Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Time of My Life

I was a bit out of the loop this week for various reasons, and I suppose I'm still out because I didn't yet go to whoever started this and put my bit in/check the rules/otherwise acknowledge but I will do that now.

Okay. That's done.

Now, as soon as I read Meg's prom post, I knew I had to write this one, though I didn't realize right away that the prom I have pictures of is NOT the prom that needs telling.

Prom the Second: The Nice Story
First, the one that survives the photographic record. Where to begin. My grandmother made the dress. We started out with a different color and one pattern; she talked me into that color (which I did like) and three different patterns, which she combined to make a dress she liked. I loved it, other than the fact that she didn't get quite all the straight pins out of it and the first hour of dancing included some very startling and haphazard acupuncture.

I have no excuse for the hair. I it involved not just a curling iron but rollers and a lethal shellacking of Aqua Net and I did it myself because I was not one of those girls that cut school on Prom Day to go get their hair done. One, I didn't have a car. Two, I didn't have the money. Three, two girls did that years before and got in some horrible car wreck and died and I always remembered that as a cautionary tale against vanity, though I think it was intended more as a 'don't cut school' warning which I never did anyway so I had to ascribe some other don't to it.

The Boy. I've not written much about The Boy because The Husband reads the blog and because The Boy is now The Man with lots of letters after his name and a job that involves pews, sermon notes, and singing all five verses.
The short version is, he was part of my circle of friends and I tortured myself with longing for seventeen months before I told him of my feelings for him. We dated from January 17, 1987 until the day before Thanksgiving, 1988. It ended badly. It took a lot of years for us to be friends again. He is a good person. The rest of the details I'll have to leave be. Oh, and he's Italian. Which is kind of obvious both from this picture and from the Homecoming picture in which he is dressed in a pinstripe suit and looks like, well, this.
(Yes, I know we blend into the background. And that he seems to frequent a florist who puts wrist straps on wedding centerpieces. Too bad you can't see the little golden footballs threaded on the ribbon. They were truly classy.)

I can't for the life of me remember what we had as a Prom theme, but since the former committee organizer of such things is now one of my Facebook friends I'm sure I'll be set straight very soon. I know that this was one of the suggestions and for some reason never made it. (I'm not sure what I miss most: Jerry Orbach, a healthy Patrick Swayze, or Jennifer Grey's old nose. Did I mention that I hate anachronistic music in movies? No? Okay, its out of my system.) The Prom pictures were taken at the school, not because the Prom was there a la Carrie but because we had a little fashion show thing before the actual event at a local catering place. We were escorted there by the 5-0, and I have a feeling this 'Promenade' was an attempt to eyeball us and ferret out the underage drinkers. The dance was not much of a memory; decent food, dancing, angst, groping, etc. I was mulling that memory over when I realized there was another Prom in my past, a dark and distressing evening of prescription level pain and championship level humiliation.

Prom The First: The Descent

I was a sophomore. This young man I'll call Mark (because that was his name) asked me to go with him. I said yes, feeling pretty special to be asked to a prom by an Upperclassman, even one that was kind of creepy. I scored a free dress from a same-sized aunt who had just been a bridesmaid and I was good to go. I walked the halls trying not to be smug. Then, the bomb. Mark sent me a note in Homeroom and explained that he'd asked someone else. (Cue the scene in Pretty in Pink with all of the anger, only I didn't yell at him in the hallway and he didn't look like Andrew McCarthy and I didn't make an awesome dress out of my friend Iona's castoffs and something my dad bought at a rummage sale and show him. He wasn't worth all that.) So I wasn't going to the Prom, which wasn't my Prom anyhow. So whatever.

Then Brian (not the one I married) asked me to do him a favor. A friend of his was a senior, an awkward and quiet senior, who had no date. Brian was trying to help him out. "If you don't go with him, he won't go,"
I was still of the mind that this could cause terrible and lasting painful emotional distress. So I said yes.
Other Boy was nice. He lived in my development, I remember him walking over to my house to confirm details and I can still see him standing in my driveway, shifting from foot to foot while he gave a Good Humor chocolate eclair careful attention, tucking the stick into the wrapper to dispose of properly. He was a follow the directions kind of boy.

"So, we'll be here about 6: 30 then," he said. Correctly interpreting my hesitation and quizzical look, he said,
"My mom is driving us."
Okay. Hey, I didn't have a license either. And when your date has no friends with cars, or more precisely, parents who forbid him to go in cars unchaperoned with dates, its the way you get there. Mom, my date, and the Astro showed up right on time and away we went to the Riverview Inn for a night of magic.

