The gift of May Day baskets, to help rebuild a community

Christina Capecchi
Christina Capecchi.
MPR Photo/Jim Bickal

Tomorrow is the first of May which means there are lots of May Day parades and celebrations planned.

One of the traditions associated with May Day is preparing a basket of sweets or flowers and leaving it on a neighbor's doorstep.

Essayist Christina Capecchi says this year she is giving May Day baskets to her neighbors in Inver Grove Heights to help restore a spirit of community in the neighborhood.

CAPECCHI: To assemble May Day baskets and drop them at every door marks a considerable turnaround for my suburban cul-de-sac where, just two years ago, four of its six homes were foreclosed.

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Today they are all occupied. We came in the middle of the migration, the second of four, a parade of moving trucks that paved the way to mowed lawns and trimmed hedges.

But it's the activity, not the tidiness, that the natives value most: hopscotch drawn from sidewalk chalk, driveway grill-outs, a row of bulging garbage bins. Our arrival turned a ghost town into a neighborhood.

But I don't feel like a hero. Purchasing a foreclosure triggers an inverted form of buyer's remorse: I'm keenly aware that our good deal lowered our neighbors' home values.

Our good timing underscored their bad timing. In a way, they paid the price for our happy outcome.

­Perhaps that is always the case with pioneers, those who staked it out first and withstood the early storms. As I settle among them, I feel deference and debt.

When the woman next door emailed a picture of our lot before our house was built, I took it as her blessing. She had been here from the beginning and she was letting us in.

Once foreclosures sweep a neighborhood, they leave some baggage. As a first-time home owner, I expected a blank slate but found a complicated history.

We all know who paid what and when, who has real wood doors and how our lots compare. But we're moving past the details that divide. Our cul-de-sac now buzzes with all sorts of neighborly exchanges: sharing shovels and cutting shears, flour and beer.

Traditionally, May Day marks the end of winter in the Northern hemisphere, a cause for celebration no matter the political or economic climate.

The May Day baskets I've prepared are a token of that triumph: wicker baskets stuffed with Skittles and Starbursts and Laffy Taffy, topped with brightly-colored tags proclaiming "Happy May Day!" Across the court we are falling in stride, marking time together.

When my husband and I make our rounds tomorrow, we won't ring door bells and dash away, as the American custom goes. We'll knock and wait and then visit a bit.

As we hand off the baskets, I'll know we've turned the corner. The weather is warmer. The line between pioneers and immigrants was washed away in the rain, and all our hydrangea bushes are sprouting in unison.