If given the choice of going back in time, I think I’d take the 1960s.

Those were the days when being in the month of May held real promise — promise of warm weather, sun, playing outside and, of course, the impending end of school.

May was a fun time, particularly because it was May basket season.

Many people hung May baskets only on the first day of the month, but we took the liberty of choosing whatever day we wanted to flock to the candy store, buy reams of sweets and create a May basket.

We collected returnable bottles on the side of the road to garner enough cash to buy the candy. To this day, I can conjure up the putrid smell of Schlitz or Narragansett beer, which came in tall brown bottles with long necks and shiny labels. It was so abhorrent, I think that’s why I never acquired a taste for beer.

In any case, there were also Orange Crush bottles to be found, in addition to Coke, root beer, 7UP and the occasional Moxie bottle.

We’d toss them into a wagon and haul it to Bushey’s candy store on North Avenue in Skowhegan, cash them in and buy hordes of penny candy. There were mint juleps, red shoestring licorice, root beer barrels, sip-it straws filled with sour powder, Turkish taffy, bubble gum, hot balls, Mary Janes, Squirrel Nuts, Bit-O-Honey and those tiny wax soda bottles containing sweet colored liquid.

We pointed to what we wanted in the large glass cabinet and Mr. Bushey, whom I felt an affinity for because his first name was Aimee, would plop our selections into tiny brown paper bags and, with a smile, hand them to us.

We traipsed the mile or so back home and, repressing a great urge to consume the contents along the way, managed to salvage most of the loot and get it home safely.

Then the fun began of creating the May basket. Typically, we covered a shoe box with colorful crepe paper, taped it on tight, crafted handles for the basket and tied ribbons on the ends. Then we filled the basket with candy and waited until dusk.

Deciding who would be the recipient of the May basket required a conference earlier in the day of all those involved. We had to reach consensus, or at least a majority vote.

As the sun neared the horizon we gathered at a predetermined location and held our final huddle. We would steal our way to the recipient’s house and rush, as quietly as possible, to the door, placing the basket on the step and yelling, in unison, at the tops of our lungs: “May basket!”

Then we’d tear away quickly, hiding behind trees and cars, in gullies or amid tall grass — anywhere where we could not be found. Aware of the tradition but surprised to be targeted for the honor nonetheless, the kid or kids in the house would come outside and try to find us.

It was always a scramble in the dark with leaps, screeches and laughter, but ultimately, everyone would be found or reveal himself and we’d all flop on the lawn to share the contents of the basket.

It was a rite of passage into summer, these evenings of hanging May baskets on our friends. As we got older, we’d do it to relatives, devising more sophisticated and artistically tasteful baskets bearing gourmet treats. My mother would join us and always got a kick out of it. She had hung May baskets herself as a child, as did her mother before her.

After I graduated from high school and left home, I’d ask new friends if they hung May baskets when they were kids. Inevitably I’d receive only puzzled looks in return. Most had never heard of the practice.

Besides feeling sorry for them because of what they’d missed, I was awfully glad to have been raised in rural Maine where such traditions were a part of life.

Memories of those cool May evenings, I know, will help keep me company in my old age.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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