America is a country with many traditions, but the annual Homecoming dance is one of its favorites. Since the early 1900s, students, alumni, and cranky chaperones have been gathering in high school gymnasiums around the country every fall to celebrate.
In 1978, I was a sophomore in high school with a rigorous schedule that consisted of such challenging classes as physical education, lunch, orchestra, study hall, choir, and art. The homework load was brutal, but I still managed to find the time to begin dating a local football star who attended another high school. Mike had been the victim of one too many concussions, but thankfully still had the sense to know a good woman when he saw one. When we had been dating just a few days, he asked me if I’d like to attend my own homecoming dance with him. I didn’t hesitate before agreeing. After all, everyone knew that only the coolest of the cool attended the school dances.
The night of the dance, I slipped on my powder blue floor-length gown along with my platform shoes. I spun around in front of the mirror. I teetered preciously for several seconds on my shoes before I gratefully stopped in front of the mirror. I peered closely at my face. Something was missing. I snapped my fingers in the air. Blue eye shadow! As I painted on layer after layer of blue gorgeousness on my eyelids, the doorbell rang. I slipped on my glasses that resembled a pair Elton John wore while playing the pinball wizard in the rock opera Tommy. I headed downstairs.
Mike stood by the fireplace and smiled at me. Unfortunately, he had lost two front teeth in the previous Friday night’s football game, but he still looked handsome to me. “You look sssssssssspectacular!” he lisped through the gaping hole in his teeth. My mother shoved us together and said, “Say superfragilisticexpialidocious!” Mike was still on the “ssssssss” when her Brownie camera flashed.
I hopped in his carriage—a 1974 Pinto—and waved goodbye to my mother. It was only a few minutes before his Pinto pulled up in front of the stockyards. Our high school found only the best locations for our dances. An odor quickly filled his car that smelled like a cross between dirty feet and bad breath. We both waved our hands quickly in front of our noses. “Must be the cows,” I said like I knew what I was talking about when it came to stockyards. I added nervously, “Don’t worry, the dance is in the ballroom and I’m sure it smells fine in there.”
We rode a rickety elevator up to the second floor. The doors opened to the sounds of the Bee Gees singing “Too Much Heaven.” “This must be the place,” I said to him and I grabbed his hand. As the mirrored disco ball fired tiny reflections of light all around the room, Mike and I walked to the dance floor just as Gloria Gaynor stopped singing, “I Will Survive” and “Still” by the Commodores began playing loudly. Mike pulled me close. And closer. And closer yet until the chaperone came over and tapped him on the shoulder. “An arm’s length from the girl, please,” he instructed. Mike sighed. I felt relieved.
“Do you want ssssssssome ssssssssoda?” Mike lisped.
“Okay,” I said as we sat down. After dancing and sitting and dancing some more, Mike and I called it a night after I unintentionally did the disco splits on the dance floor after slipping on a puddle of the Homecoming King’s sweat that had dripped on the floor while he waited to be crowned.
Mike’s Pinto roared to a start. He tore out of the parking lot and headed in the opposite direction of my house. “Where are we going?” I asked.
“Ssssssspecial ssssssssurprise,” he replied. A few minutes later, he pulled up in the parking lot behind a store. “Here we are!” he said as he turned off the ignition. I looked around. “It’s my Dad’s paint store,” he said proudly as I realized we probably weren’t there to pick out paint samples for his bedroom. As I turned back to look at him, his face was suddenly much closer than before. And closer. And closer yet. With no chaperone in sight, I knew I was about to receive a post-dance kiss I’d never forget. His face glowed in the parking lot lights as our lips touched. My Elton John look-a-like glasses promptly fogged and I secretly wondered if anyone had thought to invent windshield wipers for glasses. Then the windows steamed up, my hair frizzed, and my blue eye shadow creased. After a few minutes, Mike pulled reluctantly away and started the Pinto. “I’d better get you home before your curfew,” he said worriedly as he wiped the steam off the windshield.
As Mike and I headed home in his Pinto that now smelled a bit more like the stockyards than it had before, I knew I’d experienced a night like no other. I truly did feel sssssssssspectacular in my powder blue dress and platform shoes, and when I thought about it later, I realized that night was the first time I played dress-up and felt like a real woman at the same time. Mike and I dated for a few months after. I ended the relationship after he suffered another concussion in a football game and called me “Mommy” the first time he saw me after regaining consciousness. I just couldn’t get past that moment.
I never attended another school dance again. The powder blue dress hung in my closet for several years until I finally gave it to Goodwill. Last I heard, Mike recovered from all his concussions, took over his Dad’s paint store, and had six children.
The time Mike and I shared together was so short, but oh, so memorable. We really did let the good times roll back in 1978 and I can’t help but think of that every time I drive by the stockyards and smell the cow manure.