It was supposed to be the best weekend ever. I was 16, in love with my first boyfriend, and was to travel on a train from Baltimore to Virginia to see him. Peter had invited me to visit him at his boarding school in Virginia, for a weekend of football games and a dinner dance. My parents gave me their permission to go, knowing that it was to be well-chaperoned. His parents were reticent about our relationship, fearful for him and worried about me, and not thrilled that this weekend was taking place.

Peter and I came from different backgrounds; I was on a lower social scale than his. Public vs. private school, “rec” dances vs. deb parties, TV watching vs. concert-going, hayrides vs. duck hunting. When his parents refused to loan him the car to visit me, he walked the 10 miles to my home, and then back. He defied them, and continued walking, until his mother gave in and drove him herself.

When Mom learned that I was invited by Peter to attend an opera at the Lyric Theater in Baltimore, she walked to the library and got the Milton Cross Cliffs Notes of it. She agreed that I could go, but only after learning the story of “La Traviata.” The image of her sitting on the closed toilet seat, reading to me while I was in the tub, will stay with me forever. I went to the opera, prepared and did not mind the standing-room-only seats. This was before the dance weekend.

Going on a train, going to a dinner dance, watching my boyfriend play football at his prep school, drinking coffee on the sidelines (my first introduction to that beverage) were all firsts for me, and my excitement was palpable. I wanted everything to be perfect.

Mother took me by bus to shop for my first formal dress. We settled on a long, two-tone pink silk sheath, which Audrey Hepburn would have been proud to have had in her closet. Simple, elegant, and the princess styling made me feel regal.

The day before the trip, Mom wanted to put the final touches on my dress. She decided to steam iron the front panel, and place it on top of the other clothes in my suitcase. When I heard her scream, and saw the stain on the ironing board, the tears started. “Mom, what can we do?”


(How many times in my life have my parents, together or separately, saved the day?)

My dad arrived home to this sad scene, wife and daughter in tears. Phone calls made in haste, late at night. My friend offered her dress, sight unseen, and Dad rushed out into the night to retrieve it. It was an hour’s drive, and he had worked a long day. When he brought it home, the tears started again, because it looked like those big, frothy gowns worn by the bridesmaids in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” It was totally not me! I would be the laughingstock of the dance.

The next day I boarded the train to Virginia, with my fluffy pink gown, and with Mother’s send-off reminder of “remember who you are.” My head was held high, but my expectations were lowered. Was it to be a lost weekend?

I was met at the train by someone from the school, housed in a vine-covered brick cottage with other girls, with names like Muffie and Mitzi and Cricket. They had beautiful hair, impeccable manners and gorgeous, expensive dresses. Most had soft Southern accents.

The football game went by in a haze. The big night arrived, with the boys in white dinner jackets, and I showed up on the strong arm of my handsome Peter, very nervous in my unsuitable dress. Talk about a fish out of water! I must have carried it off, because no one laughed, even when my peas spilled off my plate.

We danced, talked, kissed and had a memorable evening together. The weekend was not lost after all.

Sixty years later, Peter and I continue to be in touch. We are on each other’s short list of best friends. We call, write and visit each other. I went to his mother’s funeral service, and he plans to sing at mine. Recently, he came east to a big reunion at his prep school. We spoke of that long-ago weekend. When I told him of my embarrassment at having to appear in something so unattractive, he laughed and said, “All I wanted to do was hold you in my arms when we danced. The dress didn’t matter.”

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