In 1955 my two roommates and I managed a miracle. All three of us, me, Mary, Sue made the Junior Women's Basketball team in our first year at Western, and one winter day were on a team bus heading for a basketball game against Waterloo Lutheran, a small college in Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario. K/W was a twin city but not twinned neatly like Fort Francis & Port Arthur – now joined and renamed Thunder Bay. It was more like two octopi mating in a mutually entangling Chinese Puzzle game like we used to play as kids, but with no easy demarcation lines and arms (or roads) twisting all over.
We had started our intimidating victory songs and chants far too soon and were worn out before piercing even a corner of Kitchener. Not having allowed extra time for straining the solid parts of Waterloo from the gel of Kitchener, it was a challenge trying to find the college.
Finally! We had been expecting a smaller but quainter version of the Western Campus – maybe because Waterloo was not yet a degree-granting institution and had to have its diplomas issued from Western.
Smaller – yes. Quainter – very much so. The whole campus was composed of houses. Not “Houses” as in faculties such as the house/school of Music, but as in: a red-brick bungalow that was the girls' dormitory with a couple of co-ed classrooms included; a yellow-brick house with a cafeteria and a gymnasium added on, etc.
We later learned that some classes were even held in the college President's and the Dean's own homes and that the Theology Department and its classrooms were in a real Lutheran Church. Their whole enrolment was below 300 students, so every student knew each other well – one of its best features.
We were winning 10–2 in the third quarter when I heard the coach unexpectedly bellow, “Shelley! Get out there, NOW!”
Quickly closing up my Solitaire game cards, I leapt onto the court. I did no good nor any harm either.
Flushed with success, due to our team's 12–2 win, I was trooping off the court heading for the shower in the Dean's bathroom, when I heard my name called. My sneakers squealed to a rubber-peeling stop.
Then a mellifluous voice intoned, “Well, after all these years, who'd have thought I'd run into you here!”
I was still light-headed from that first and only win of the season, but my corneas had defogged just enough to make out the dazzling smile of that golden-haired, blue-eyed, Aryan, Teutonic, God of Handsomeness – and my high school friend, Donna's, onetime date – JJ!
After renewing acquaintances, we seemed to run out of things to chat about. Still, too soon, I was dismayed to hear Sue calling to me from the doorway, “Shelley! Hurry up or you'll miss the bus.”
I was thunderstruck when JJ suddenly blurted out, “Do you have a date for our old High School's Spring Prom yet?”
Not daring to miss my ride home, yet not having time to admit to him the many self-conscious excuses as to why I didn't have a date already, I just replied, “No, why?”
“I haven't asked anyone yet,” JJ admitted, “So, do you want to go with me or not?”
Shyly, hardly believing that the offer could possibly be real and not just an early April Fool's Day joke, I said, “Okay,” and dashed off to change.
I was swirly-brained that the fabulous, dreamy JJ had just invited me to our Prom. Boy, just wait till Donna hears about this! I thought to myself.
Even though Donna's date with JJ had ended before cresting the Hill of his favourite song, “I Found My Thrill on Blueberrry Hill,” I could dream that my date with him would at least surmount the foothills.
Soon, the evening of our big Prom arrived. I had used what was left of my savings from working in the tobacco fields to buy a gorgeous, strapless evening dress I’d been admiring for so long in a local shop window.
At the Prom itself, on the arm of reasonably well-dressed, handsome, JJ, I made my grand entrance, rolling in like a parade float. My dress might have been a surprise cake that I had just popped up out of. It resembled a multi-layered wedding cake made of frothy white net tulle. The wavy edges of each layer of tulle were trimmed with gold-encrusted, penitentiary-strength, barbed-wire.
Couples we encountered suffered snagged suit jackets and shredded nylons.
The dress was so well-structured with whalebone stays, that when my torso turned, the gown didn't. Since I couldn't make any sharp turns, no matter what the tune's rhythm was, we were limited to dancing circular, waltz box steps. If we were about to bump into another couple, we had to keep plowing onward like the Titanic, unable to quickly change course. By the end of my fairy tale evening, my chest and underarms were blistered from chafing against those rigid whalebone stays. But stay up they did!
Even before the end of the prom, the First Aid room was swamped with cuts and abrasion casualties. But JJ and I waltzed on in ignorance and oblivion. What a thrill.
Rochelle Doan Craig is an unrecognized (and rightly so) artist, failed writer with a garage full of her own books, much maligned, burned-out teacher, wife and caregiver, travel-wisher, pet-liker and tough love (before the term was invented) mother of six (three of each kind), and grandmother of sixteen.
Rochelle is also the author of The Twelve Years of Christmas, a memoir available from Amazon here.
See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.