Every May I give a brief thought to Dracene and wonder whatever happened to the kid. Dracene was a cutie, lacking a couple of front teeth, but with long brown hair that her mother braided every Monday morning and then left unattended because during the week she couldn't catch Dracene. Over the weekends, Dracene came to roost.
Dracene was a pip. She could skin the cat on a trapeze better than any of us boys, and she liked to hook rides on the electric cars. I suppose, thinking about her now, she was no more feminine than a wheelbarrow, but in May-basket days she was our favorite and we didn't mind that she kissed us when she caught us.
Dracene was named for a flower, she said, that spiky thing that looks like marsh grass and is put in the window boxes to emphasize the arrangement. Dracena, I think.
I'm told the barbarian custom of hanging May baskets has unfortunately dwindled. Pity, because it made May bearable. Mothers lived at home then, and were willing to cover a shoebox with Dennison-paper and then find cookies and fudge to fill it. All agog, we'd go and surprise some young lady who never expected such attention. The May basket was arranged on her front steps and the doorbell tingled, and then we'd go hide, alone or in company. Any number suited.
It was the function of the young lady, unless her older sister got there first, to appear astonished upon opening the door, and then come out to find the boy, or boys, who thus honored her. Under the dark May sky she would find, chase, and catch the young man or young men involved, and cocoa and cookies followed with the young lady's mother in charge.
Dracene always sat just inside the door, so she often came bursting out and caught the boy before he got off the porch. If it were a coolish evening, as May usually supplied, Dracene would have her mittens and Labrador cap on, ready to go. There was only one Dracene.
At other times of the year Dracene would come over and borrow my .22 rifle, so my parents knew her well and said she was a remarkable young woman. And when I suggested one May that I would appreciate a May basket to "hang" to Dracene, my mother readily assented, but presumed erroneously that it would be a group venture. Not so; I was thinking of a solo performance and hoped for Dracene's undivided attention.
Accordingly, my mother crafted a considerable May basket. She made crepe-paper roses for the corners of the box, and streamers that hung down, and she braided crepe paper for the looping handles. She made fudge and cookies, and found an orange and an apple, raisins, figs, dates, and a big hunk of fruit cake. It was a magnificent spectacle, and soon after twilight I was wished well as I set off on my errand. "Mind your polites," Mother told me.
Arriving at the trim but modest home of My Fair Lady, I used extreme stealth and gained the front door so Dracene didn't know I was about. She was thus unready and did not respond at once when I beat upon the barrier behind which the fair maid was perched. And I had time, before she opened the door, to leave the porch and run around the corner of the house and swing monkeylike up to a limb, where I waited unseen as she emerged.
Dracene jumped adroitly over my basket, skipped the steps altogether, and landed on the lawn with feet already in progress. But she made the mistake of turning with the sun, instead of backing in toward my seclusion. The only light was what came out through the house windows, and by that I saw her disappear in the wrong direction.
After a time, Dracene's father, Mr. Herman Monrachet, opened the door and stepped out far enough so I could see him around the corner of the house, and he picked up my May basket and carried it into the house. There was still no sign of Dracene.
Then he came out again with a lantern, held it high so he could see beneath it, and he called, "Dracene?"
There was no response. So he went into the house, and Mrs. Monrachet came out to call, "Dracene?" I was a bit leggy for a long perch on the limb, so I came down. In the dark Mr. and Mrs. Monrachet thought I was Dracene, and said, "Oh, there you are!" And there I was, but where was Dracene?
BE patient! I'm going to tell you. She was all right. That spring, when the frost was about to come out of the ground, Mr. Monrachet had engaged Henry Mossman and his two boys to come and make him a dug well. He needed a new water supply. This engineering feat was now in progress, and as a well it was no more than a hole in the ground about 10 feet deep. Dracene, in the exuberance of a May evening, had simply trotted around the corner of the house and gone off into the hole, where she had been yelling all the meantime, without effect.
The hole was dry, as the Mossmans had not yet found water, so Mr. Monrachet brought a ladder and Dracene was back in business. She chased me and caught me, and whether she smacked me is none of your business. We went in the house, and Mrs. Monrachet had cookies and cocoa, and Dracene kept saying, "I'm all right; I landed like a pussycat on my feet." Mrs. Monrachet said she'd never seen such a gaudy "barskit," and Dracene said the fudge was some old wicked good. In such ways did we make pleasure in olden times. And when I got home my mother asked, "Where have you been? What took you so long? I was anxious." I haven't seen Dracene since. We were 7.