Tender Years Spent Badly Dressed

John Cafferty from the Beaver Brown Band, whose song Tender Years was chosen as our prom theme. Yes. I said Prom Theme.


Junior Prom for Triton’s Class of 2016 is in the books. “How was it,”  I asked my daughter when I saw her the next morning. “Fun,” she said. “But it wasn’t what I expected.” Well, I thought, there’s one thing her prom and mine had in common. But that might have been the only thing.

First of all, she got asked. Not a promposal, that modern day upping the anxiety ante that makes me glad I don’t have a son, (So far, there is no gender equity in this area so the pressure is off girls.) but a perfectly nice young man asked her the old fashioned way: face to face, no hooplah. For my prom, I had to do the asking. For days, weeks, even, I came home and said, “This will be MUCH easier to do on the telephone.” Then, I retreated to my bedroom and stared at the extension until I declared: “You know what? In person will be MUCH easier than calling.” Then I’d pass him in the hallway and think: “Uh-uh. Phone.”

My daughter and I shopped for her dress in December because I had heard horror stories about people waiting three or four hours in warehouses full of other mothers and daughters later on in the season. Too Who-Concert, I said. She looked at me the way she does sometimes and carted a few dozen dresses behind the curtain in the almost empty store.

I had my gown made by my mother’s friend Shirley, picked out the Gunny Sax pattern and the calico myself.

Beatrice chose a blue, bejeweled number that was exactly twice the amount I had intended to pay (which was still more than my wedding dress cost). I don’t remember how much my gown cost. Beatrice looked red carpet ready; I looked like Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The week before prom, Beatrice had her nails done; I chewed mine to bloody stumps in anticipation of the big day. Beatrice did her own hair into an up-do that prompted many to ask where she’d had it done. I, thankfully and just this once, did not blow dry mine into my usual Barry Gibb lookalike style.

We had no no meeting for pictures in two scenic places with other couples. First my date and I had an incredibly awkward staging in our kitchen where I forgot to introduce my dad who came in from the barn — a rare break in the workday. We took a few pictures with the sink in the background, just me with my bouquet and my date with his hands folded in front of him. He wore a navy blue tux. Only when we got in the car to head to Donna’s house (where we have another photo op beneath the clothesline) did I notice he was wearing white socks. We also did not instantaneously upload any of these photos to the internet (thank Christ). In fact, only a year or so ago, did Donna share her pictures with me. I wish I could say I looked better in retrospect, but, no — still the beaming homesteader.

After the interminable Grand March, Beatrice and her classmates boarded busses in the high school’s parking lot, off for a safe and sober evening. After I made my date change into a pair of Donna’s stepfather’s socks, her date drove us to Providence. I’m pretty sure we didn’t wear seatbelts (ddi cars even have them in the back seat in 1981?). Before we got out of Westerly, Donna had spilled Riunite Lambrusco down the front her own WHITE Gunny Sax. (Just to be clear: the drinking age was 18 just a mile and a half away from where we went to high school and if there was an open container law, we hadn’t heard of it). Our chaperones might have smelled the wine on us, or, in Donna’s case, have seen the blatant evidence, but perhaps they were distracted by the cloud of pot smoke and Patchouli that hung over the ballroom.

I remember little about the prom itself. Live music to which we girls danced, afterwards, a party during which time I mostly could not find my date. We watched the sunrise on the beach which, in any other person’s prom night memory, might have been romantic. In mine, my date ignored me and I was left to ponder how amazing it is that such a big star starts out over the horizon as such a tiny orange ball.

When I walked into my house at 5 AM, the bathroom door had just clicked shut: my father waking for his day. My mother sat with her coffee cup at the table: “You better get yourself into bed before your father sees you,” she said. If she had asked how my night had gone, I would have parroted my daughter who neither of us could have imagined that day.

After her prom ended, Beatrice camped out with friends in a closely chaperoned gathering where the parents turned the heat up in their pool. After everyone swam, they gathered around a campfire or played cards in their tents. Soberly. The kind of night that doesn’t inspire anyone’s date to call a year later, as mine did, and apologize for his behavior.

This week, we might put her dress on Craigslist, try to recoup some of the money we spent in our attempt to get the hell out of that store before the trampling began. I don’t know whatever happened to my dress though the image of me in it floats by me somedays, and then I say: Oh, that’s right! I was never in the musical Oklahoma! I never busted sod in Nebraska Territory! That was just what I choose to wear to my first formal occasion.

5 thoughts on “Tender Years Spent Badly Dressed

    • Thanks for reading, Ann. Our prom fit our generation and theirs fit theirs (and aren’t we lucky parents??). But I had forgotten we met to decide on a theme. That, more than anything, seems impossibly old-fashioned!


  1. Hi always love your posts. Glad to hear Beatrice had a safe and monitored after prom party.

    Some parents drop out of their kids lives..sounds as if your daughter has good friends.

    And particularly the last sentences brought out your humor..you may not know the women of Zoldo. Loved to laugh. My mother and I laughed a lot together and I remember the ladies in stafford springs were the same. A smiley group. Be well and happy spring in MA l

    Love C

    Sent from my iPad


    • Carol: I have to look back on some of these things and laugh at that awkward person I was (and still am in many cases though I’ve adapted). I’m happy to know it’s part of my Zoldani heritage. Thanks for reading.


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