The prom was one of the most important events in my school year. I loved getting dressed up and loved dancing and loved the opportunity to prove that I had made it as a female of the time by having a boyfriend, and not just a boyfriend, but one who had access to a car!
I was later delighted that all three of my children attended their XHS junior and senior proms and had as much of a blast at theirs that I did at mine. When I was working on our 20 year class reunion committee in 1986 I was horrified to discover that everyone had not enjoyed their prom or their high school years for that matter. After about the fourth or fifth call to a former classmate resulted in them telling me they would not go back to that GD school for any reason and they had no interest in seeing any of us (use your imagination for an expletive, a strong one) ever again, I began to ask questions of those who did not hang up on me at once after delivering their message. I found out that a lot of my classmates had felt ill used by the other students, the teachers, the administrators and the school in general. By the end of my calls I was asking them if I had been one of the people who had been mean to them, or had ignored them. Most of them said “no” but they may have been being polite or trying to get me off the phone.
It was an amazing and eye opening example that what I saw was not necessarily the same view the other people that had shared my experiences saw. I enjoyed my high school years enormously and the prom was definitely one of the highlights of my year all three years in high school. ( XHS was 10-12 only).
My junior prom year (1965) I was on the Prom Decorating Committee. A cool collection of folks who took advantage of the fact that you could get out of school early to go out to the venerable venue, the Blue Moon Ball Room, on the south side of town, not far from the OSSO Children’s Home, and decorate during school hours. Our class president, Jim Kennedy, was the chair of the committee I think. I know that he was the one who seemed to call meetings and he provided transportation from XHS to the Blue Moon when we had early release to decorate.
Jim’s father owned Kennedy’s grocery store which was firmly in the white part of town, but which my parents sometimes patronized as Xenia got more integrated in the 1960’s. Their favorite was always James’ grocery store because they knew the James family and both my brother and I had jobs at James’ when we were in high school. For a very long time after I became a teacher and a professor there were some little old white ladies in Xenia who were sure I was still ” the girl that works at James’. I would run into them at restaurants or stores ( when Xenia still had stores besides Walmart) and they would be delighted to see their favorite cashier. I never bothered to tell them that James’ was a high school job and I was now 30.
Anyway, I digress–I do that a lot, bear with me, Jim would get a vehicle from his father and off we would go, as much of the committee as could fit in the car, to the Blue Moon to try to turn what was a pretty ratty old venue into something magical for the senior prom for the class of 1965. As juniors that was our responsibility. Jim’s vehicle was unique to say the least. His father had taken the back seat out to haul meat so if you were not lucky enough to sit in the front seat–bench seats in those days meant more than one person could sit in the front, you had to sit on the floor in the back. The trip was not far fortunately because lack of padding and the age of the vehicle meant that each bump in the road was felt quite sincerely by your rear end.
I toyed a time or two with the idea of jumping in the front, but white boys were kind of alien territory to me. I could not decide if I liked them, feared them or had contempt for them, except for a few exceptions who were great friends of mine and I loved dearly as a friend. So, I was not going to jump in the front, at least my memory says I never did. It did not really have anything to do with feeling I should be in the back because of my race ironically, it had more to do with the double difference of gender and race.
So we bounced out to the Blue Moon, measured things, made plans and then took off for Frisch’s for a daylight cruise of the drive through. I felt deliciously wicked to be out of school on permission to do one thing and to be doing something else that was fun, but would probably have been frowned upon by the administration. Fortunately–or unfortunately sometimes–I was born with absolutely no respect for authority and have never managed to obtain any, so I reveled in the time cruising around in Jim’s meat wagon.
We managed to find enough crepe paper, already constructed props like a small arched wooden bridge, and other decorations to complete the job and with the lights way down low and everyone all dressed up the prom was a smashing success.
The after prom was organized by the school. After the last dance at the prom buses pulled up outside. We all loaded up and were driven to the Ohio River to a party boat. The boat was going to cruise up and down the river all night while we danced, ate and partied. It felt very, very sophisticated. I still remember the jockeying for seats on the bus. Of course everyone wanted to sit with his or her date, but they also wanted to sit near friends to talk, debrief about what people had worn or who had danced like a goof at the prom. My bus had most of the black kids in attendance on it, if not all of them. The prom was not well attended by black students, which was indicative of the social schism that occurred following integration.
Some of us threw ourselves into the social life of the integrated school. I belonged to the Tri-Hi-Y club, the French Club, a club that cheered at basketball games–not cheerleaders, we sat on the stage at the Fieldhouse and wore uniforms and cheered but in a seated position ( I do not remember the name) , etc. In all of those organizations I was one of few blacks. Usually it was the same group, black kids from Wilberforce and a few from Xenia.
So, the buses pulled out and then an hour later we were at the river. Now remember we are wearing what we wore to the prom, guys in tuxedos ( white boys favored white jackets for some reason and the black kids made massive fun of them behind their backs) and girls in floor length gowns and heels. My first indication that a change of clothes might have been a good idea was when we arrived and saw that you had to walk a rather rickety looking gangplank to get on the boat. Heels and rickety gangplanks over muddy banks and water do not go together, but we all made it without mishap.
Once on the boat it was obvious that there were certain areas you did not want to be in. The music and the food were in a place overrun with chaperons. I presume that some of the parents ( I think they were all white) thought it would be fun to cruise up and down the river with a bunch of teenagers. They must have been indulging in adult beverages to come to that conclusion.
If you wanted to do anything fun at all you needed to go where there were few or no chaperons. That meant, as it turned out, up on the top deck which was open to the elements. Ohio in May after dark is not known to be balmy. Add the wind off the river and the fact that we were sailing and you get a picture of what it was like on the upper deck. The fact you could neck, however, made that worth enduring and the top deck was a very popular area for the entire cruise. I know I spent most of my time on the boat up there. There were lots of guys taking off their jackets and offering them to their dates to encourage them to stay up there for a while. I am sure it is because they wanted their dates to see the sights on the river.
So we cruised and we danced and we necked and we thought we were the most sophisticated things in the entire world. Unfortunately the cruise was over far too soon and we had to load the buses and go back to the Blue Moon to retrieve our cars. The rising sun was not kind to our merry band. Most of the females had stepped all over their dresses, or had them stepped on by others. Some had rips and tears, some were just filthy from being on the floor of the not too clean buses and the boat. I was no exception, my yellow skirted gown was brown about three inches all around at the bottom, my gardenia corsage ( I still get carried back to the prom whenever my gardenia bush blooms) had blown apart on the upper deck and I only had a sad ribbon left pinned to my chest, and my beauty parlor constructed bee hive had been blown backwards by the wind on the upper deck and the can of hairspray the beautician had used on it made it stay that way. I did not have the white streaks, but other than that it was a credible representation of the hairstyle sported by the Bride of Frankenstein in the movies.
Fortunately I have never worn mascara or eyeliner because the girls who had looked like raccoons.
Most of us slept on the hour ride back to the Blue Moon which gave us just enough rest to really feel groggy when we had to get off the bus. My date took me home and I went in and fell into bed, knowing I had to be at James’s grocery at noon to work my Saturday shift. It was not possible to get the hairspray out of my hair without washing it. Since I did not own a blow dryer I could not wash it and have it dry in time to go to work, so I had to do my best to modify my scary hair enough to greet the public. I did get a few odd looks, but made it through to the end of the day, went home and collapsed for a couple of days.
Working at James’ was great fun, something I will describe in a future post.