Proms, perms, and Aqua Net

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” —Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Ahhh, the 80’s.   Do you remember them?  They were glorious.  Permed hair teased as high as Aqua Net would take it, stone-washed jeans, all the great hair bands, neon colored anything, mohawks and mullets , CD’s and walkmans….the world was a happier place.  We listened to Reagan as the wall came down, we cried when the Challenger exploded, and we lived out the last of the cold war.  As a teenager, I can well remember how we rocked “Born in the USA”  along with Springsteen for all the world to hear.

And then there was high school.  Its own little world, its own hierarchy system.  Were you the basket case, the brain, the princess, the criminal, or the athlete? Which clique did you hang out with? Did you love it or hate it?  During my senior year, I was the brainy nerd dating the class clown.  It made for some interesting memories in my small town.   When they announced us Prom King and Queen, I about fell over dead.  And because I was a nerd, I was instantaneously so anxious, I could barely walk to the front to enjoy my moment.  Flash forward 30 years…I’ve already seen my daughter live through her Breakfast Club days.  Now it’s my son who’s a junior in high school, living out his own version of the Wonder Years.  He’s quiet, sticks to a small crowd, just the average kid in FFA and shop class in western Oklahoma.  He drives a dependable car, works after school at a small engine repair shop, and is headed in the right direction in life.  You’ll miss out on his dry wit and sarcastic humor unless you’re privileged enough to be close family or friend.  Then he cuts loose.  And does so in spades. I marvel at him, this son of mine.  He’s so different from me, yet he’s the closest to me personality-wise out of my three kids.

This past weekend was his junior prom.  I was shocked when he announced he was going.  He hates social events, especially the more formal ones.  As prom planning approached, he had told me he was going with a group of friends which would make it easier on him.  Knock me over with a feather.  Fast forward and imagine my surprise when I found out he was taking a date.  This is new.  This is very, very new.  This is a side of my son I’ve never seen before.  Even more surprising, it’s a blind date, set up by a mutual friend.  What just happened?  Did I miss something?  Did he magically grow wings and start to fly?  Did someone kidnap him and replace him with a lookalike?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatic for him.  But this is so far from his norm, I’m in shock.  We are in uncharted waters here.  But hey, I’m a proud momma, so let’s fancy this boy up and send him to prom! I do have to say, it’s about a million times easier helping a 17 yr old boy get ready for prom then it was my 17 yr old girl. No drama, no fuss.  The only thing you have to decide is if you want the super-expensive slim cut tux, or the just-as-expensive regular cut tux.   And in western Oklahoma, it’s a given you’ll be trading out the formal wear shoes for your best pair of black cowboy boots.  And of course, he’s a boy, so he is tasked with finding the coolest ride possible to deliver his date to the promenade at the beginning of prom.  And does he deliver.  He borrows a bright yellow 1980 Camaro with loud enough exhaust pipes to let you know he’s arrived from two blocks away.  Western Oklahoma kids show up in some outrageous rides to prom–I’ve seen grain trucks, fire trucks, semi trucks, tractors, antique cars, sports cars, the biggest and baddest pickups you can find… This year one of his friends was determined to ride her horse side saddle in her prom gown.  That would’ve been a sight to see.  But good ole’ Okie weather had to have a temper tantrum and ruin everything.  It went from 80 degrees the day before prom to bitterly cold, windy, and raining the evening of prom.  And little does my son Cadon know beforehand, the car he has borrowed doesn’t have a working heater.  (Who needs it in 80 degree weather, right?)  Promenade gets cancelled an hour before it’s supposed to start.  A small group of us decide we will watch them walk in anyway, even though they will no longer be announcing them as they make their grand entrance.  So we huddle under a canopy near the doorway, a small band of cold, wet parents, determined to get that picture of our kids walking the promenade.  In the meantime, the kids wait in the valet line for over an hour in a cold Camaro, getting to know each other, cause, you know, it’s a blind date.  I can only imagine how awkward that was.   Needless to say, Cadon’s friend did not arrive on her horse sidesaddle.  The wind and rain had no sympathy on anyone that night.  I cringed every time I saw a girl in a beautiful long, flowing prom dress step in a puddle of water. Or when I saw the umbrellas flying away in the wind while the girls melted in the rain on their mad dash indoors.  The collective hours of beauticians everywhere that went to waste that day…Wow, I’m crying foul on that one, Okie weather.

I chuckle as I look down memory lane and remember my own junior prom 30 years ago.  My dad insisted I make him a chocolate shake minutes before my date was to pick me up.  As I took the glass canister out of the blender, the bottom fell out, and chocolate shake went all over my dark green dress.  By some miracle, it was a material that repelled liquid and for the most part, ran off and onto the floor.  I was able to wash off what remained without leaving a stain.  I’m sure I smelled of extra-chocolatey goodness that evening.  And then there was my ride to prom.  My date had a 1966 Mustang that was the envy of everyone.  Only it was 80+ degrees that day, and his car had no air conditioning.  I remember sweating buckets by the time we arrived–along with my chocolate catastrophe, I was a certifiable mess.  I was thankful he was a good friend, because my social anxiety was at an all-time high that evening.  I probably never did thank him enough later for helping me get through that first memorable prom experience.

So thirty years later,on my son’s prom night, I stand next to that sweet boy’s parents in the cold, windy rain.  They are here because their “honorary” granddaughter is my son’s blind date.  Doesn’t life have some funny twists and turns?  We reminisce as we wait, laughing about Jason’s old Mustang and escapades lived out a lifetime ago.  Finally, I hear an engine rev, and see a flash of bright yellow.  I’m not sure who’s more happy about it–us or them.  You would have thought we were the paparazzi as our little group of teenagers made their way past us to go inside.  I’m so stinkin’ proud of them.  My momma’s heart swells with pride as I watch my son offer his arm to Natalie, and see him grin as he walks by.  Go have some fun, son!  Tear up the dance floor, take the pretty prom pictures, eat the fancy hors d’oeuvres.  And in thirty years from now, may you too have great memories to look back on as you watch your own teenagers engage in this timeless ritual.  Who knows? Maybe by then they’ll be showing up for promenade in flying cars.  I can only hope I am around to watch the magic one more time.

In Loving Memory 

Jason Miller


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