this either to or with them). Because WhatAJolly Street sounds so very much like the one where I grew up in the mid-40s. .. I'm counting over 20 neighbor kids just now in my head ...a long time ago to remember and fun to do so. But of course the best part of this post was reading about that MayDay basket tradition ..Based on other comments on my post, .I was beginning to think my mother must have made it up! Happy Day and month!


I'll answer your comments as soon as I possibly can. Please do come back if you've asked a question.
Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.