Promanade

Posted by on Jun 7, 2006 in Just for laughs, Reckless youth | 0 comments

I stood there holding the boutonnière, desperate to get Dian out of the bathroom stall. She kept repeating, “I can’t pin that flower on that boy”, between sobs. I knew the Christian thing to do was be compassionate, but I was fuming. I could finally fit into my sister’s strapless aqua blue and white ruffled formal gown, and I was not going to waste my evening in the high school bathroom. What could I say to keep this girl from ruining what was suppose to be the premier romantic evening of my life? I summoned my most authoritative, maternal voice, and threatened her with everything I could think of; from the loss of what social status she had, to her immortal soul. When I promised to do the pinning, she finally emerged, but her eyes and face now matched her bright red hair. I told her she might want to powder her nose, and raced back downstairs to the waiting escorts. I pinned the flower on Billy’s white sport coat, just as I had done earlier for my own date, and took ’s corsage out of his hand. Seeing the frozen smile on his face, I explained that his blind date thought he was really cute, but she was a just a little shy.

In truth she was more on the “painfully” end of the shy meter, but she was attractive and the best I could do so close to prom. I really don’t know how I had talked her into it anyway. She had never been on a date before, and her parents wouldn’t let her ride in cars with boys, which was a severe limitation on dating in our rural town. In fact, finding a date acceptable to parents and to whom you were not related was an ongoing problem, which is how I got into this dilemma. There were only 71 people in my high school graduating class and only 28 of those were male. My former boyfriend, Danny, who lived in a nearby town, broke up with me right before all special occasions like my birthday, Christmas, and any formal event. The last breakup had been quite definitive, because he had joined the army and left the state for boot camp. I was pretty much recovered from my heartbreak, but was faced with no prospects and senior prom rapidly approaching.

I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. If I played my cards right, I could turn all heads in the high school gym by arriving on the arm of a handsome Latin college student.The year before I had met a boy from Bolivia while at a festival sponsored by (God, I hate to admit this), my Girl Scout troop. Without thinking what a college man would find interesting in a sixteen-year-old girl scout, I gave him my address, and we became pen pals. I had fun pretending he was my boy friend, and wrote him earnest letters on dainty perfume soaked stationary. I used tiny hearts for dots on the letter I dispatched asking him if he would go to prom with me, and I received a reply by return mail. Yes, he would very much like to come, but he lived 30 miles away and had no transportation. He proposed a solution. If I could scare up a date for his pal who had a car, we could double. Most of my friends already had arrangements made, and very few wanted to go to prom with a blind date, but finally I though of a friend from my study hall. It took quite a bit of bargaining, but since the gentleman who was to be her escort was preparing for the ministry, and I would be with her the whole evening, she finally relented.

As I recall, the boys picked me up and we met Dian at the school rather than go through the awkward problem of her not being allowed in the car. That’s how I ended up in the bathroom in formal wear, threatening a girl I hardly knew. I was still desperate to hold onto this as the crowing romantic moment of my high school career, but like many other high school firsts, the anticipation turned out to be much better than the reality. I did get her out of the stall, and her date Billy, actually turned out to be a really nice guy, not that she noticed with her eyes on the ground most of the evening. The high school cafeteria was brightly lit and still smelled of mystery meat and instant potatoes, but we did have white paper tablecloths and centerpieces on the tables. The junior class had made an effort to achieve some sort of romantic ambiance by taping blue crepe paper streamers stamped with silver stars to the green and white walls. I don’t know if they came up with the theme “Moonlight Serenade” before or after they located the streamers, but other than the fact that there was music, and most likely a moon in the sky, I don’t recall any other thematic props.

Members of the class of 1963 danced in the gym that night to a band called the “Teen Beats”, according to my senior memories book, but mostly we were there to see and be seen. Strapless gowns were the “in” item of clothing, but those girls who were both modest and/or substantially endowed picked something less revealing. I was neither, and was more than happy to wear the ruffled horror my sister had wowed them in three years before. Formal attire for boys was their Sunday suit or a white sports coat, dark pants, white shirt, and narrow tie. The cool guys topped it off with a crew cut and possibly horned rimmed glasses. Some, like Billy and my date Al, clung to the more old fashion slicked back style, using Vitalis to make it stay in place. Both hairstyles gave the men a sort of pin headed look, and the maintenance products left a greasy residue on upholstered furniture. Girls by contrast made their hair as big as possible, teased into bouffantsupdosbeehives or French twists, and held in stasis by hair spray, giving them all the glamour of a gumball machine. The details of the dance are fuzzy now, but do I remember awkward conversation, uncomfortable laughter, and drinking fruit punch while wearing white gloves.

Late in the evening Al asked me to show him the rest of my school, and I naively believed he was interested in the American educational process. I took him upstairs into the darkened hallway so he could see my science lab. I was peering into the window when I felt his hot breath on my neck. I turned around and found myself pinned to the wall, with his left hand trying to find flesh somewhere under the 50 yards of organdy ruffles I was wearing. I pushed him away and insisted we return to the dance, making it clear that his expectations of sex were not going to materialize. Looking back, I now realize that the cultural differences between us were enormous, and he must have thought that a girl forward enough to ask him out was, as was said in the day, “hot to trot”. He pouted for the rest of the evening and refused to come to the after party at my friend’s house. It was just as well, because Dian wasn’t allowed to go, and her Dad was waiting outside to pick her up. Without even a goodnight kiss, my thwarted Latin lover and the future Methodist minister dumped me at my girlfriend’s party. I think the minister would have been happy to kiss me if I had asked, but my date, Al, sat on the other side of the seat with his arms folded across his chest.

It is ironic that the only picture I have of the event is of my friend Dian her date Billy. I have no idea who took it, but it was probably me. I never thought until recently that my parents didn’t take pictures of their children with their dates, even for formal occasions like proms. I don’t think they wanted to encourage immoral behavior like going to dances. It’s really a blessing, because I still have a fantasy that I looked wonderful that evening and all my boyfriends were cute and cool. While cleaning out my Mom’s garage some years ago my sister and I came across the dress we had both worn. The years had not been kind to the frothy creation. Granted it was folded and wrinkled, but no matter how we tried, neither of us could imagine it ever looking like we thought it did on those evenings when we were the bells of the ball. I never got another letter from Al, and I don’t recall talking to Dian a lot afterward either. I think Billy did his student ministry at a rural Methodist church in our area. I not only lost track of him, I have actually forgotten his last name. I’m sure his grace and diplomacy served him well in his chosen career, but hopefully he married someone a bit more outgoing than Dian.

My inspiration for this recollection was an exchange with a British blogger who put up a post about proms. She was speaking of them in the traditionally British sense, and when I asked her to explain, she  did so graciously. I realized from her remarks that her vision of the prom was a fantasized Hollywood version of the American rite of passage. If Hollywood had produce my prom they would have cast the three stooges in the leading roles, but I’m sure someone was or is having fun at these things or the tradition wouldn’t have hung around so long. Having sent my children off to many proms, I am aware that they are a lot more fun now that dinosaurs are no longer roaming the earth. I do hope my recollections will trigger memories for you all, hopefully embarrassing, and you will share them in comments.

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