I was dusting off some photo albums the other day, and came across a faded color pic of me taken almost sixty years ago, posing like a model, trying to look cool and sexy. “Tuff,” they called it back then. Suddenly, I’m back in May 1965. Puerto Rico. Ramey Air Force Base, where my dad was stationed. I’m seventeen and shopping for a dress for my Senior Prom.
There I was, with my whole family, in a charming little dress shop in a charming little town called Isabela, outside the base. The little one-room shop was lined on three sides with beautiful full-length formal gowns. and an old sofa on the fourth. My mom, dad, younger sister and two little brothers crammed themselves onto that sofa, my brothers trying to behave, my sister poking them with an elbow now and then. I guess mom couldn’t find a babysitter.
The middle-aged, girdled-up shop owner brought out one dress after another, and I stepped hopefully into the curtained-off dressing room with each one. No dice. Too loose, too tight, too flashy, too plain, wrong color. Then she brought out an exquisite white crepe de chine number sprinkled with delicate little crystals all over the bodice. I think I gasped when I saw it; at least on the inside.
My dad gasped when he saw the price tag–and started to object. “It can’t hurt to try it on, Dad!” I pleaded. Everyone was getting tired and hungry; we all wanted to get out of this not-so-charming-anymore little shop. But I wasn’t leaving without a gown!
My pleading worked. I stepped into the dressing room and the shop owner zipped me up. Perfect! I walked back out and everyone stared. Even my little brothers. It was just like something Jackie Kennedy would’ve worn. I was transformed from a flirty teen-ager into a sophisticated young lady, right before their eyes. My fiscally responsible Dad didn’t have the heart to say no and the shop owner rang it up with a big smile on her face, handed it over and we headed home.
Prom day finally arrived. I put my red hair up in a French twist, snapped on my mom’s pearl earrings, slipped carefully into my gown, pulled on a pair of long white gloves and stepped into my pointy-toed white satin heels. Then walked into the living room. Amazed all over again, my mom dragged a neighbor lady over to witness the miracle, while dad snapped some shots with his Brownie, and my little brothers snickered from somewhere in the background.
I had other formal gowns after that, some even custom-made, but none I loved as much as that beautiful prom dress. By the time the 60s had rolled into the 70s I was a suburban housewife up to my eyeballs in kids and never needed to get that dressed up ever again.
I kept my prom dress tucked away in a closet for years though, trying it on once in a while for old time’s sake, until it became yellowed with age and I could no longer squeeze into it.
I put the photo album back on the shelf and continued dusting, but for those few minutes I remembered what it felt like to be that seventeen-year-old Prom Queen again.
Ceci LaDuca is a Tampa native, military brat and USF English grad, having worked in the USF Career Center for 23 years in various capacities. An OLLI regular since retiring in 2013, Ceci has taken several classes, including Spanish, Blogging, Physics, the Great Books series, and the Great Decisions Foreign Policy class. She loves nature, blogging, walking, reading, gardening and retirement!