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History deems May a hazardous month for members of this writer’s family

By June Mathews

Here we are in the middle of May again, halfway through the month that Daddy’s side of the family considers “the valley of the shadow,” if you catch my drift.

According to family lore, it’s the month in which members of our branch of the Harpers are most likely to give up the ghost, meet Our Maker, kick the bucket, pass over, perish or turn up our toes. Thus, we tend to move warily through the month of May, occasionally glancing over our collective shoulder for any indication that the Grim Reaper is about to claim another of our own.

MeeMaw Harper was the first to give voice to the trend. In May 1971, her husband, my Granddaddy Harper, succumbed to a heart attack. Then six Mays later, her eldest son, my Daddy, suffered a similar fate. So after two such traumatic losses during the fifth month of the year, MeeMaw wanted nothing to do with May anymore, indeed preferring that it be banished from the calendar.

“Bad things happen to Harpers in May,” she’d occasionally declare.

So you can imagine her reaction when early in 1979, Jimmie and I announced our plans to wed the coming May 19. Though she didn’t oppose the marriage itself, MeeMaw clearly thought scheduling the nuptials in that particular month was asking for trouble.

“Bad things happen to Harpers in May,” she repeated for perhaps the thousandth time in a dark kind of way, pursing her lips and shaking her head slowly from side to side. In her mind’s eye, I’m sure she envisioned nothing but rocky marital roads ahead for any Harper who dared tie the knot during the month she so dreaded.

By that time, I was well aware of MeeMaw’s springtime phobia and took her reaction in stride. In fact, I expected it. Jimmie, on the other hand, was taken aback. Until that moment, he’d basked in the glow of MeeMaw’s good graces but was suddenly left to wonder if she considered him a “bad thing” about to happen to this Harper.

(Thirty-five years later, Jimmie could well be pondering if the tables were somehow turned, and the Harper “bad thing” was visited on him instead of me. But for the sake of household harmony during the week of our anniversary, I’m going to let that sleeping dog lie for the time being.)

Though MeeMaw joined Granddaddy and Daddy at the heavenly Harper homeplace in 1984, her influence in terms of family traditions, beliefs and dessert preferences (she made the best banana pudding EVER) remains strong. So if expecting something bad to happen in May will make it happen, well, at least one of us could be in deep trouble during the coming days.

In recent years, the youngest of MeeMaw’s three sons, a grandson-in-law and a great-grandson were also lost to us in May, so I’d be lying if I said we Harpers don’t proceed with caution this time of year. But considering MeeMaw and one of her sons-in-law died in January, her eldest daughter died in June, and her middle son passed in October, we don’t get near as stressed about the May family curse as we did when she was still around to constantly remind us of it.

But the way I look at it, why take chances? For the next couple weeks, I’ll be driving a little slower, eating a little healthier, monitoring my blood pressure and maybe even exercising every day…

Oh, who am I kidding? Scratch that part about the exercise. There’s no sense going overboard. Whether it’s in May or not, I figure when it’s my time go, it’s my time to go, and I seriously doubt anybody ever got into Heaven on a treadmill.

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