It’s prom night in Worthington.
You know what that means: teenage girls (primarily juniors and seniors) will be bustling about, painting their nails, collecting corsages and boutonnieres at florists’ shops, making last-minute adjustments to their dresses, obsessing about what to wear during the after-prom festivities, keeping hair appointments for up-dos or curled masterpieces and helping each other with makeup.
The teenage boys? They’re sleeping in, or working, or working out, but the bulk of them have “prom” tucked firmly at the bottom of their priority lists as surely as most of the girls have it at the top of theirs.
Today’s prom dresses make those of my teen years look positively Victorian–and, truly, many of those 1980s Gunne Sax models really were imitations of 1800s fashion, brimming with lace, drawstring bodices, full skirts and other details that created an overall impression of extreme modesty.
Cut-out, peek-a-boo, sequin-glittering, thigh-high slits, décolletage-bearing–these are more descriptive style features of contemporary gowns, and it often seems many of the maidens wearing them are much more sophisticated and self-assured than a lot of my 1982 peers were.
That year I was a junior at Mankato West High School, and even though prom wasn’t high on my “must-do” list of experiences, I was enjoying the company of a sweet young man from cross-town rival Mankato East; attending prom was a natural development.
But whose prom to attend? Alan was a senior, so his prom was arguably more important–but then, I was the girl, so should mine come first?
We split the difference, agreeing to attend both proms on consecutive weekends–though he would sport a rented tuxedo (white!) at his prom, and his own gray suit to mine. I wore the same modestly-ruffled teal dress to both.
“Just Between You and Me” was the prom theme (his? mine? time’s erased the specifics), showcasing the 1981 hit tune from the Canadian rock group April Wine.
Local tradition dictated that high school proms took place at the Mankato State student union ballroom. Before the West prom, we dined in our finery with a group of friends at the Century Club (a restaurant that hugged the Minnesota River bank on the North Mankato side), then drove to the university and lined up outside the ballroom to promenade through a balloon-festooned arch as our names were announced.
Photos exist of these momentous events, but the ’80s were devoid of cell phones, iPads, digital cameras and other technological wonders, so most memories arise from my feelings and recollections of the nights.
Cue the fading music, the wilting flowers, the advancing spring…proms passed, along with the school year. Alan was preparing to attend Concordia College at Moorhead in the fall, so we amicably agreed to “break up,” though we remained good friends.
Cold shock flooded my brain and body as I read a letter (no email or Snapchat, kids!) from him in my college dorm room a few years later: He’d been suffering from severe headaches, returned home and was diagnosed with brain cancer. Alan withdrew from college to battle the disease, and though he wasn’t able to return to Concordia, he resumed classes at Mankato State when the cancer went into remission.
His renewed career goal was to become a hospital administrator, so after completing his undergraduate degree, he began graduate studies in health care administration at a Michigan university. Not too long afterwards, though, this left-handed tennis player and skilled percussionist began experiencing pain in his dominant arm: the cancer had returned.
Most teens attending prom tonight probably won’t be thinking about their distant futures; I know I wasn’t. Prom was just a warm and wonderful evening when we dressed up, felt special and reveled in being young.
Alan, my prom escort, died at age 24, having fought the demon of cancer with every ounce of his being. Prom wasn’t the highlight of my life, and I doubt it was of his, but it–and he–are worth remembering.
None of us knows how many special days or nights we’ll be granted on this earth, so enjoy each one that comes your way. And do your best to remain friends with your prom date, even after the occasion.
That’s something I’ll never regret.