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The Prom Story

How can a rite of passage go so wrong?

Back when I was in school (good old WD class of way back when), there wasn’t as much freedom when it came to obscenities as there is today. You know what I mean. George Carlin had his “seven dirty words you couldn’t say on TV,” and for the most part we didn’t hear them in our regular life as well. (And if we said them, we’d find our self on the receiving end of a bar of soap.)

But there was one four letter word, part of our every day conversation, that brought more fear to the average high school girl than anything on Carlin’s banned list. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the dreaded “P” word–prom.

Last night, my son went to his girlfriend’s junior prom, a dinner and dancing affair held at Nicolosi’s. His own prom, West Deptford’s, is next week, but his girlfriend goes to GCIT so he gets his prom experience a week early.  As I watched him go through the ritual preparations–which in his case was mostly “get dressed and show up” (is it always easier for the guy?)–I thought about the whole hoopla that is the American prom. And,  in particular, I thought of my own prom.

Picture this: Auletto’s Sunset Ballroom. The sun is setting over the lake out back as my classmates and I file into the dance floor. We’re all dressed in the finest clothes we ever owned, abandoning the jeans and T-shirts we wore as uniforms to school each day in favor of full length gowns or tuxes.

I remember I wore an off-the-shoulder white dress, almost Spanish looking, with my hair curly and loose. My date–my boyfriend of about a year–donned a black tuxedo complete with bow tie and cummerbund. Across the table, my best friend, dressed in a light green gown with spaghetti straps, wears the ultimate of accessories, a small, faux diamond tiara which signifies she’s a member of the prom court. We all looked dressed up but not grown up (as we secretly hoped). We were this close to graduation, but we didn’t have the sense to wear comfortable shoes.

Honestly, the night itself was forgettable. I can’t tell you what we ate, or who else was at the table, or even what songs we danced to through the evening. I’m sure at some point the band played our prom theme, Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen.” You know the one. Its opening line is, “Love, soft as an easy chair.” I guess we were still naïve enough to believe love was soft. Or maybe we were just naïve enough to think “Evergreen” was a good song. And anyway, our colors were green and white, so the song was appropriate, right?

What I remember most about my prom night is this–in an attempt to stay alert for post-prom activities, my date took a handful of No-Doz.  No, seriously. On the way to the shore the next day he began to shake so much that I had to drive home–and I didn’t have my license yet.

Oh, yeah, good times.

Of course, my sister’s prom story topped mine. While still in the parking lot, her date backed into a police car. Yes, sibling rivalry was alive and well in our household.

All kidding aside, did anyone have a great prom experience? I decided to do a little unscientific survey. I posted on Facebook this week, asking for my friends to share their prom story.

A good 30 percent of the respondents said they didn’t go to prom at all. They were the happier stories.

Of those who attended this rite of passage, the stories went from mundane to downright ridiculous. A couple of my classmates mentioned our lame theme. (“Love, fresh as the morning air…”) My sister-in-law talked about how her spray tan rubbed off on her date. One friend said she spent the night alone after learning the guy she was supposed to go with was married.

Everyone seemed to agree on one thing–prom doesn’t hold up to the hype.

I’m not even sure why I went to the prom. I passed on dates to earlier proms and homecomings, because dressy affairs really weren’t my thing. But I felt almost obliged to go to prom my senior year. It was one of those rites of passage that would only be missed by the lonely, the outcast, the sad. (Not at all true, of course, but something fed to us by the media, our parents, and countless episodes of Welcome Back Kotter. Even Horshack had a date for prom!)

I hope my son has a good time, but remembers that prom is only one night, one moment in his growing up. It’s a dance, nothing more, and in the long run whether or not you go has little to do with who you are and, more importantly, who you’ll grow to be. The smartest among us knew that, even way back when. (The rest of us had blisters the next day.)

As for my prom? Well, after our interesting ride back from the shore, my date and I broke up. So much for happy endings.

My sister, of course, topped me on this one too. The guy who hit the police car? She married him. They recently celebrated their 30th anniversary.

Diane Pickles May 15, 2011 at 02:55 AM
Excellent article Mary. The mandated trip to the shore was probably the best part of the whole affair. And the rite of passage was spot on. Somehow we were conditioned to believe we would regret, later in life, not attending. Don't think that was the only thing we were mislead on during High School. Wonder how this years attendees will fair? Maybe a follow up story from your sons and his friends?
Mary Lebeau May 15, 2011 at 03:16 AM
That might be interesting, Di. So far he reported it was boring, mostly because he didn't like the music. The weather prevented them from going to the shore today, but they did go out to brunch with a bunch of friends.
Serena Franks May 16, 2011 at 06:53 AM
I really enjoyed this Mary! And you are right. Hindsight now sees prom as so over-rated.
Tim Dixon May 16, 2011 at 04:24 PM
My date's father was so strict that he wanted her home before the prom was over! We had to get the assistant principal to call her Dad and assure him that the school would not let attendees to the prom leave before the dance ended. So we got an extra half hour. We drove in my 72 Ford Maverick with another couple and there was no down the shore the next day. Her father allowed me to come over for lunch. Back then I thought he was super LAME, now that I'm a parent..he was a god! I recently photographed the local high school prom for the paper and became an old man very quickly. Have you seen the dances these kids are doing?! P.S. Just to add to the sibling rivalry..your brother has been married to his prom date for 24 years this August..thanks in part to her father's prom night rules!
Mary Lebeau May 16, 2011 at 08:28 PM
Apparently sibling rivalry never dies; it just moves out of state.
Teraisa Rogers May 31, 2011 at 10:28 AM
I'm grateful the Prom is finally over... five down, two to go. Sigh. Great read, thanks! I look forward to the Summertime Blues edition. ~Teraisa

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