The pressure in my head started shortly after being enclosed in the Astro with the flowers. I fully expected it to pass. We ate dinner, and every loud laugh or sharp noise twisted the metal band around my head a little tighter. This wasn't a sinus headache, kids, this was a full blown migraine. Which I'm sure is why my date started to annoy me. Had I not been feeling like begging someone to try their hand at trepanning to relieve the pressure I'm sure I wouldn't have minded that he kept running his chair over the bottom of my dress. Or the little spit-strings when he talked. Or his table manners. Or the fact that he was a foot and a half taller and dancing was a study in awkward, particularly when the music got stabby. My every foray to the water's edge for 'fresh air' contributed to his Eeyore-ism. And as a special treat, my efforts to not vomit were complimented by a walk past Mark and Linda, Mark's 'first alternate' Prom date.

The night ended with my date opening the van door for me, looking gentlemanly but resigned, and I stepped in, steeling myself for awkward questions and the physical assault of the van's air freshener on my throbbing head. I was so relieved to see my house I wanted to throw myself on the lawn and kiss the ground like a recently re-enfranchised refugee. As we stepped from the van his mother turned to us, smiled, and said "Take your time saying goodnight; I have a magazine."

Good God.

I could see my mother dozing in the recliner in the living room. I was in East Berlin and she snoozed comfortably on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate. I stared at her, willing her to jump up, throw open the door, say, "Young lady, where have you been??" and pull me inside. At that point I'd have been happy to see her waiting for me with three hundred lit candles, a Bible, and a butcher knife. I opened the door, turned to my date, and stuck out my hand like we'd just had a rousing conversation about copiers at an office supply convention. He looked humiliated and I was torn between feeling sorry for him and needing to baptize his shiny shoes with chicken cordon bleu. I leaned in for a chaste kiss and shut the door firmly as soon as he was clear of the frame.

Kevin, I'm sure you are out there somewhere, married, bunch of kids, I wish you happiness and I'm sorry. I hope your first real, decent kiss was Chevy Astro- and- magazine free.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ruth Lydia Craley- 12/17/1919-05/06/2009

I have quite a few pictures of my grandparents, but this one is my favorite.
I don't know where it was taken; something tells me in their back yard but it could have been someone else's.
I like to think it was a Saturday afternoon. And not necessarily a special occasion, because my grandmother dressed like that all the time. For any reason, or no reason. Elegant, refined, coordinated. I didn't appreciate this during my scuffed sneakers and grass stained jean years, my flashlight tag and fort building years. Advice like: A dress only looks as nice as what you wear under it. (And what she wore under hers would garner a nod of approval from the Department of Homeland Security.) Or her desire to buy me white things. (A disaster waiting to happen.) She told me the world was a better place when ladies wore gloves and men wore hats. (I'd remind her about polio, and fallout shelters, and duck and cover drills.) I endured disapproving appraisals of my many haircuts. I resisted ironing things. I resisted 'rising and shining'. (She'd CLAP when she woke us up, too. AAARGH!)

Its funny how your grandparents, your parents, get more right as you get older. When I was considering quitting a job because someone there had it in for me, her advice was 'Be above reproach and outlast her.' My rival left three months later; I stayed for twelve years. When I had chosen the wrong college major, she knew it. When I struggled with my personal demons, she knew it. When I resisted all the colors I looked best in, she knew it. She knew what they should be. I was thirty years old before I realized she was right on that one. She and I didn't always agree but I knew two things; she wanted me to be true to myself, and she loved all of us fiercely.

At Christmas we decorated the place she would only briefly return to, hopefully, my dad and I laughing that the two least decorator-able family members were dispatched for the task. We did our best. I sat in her cozy apartment by myself for a long time trying to imprint the smell of it; soap and clean linens and eucalyptus in a china pitcher by the door. I was suddenly a seven year old sunk in deep comforters at the old house, drifting to sleep by the glow of the radio dial and some dreamily playing orchestra. Safe and warm, the soft Westminster chime of the mantel clock downstairs.

Mom-Mom, there are a thousand memories, and a thousand stories, but it all comes down to this; thank you for loving us and believing in us so much. We will miss you and ache for your loss, but you gave us the strong legs we stand on.