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Tucker: Prom night

Posted: May 21, 2015 4:28 p.m.
Updated: May 22, 2015 1:00 a.m.

I was browsing through a community newspaper recently -- not this one -- when I came across photos from the senior prom at a particular high school. 

The guys had on their rented tuxes and the girls their best dresses. Big smiles covered their faces. Some of them probably did things that night they don’t want their parents to know about.

It suddenly hit me I missed prom night in Pinehurst this year. My golf group always does an outing each spring to that golf mecca in North Carolina, and it sometimes coincides with prom night at Pinehurst High, or whatever they call the school there.

Over the years, we have seen a steady stream of high school girls and boys in the restaurant where we often eat, all dressed to the nines for the big night. And a year ago -- maybe it was two -- we were discussing the fact time marches on inexorably, yet prom night seems to stand still, caught in the wispy curtain between then and now. 

Change is inevitable: golf games deteriorate, bellies grow bigger, friendships become more valuable. But the high school prom, regardless of location, is a constant. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Pinehurst or Camden or Oshkosh, the girls are shimmering in their new dresses and the guys are uncomfortable in their formal wear with the tight-collared shirts.

“If a girl doesn’t look good at 17, she’s never going to,” one of us observed after watching the parade of youths go by one year. The National Organization For Women would call that a sexist statement. Might be, but it’s true.

We knew none of these young people, but they looked just the same as the ones we had seen at this same restaurant five years ago, or 10 or even 20. Sure, the styles had changed a bit, but the basics were the same.

The girls were glowing -- brand-new dresses; upswept, chic hairdos; perfect make-up; and that youthful exuberance which might last until the early 20s, but not much longer.

The guys, to a person, looked as if they were choking in their starched white shirts, cummerbunds and crisp black jackets. They seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time gazing across the tables at their dates. Some of them were probably thinking thoughts their parents wouldn’t have wanted them to be thinking, about things they hoped would happen later in the evening.

I haven’t been to a high school prom in a long, long time, but I’m confident things haven’t changed nearly so much in Prom World as they have in Reality World. Most schools still hold the prom in the gymnasium, and the juniors spend a week decorating the place in some theme or other: Space Travel, Paris Adventure, Arabian Nights.

There are still chaperones who spend the lion’s share of their time making sure the kids don’t sneak out to their cars to consume beverages which aren’t allowed. The punch is pretty tasteless; the cookies, perhaps stale. 

It’s usually dark in the transformed-into-a-theme gymnasium, but there are spotlights, and perhaps a big mirror ball hanging from the ceiling, with a blue light dancing on the floor below. Kind of cheesy, I suppose, but pretty impressive when you’re 16 and slow-dancing with the guy or girl of your dreams.

Most of those dreams will be replaced as soon as the kids leave high school and move on to other things. But even as hairstyles change and musical fads come and go, even as terrorism transforms the world and high school algebra classes give way to full-time jobs, the memory of Prom Night will remain with them for years.

And that, in a way, is pretty darned comforting.


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