Prom, the rite of passage in
a formal dress for high school students, short for promenade, a
walk or procession and derived from the late nineteenth
century practice of a promenade held each spring.
It's possible that's what WHS music
teacher and general overall wild man, Charlie Cordeal and his
musical collaborator, Thelma Pape Hines, had in mind when in 1954,
they put together the strange archaic Cotillion like dance routine
that prom court performed every spring for years.
In spring 1956 I helped with the rehearsal, students
entering, bowing etc., to scratchy recorded music opening
with a clock chiming. Until I saw a dance master direct
hundreds of dancers in a grand promenade at the Scott Joplin
Festival I never knew what it was we had been trying to accomplish.
When our Class of 57 was host for the prom, our theme
The Mikado with musical entertainment by Gilbert and
Sullivan, not my idea. Three girls sang Three Little Maids
from School, I think Lee Erwin sang a solo and my friend, Sandy
Whiat sang "The Sun and I."
While fluting miles of crepe paper, I thought
about my yellow dress hanging on the back of my bedroom
door. My step-dad, with whom I did not live, had gathered and
sold a truck load of scrap iron to give me the money to shop for a
dress. That kindness might just have been enough to get him into
heaven, who knows!
On that magical night and a few others, I remember
looking up and seeing the faces of our families-yours and mine.
They sat in the amber tiled bleachers watching us, proud to see us
looking beautiful and happy. I realize now that my family probably
wasn't the only family that made sacrifices so those pretty dresses
and rented tuxedos could go dancing.
One of our male teachers remarked, in a broad
southern accent, that parental attendance was a strange custom,
unique to Wellston, so far as he knew. He added snidely that it was
probably going to be the only time some of our parents ever saw
their children clean and dressed in formal wear. I'm certain that
he was joking or thought he was, but pride reared its head. I told
him that I thought he was a bloody snob and rude to say such things
about us. He said he was sorry and that it was thoughtless, even if
When my Mother and I shopped for prom dresses
together at chic downtown stores, smartly dressed sales women would
spin the gowns around on their padded hangers, swirling them out
against the carpeted floor for our amazement and possible approval.
OMG was I impressed! My Mother, a truly shy woman, must have been
so intimidated, but she braved that pomposity for my sake. Of
course, I ate it up.
That spring, we had spent the whole day shopping and
were headed for the Page-Wellston bus when, as we walked out from
under a downtown awning, a pigeon with a serious intestinal
disorder, pooped on my head. We took a cab home. After a series of
shampoos and supper, my family gathered to watch as I floated down
our splintery old steps in my lovely yellow gown. I said, "In
spite of that pigeon, my hair looks pretty good tonight," (My
Indian straight dark hair was the blight of my life.) "I wish
it would look like this when I go to school,"
"You could go to night school!" said my
helpful cousin, Mel Kehr '67, age 6 at the time.
In 1957 I attended prom with my first serious
boyfriend, a smart, kind, very tall and wonderful boy who grew up
to be the founder of a fine family and the brew master of equally
fine beer, Jerry Cebe '57.
But in my sophomore and junior years I had the
honor of attending prom with another smart, kind, nice and very
tall young man, Orvus Barton Harry III. I was a rather strange
girl, brash on the outside but very shy inside. Reading about such
stuff was okay, but kissing a boy was beyond the pale for me, so I
didn't--kiss the boy, I mean. Years later, when I had overcome
that nonsense, I felt bad about that. Not that a kiss from me would
have meant all that much to Orvus, but it might have been
reassuring at least, I figured.
As we approached our most recent reunion, I told my
husband that I was going to find Orvus Harry and present him with a
friendly and very belated kiss. I thought it would really
make him laugh. After all, I am a sophisticated woman now. I
could do this easily.
As a non-denominational minister, I have
married nearly 700 couples in 15 years so my husband and I arrived
late, having just come from a wedding. Knowing my intent, he took a
long time parking. I had no time to waste. I looked for
the tallest man I could see. We've all changed, I thought, but
since Orvus was a light house of a young man, I was sure I could
Yes! There he was! He was a bit bulkier than I
imagined he might be, but then, I am a veritable butter ball
I sailed up to him, shyer than I had thought I
would be, but still determined. I flung myself at the poor man and
said, "I've owed you this kiss for 50 years." I
flat planted a great big, but totally chaste, I
assure you, kiss, on the poor dumbstruck man in front of me.
"Sandy," he said, "Do you know who I
"Well, of course, I do," I said,
"You're Orv..." As my arms fell to my sides, my
eyes slid upward from his mid-section to his name badge.
"Oh, Jimmy," I gasped, "I'm so sorry!
I mean, I'm not sorry that I kissed you, but I didn't know it was
you!" I had always liked Jim Bausch.
Jim, a perfect gentleman, said, "Don't be sorry,
it's the most interesting thing that's happened all
"I'll apologize to your wife," I sputtered,
"I'll s'plain." (Who was this gauche woman? I wondered.
What happened to the sophisticated woman I thought I was?)
"Oh, please, don't." Jim said
gallantly. "That would ruin the whole thing".
I apologized to Sandy Hart Bausch anyhow
and she laughed, because, since we all went to school together, she
knew I had always been a little strange.
On Sunday at lunch, I got to see and talk with
The Real Orvus, but somehow, overnight, I had lost my intent to go
about planting kisses. Orvus was spared that ordeal.
I'll never attend another prom,
never fasten another sweet wrist corsage to my arm and see my
family admire me and my date. At the moment, I have no plans to be
the Kissing Bandit at the next reunion, but then, again, who knows?