Every Sunday after church, my mother makes a big dinner. One of her favorite dishes is City Chicken—cubes of mutton, rolled in corn flakes, and then my mother fries the hell out of it. It is accompanied by Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat; the dreaded lima beans, which I wouldn’t eat if my life depended on it; and Henny Penny Salad that consists of apples, celery, potato chips, and mayonnaise. Most of my plate ends up being consumed by the garbage disposal. My mother frowns. “Eat your dinner. It’s good for you.” That’s debatable.
After dinner, my mother sits down to read The Columbus Dispatch. She opens the Society section and points to some fat bride or one with crossed eyes and tells me, "See, there's hope for everyone."
Then she shows me a picture of a stylish-looking couple. The woman wears a long ball gown and orchid corsage. She has straight hair that explodes into a sea of frizzy curls at the ends. In it, she wears a diamond tiara. The man wears a tuxedo. His stomach strains the diamond studs that hold it in.
"I want you to meet The Pottses," my mother says.
Dr. and Mrs. Potts run a dancing school called Little Juniors for the children of socially prominent people in Bexley, Ohio. My mother has decided they are just the people who can help her whip me into shape.
I tell my mother, “I don't want to spend the evening with a bunch of stuck-up girls like Peggy Petsinger and Debbie Pixley.” She takes me to the most expensive store in town and buys out the pre-teen department. Still I resist. Then my friend Toppy Taylor unexpectedly gets invited too. Toppy’s mother is now forced to sell encyclopedias door to door to make ends meet, so of course my mother doesn’t want me to have anything to do with her. But her aunt, who is married to a judge, wangles an invitation for her. We decide there's strength in numbers.
On the appointed day of the first class, my mother drives me down to the Columbus Athletic Club. The ballroom is full of girls in velvet dresses and gloves. For the first time, many of them are wearing heels and hose. Like me, they have had their hair done at The Hair Affair. My hair is pulled into a French twist so tight, it hurts to blink, and I’m wearing my new Coty lipstick (Peony Pink). But the boys don't seem to notice. They huddle in the corner scratching their itchy wool suits. A few wear their pajamas underneath, and they are loosening their ties and removing their jackets. Their shirts are already drenched with sweat, and the festivities haven't even begun.
A voice comes over the PA system: "Ladies and gentlemen, find your partners; it's time for the Grande Promenade!"
My partner is Bobby Loudermilk, the son of the owner of the best restaurant in town, The Miramar. He has a white mustache above his upper lip. His bow tie dangles off one side of his collar.
We line up two by two. It's time to greet The Pottses. I remember reading in TV Guide how some of the Mouseketeers once met Queen Elizabeth. They were told not to speak until spoken to, and then to say, "Good day, Mum." I'm planning to do the same. Finally, Bobby and I are face to face with the great lady herself. We bow and curtsy. Mrs. Potts smiles and raises her eyebrows. Dr. Potts clears his throat. I stare at his nose. The purple veins bulging out of it remind me of the map of the rivers of Ohio that I made for geography class.
"Cat got your tongue, young lady?" Dr. Potts inquires.
Mrs. Potts frowns. "Yeah? What are we, Swedish? It's yes. Repeat after me."
"Now let's hear your greeting."
"My dear, the proper greeting is, 'Good afternoon, Mrs. Potts. Good afternoon, Dr. Potts.'“
Suddenly I feel a tickle. "Achoo!" I wipe my nose with my hand.
Mrs. Potts stops me.
"A proper young lady always has a handkerchief with her."
Dr. Potts hands me his. I blow my nose, then reach out to shake Mrs. Potts’s hand. Her smile is frozen in place.
"We'll forgo the handshake this afternoon, dear. Next."
We slink past her. Soon a waiter comes in.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, dinner is served."
We find our places at the table set with Wedgwood china, and grab our accordion-pleated napkins from crystal goblets. But Mrs. Potts rings a little bell.
"When your hostess places her napkin in her lap, then you may follow."
I pick at our grapefruit aspic salad. It makes my mouth pucker. Then the waiter serves a roast beef dinner.
Bobby Loudermilk picks up his fork, caveman-style. Mrs. Potts comes up behind him.
"Master Loudermilk, your index finger is your power finger. Place it at the stem of your fork." Bobby starts to cut his roast beef.
"How many mouths do you have?"
"Then cut one piece at a time. Think of your plate as a clock. Once you cut, place the tip of the knife at twelve o'clock, the handle at three."
Bobby doesn't touch the rest of his meal. When Mrs. Potts isn't looking, he grabs a cherry tomato and hurls it at Debbie Pixley. It explodes on her pink velvet dress. Mrs. Potts winces just like my mother does when her girdle is too tight. She takes the whimpering Debbie to the ladies room to sponge the stain. Dr. Potts heads for Bobby. He is escorted out and never heard from again.
Now dinner is over, and I am without a partner for dancing. Toppy and I sit in a corner, waiting to be asked, going to the ladies lounge again and again to fluff up our crinolines and spray our mouths with Binaca. But nothing works. The only dance we take part in is the bunny hop at the end of the evening. We get into a conga line around the room. Someone hops onto my foot. I limp to the coatroom before the bunnies have finished hopping.
When I get home, the first thing my mother says is, "Who did you dance with?"
The look on her face reminds me of Jesus's mother in that picture at church of Him being nailed to the cross.
I pray for a boyfriend every Sunday in church, but God doesn't seem to hear me. It will not be Bobby Loudermilk. Too bad. The food at The Miramar is much better than City Chicken.
Prudence Wright Holmes's website is http://prudencewrightholmes.com/.
3 T. gelatin
1 c. cold water
1 c. hot water
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. slivered almonds
3 fresh grapefruit, cut into segments, reserving juice
20-oz can crushed pineapple, well drained, reserving juice
Soften gelatin in cold water.
Add hot water and sugar.
Stir until dissolved.
Add almonds, grapefruit segments, and drained pineapple.
Measure reserved grapefruit and pineapple juices, and add any water necessary to make 3 1/4 cups.
Add this liquid.
Pour into 1/2-cup molds or cups and refrigerate until firm.