Dances and ball games were Himni’s primary entertainment in the 60’s. 80% of the student body attended every Himni High football or basketball game. Much of the town did too. During basketball season the gym was always packed. The band was rocking the house. The Pep club was seated in uniform in a block H on the home bleachers. The place smelled of sweat, popcorn and Right Guard.
There was a dance after every home game. Often even the adults stayed to dance.
The Halloween of my Junior year brought the annual costume dance. I took Rhonda Wardley and we double dated with my best friend Mitch and I can’t remember who. Mitch never went steady until the next summer when we met the twins at Boy’s State. That’s another story though. His date could have been just about anybody, but was probably Dana Williams.
Anyway, after showing our activity cards we walked together on to the dance floor and grouped up with a crowd that had already gathered. We had no sooner joined the circle when one of the Hooper twins handed me $20.00!
“What’s this for?” I asked.
“For dancing with Celestia Hopewell,” he said.
He grabbed the twenty back but I hung on – thinking about it. Twenty dollars was a fair chunk of change in those days and one didn’t let it go all that easily. Celestia Hopewell was the oldest, meanest, hardest, strictest teacher on the faculty. She might have retired ten years ago, but teaching High School English was all she knew. The gang had taken up a collection and determined that for $20.00 they could get Jinx to do it. They were right.
Mrs. Hopewell had come in a very elaborate witch’s outfit. It suited her and made her seem even more formidable. Rhonda came as a clown which was pretty much in character for her too.
I had come as a pumpkin. Well, actually, I came with a Jack-o-lantern on my head and a double knit green suit put on backwards. There was a rule against masks. I thought I’d have a little fun, so I cut a large hole in the back of the Jack-o-lantern which completely exposed my face (no mask). The Jack-o-lantern face was in the back, but so was the front of my pants, faux shoes and jacket. It had it’s desired effect too. Twice during the evening I heard the voice of a teacher behind me, instructing me to remove the mask or be kicked out of the dance. It was such a kick to turn around a see the startled look that resulted when they realized they’d been scolding the back of me. Pumpkin guts drizzling down my neck all night was not part of the plan though.
It took a couple of dances and lots of encouragement from Rhonda to get up the gumption to earn my twenty bucks, but I finally did it. I made a broad arch around the gym floor and kind of tricked myself into stopping in front of Celestia Hopewell. She politely commented on my clever costume and I mumbled something about how scary she looked. At least I didn’t lie. Then I cleared my voice and, as politely as I could, asked her to dance. To my chagrin and consternation, she graciously accepted.
We walked together on to the floor. Lots of eyes were on us. I’d picked a slow dance because I just couldn’t picture her doing anything else. We assumed the position, her hand on my shoulder, mine at her waist and the other two joined, and the music stopped. Well, that was awkward. Now we had to visit a bit while we waited for another song. I wasn’t due to take her English class until next year and as it turned out, I chickened out and never did have a class from her. The result was that there just wasn’t that much to talk about. The break lasted forever. I wondered if the guys hadn’t paid off the band too. Finally, the music began. It was Blue Velvet. Once again we made contact and began to dance.
Now Rhonda is a great dancer. She went on to college and became part of a championship ballroom dance team. She always said I was pretty good myself. Celestia, though, was amazing. She responded to every lead I offered. Not once did I feel that she was doing anything but flawlessly following my cues. She let me lead the dancing, but she lead the conversation and was so charming and witty I was in shock. I was having a great time! Me, 16 years old and Mrs. Hopewell, at least 70! I couldn’t believe it. When the song was over, I began to escort her to her seat when she practically begged me for one more. She explained that she hadn’t danced a single time since she was widdowed over 30 years before. I gladly consented. I even relaxed.
When I did take her to her seat I was overwhelmed with how pleasant the experience had been. As she sat down she thanked me and then asked, “So, was it worth $20.00?”
The pumpkin surrounding my head began to steam. I was about to break and run, when she presented me with the sweetest, warmest smile. I took a deep breath and replied that I”d pay $20.00 to have the opportunity again. I meant it too.