Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, May 11, 2015


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

[Reader alert: This is twice as long as a “high concept” blog post is supposed to be. I apologize.]

This is prom season. If you don’t have a date for the prom, you can do some strange things.

I found out that I had no date quite by accident. I was the editor of the school newspaper. My girlfriend was editor of the year book. We shared a desk in the typing room. I was at the desk one day and noticed a sheet of paper in the yearbook tray. Phyllis was compiling a list of the prom couples. Her name was listed with a name that was not mine. It was bad enough to realize I had no prom date, but to make things worse, Vance was better looking than I. She had traded up.

I was mortified. It was a small school. Everyone was going to find out that I could not hold onto a girl I had been dating for a year and a half. We were not “going steady,” but neither of us had dated anyone else during that time, and we had gone to the prom as juniors, and…

Perhaps her fickleness had something to do with the fact that I had not asked her, just assumed. Women! Take them for granted just one time and they accept a date with some good-looking guy who actually pays attention to them. Her fickleness might also have stemmed from the fact that I was a horrible on dates in general. 

I have no ability at small talk. The simplest sentences can confound me. In fact, the simpler they are, the more trouble I have with them. Part of that is my dysnomia, the inability to think of nouns. Recently I could not think of the word “graves” and referred to them as “cemetery holes.” I was proud of my work-around. Our friends thought it was hilarious. [Note to Paul and Kathy: It is not nice to make fun of the nominatively challenged.]

If it were an actual subject, like in what universe y = x, or how to cut a chicken’s head off, or if Vince Dimaggio would ever be as good as Dom or Joe, I could hold my own. Unfortunately, none of those was an apt subject for discussion on a date. Unable to do small talk, I often said nothing, which probably came across as disinterest. If I could have just found enough nouns to say something stupid, I would have been okay. Girls prove every day that they are not put off enough by stupidity to refuse a date.

Through the years I have managed to pay my way in social conversation by telling stories, but at that time, I had not lived long enough to have any stories, only sophomoric jokes, which were way beneath seniors.

Phyllis had traded up. Who could blame her? I, for one

It was humiliating to have no prom date, and too late to find another girl who was willing to put up with my inability to talk on a date. If you can’t talk to a girl, she gets the impression that you are ignoring her.

There have been news reports recently of a high school boy, lacking a prom date, who took his great-grandmother to the prom. My Grandma Mac, five feet and ninety pounds of dynamite, would have been a hoot at a prom, for she made things fun wherever she was, but I did not know that taking Grandma was an option.

So I did the only logical thing. I dropped out of school and went to work on the night shift in a factory. That way everyone would think I could not come to the prom because I had to work, and the reason Phyllis went with a better-looking guy was that she had no choice. Perfect.

Except I didn’t get to go to the prom. And I wanted to. I had been class president for three years. This was our last hurrah together. I told my line boss at the factory of my woes. She was very perceptive for an elderly woman, almost forty. “I can get my daughter to go with you,” she said.

Normally a boy would be hesitant to accept such a date. Maybe her daughter was a spaniel. But she lived in Ft. Branch. All the guys knew the Ft. Branch girls were the best, in part because it was seventeen miles from Oakland City, and everyone is prettier at a distance, but also because the only drive-in in the county was the Dog ‘n Suds in Ft. Branch, where girls could not ignore you, the way they did in lesser places, since they had to come to your car to take your order. There is no girl more alluring than one in bobby sox and saddle shoes, with a little change apron around her waist that makes her jingle when she walks, and who wafts the aroma of root beer wherever she goes.

Needless to say, I had no trouble getting the night off. I borrowed Uncle Johnny’s new Chevy and drove the seventeen miles to Ft. Branch. Talk about Ft. Branch girls! This one was not just pretty, or even Ft. Branch pretty, she was prom pretty!

And she was unknown in Oakland City. When I walked into the prom with this vision of mysterious loveliness on my arm, everyone had to reassess me. Oh, I think my classmates had always respected me. They had been remarkably kind and accepting from the time I was the new kid in fifth grade. They knew I was okay in the classroom and in extra-curricular stuff. They had not known, however, that I was capable of getting a Ft. Branch-girl prom date.

If your grandson asks you to the prom, say “No.” Tell him to go to work in a factory and ask the boss to get him a date. Their friends will have to reclassify him into the chick magnet category. That’s what I’m going to remind my classmates at our 60 year reunion this summer.

I hope I did not use that nice Ft. Branch girl just to get credibility with my classmates. I’ll always appreciate her and her mother for their kindness to an awkward boy with no nouns.

I’ll take a different girl to the class reunion. I never got to take this one to the prom, but I have taken her most every place else, and now I’m taking her home.

John Robert McFarland

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] Come May 21, we’ll be living in the place of persimmons, Bloomington, IN, where we met and married, 56 years ago.

I tweet as yooper1721.

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