‘Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!’

My high school prom in 1957 — in June or was it May? — is a foggy memory. I don’t even remember who I went with. But April 10, 2019 is a prom date I’ll never forget. I was a bystander at a prom last Wednesday that was memorable for so many reasons. There was fantastic food, live music, corsages, boutonnieres, a big crowd. Kings and Queens were crowned. Many of the prom-goers were in wheelchairs, and most of them forgot the fun and laughter even before the music faded.

That evening, Sigma Kappa sorority and The German Club of Virginia Tech sponsored The Great Gatsby Prom for residents of the facility where Peter lives. When I heard about the event just a day earlier, I dug out the green velvet jacket Peter made for himself years before I knew him. I found his orange and purple bow tie too. Carolynn, here for the week, helped wrestle him into his finery. Typical theatrics ensued as we convinced him to participate: What is a prom? Why do I have to go? I’ll just stay here. We held hands as I coaxed him along the corridor.

Black, gold and white balloons and streamers festooned the dining room, the ladies wore their best attire fancied up with beads and glitter, and the men went along with everything, much like they probably did for their high school proms. The staff were all dressed in 1920’s attire to go along with the Great Gatsby theme.

Didn’t take long for Peter to get revved up and charm the ladies. In his element, he flirted, he danced, he caroused, he was his silly, wacky self. Old pals who remember the Peter of days gone by would have been shocked to see him drinking not one, but two Cokes. Yes!

Carolynn and I giggled hysterically as he entertained his admirers, many of them sorority girls younger than our granddaughter. He teased and made faces and beamed ear-to-ear. I’d figured we’d stay to escort him back to his room, but he was having such a good time we snuck out. The hours for this prom were 6:30-7:30, no all-night after-prom activities for this crowd. By the end, Peter was still cavorting. He didn’t need me nagging him to leave as I used to do. He didn’t even need me at all and I was glad to know that.

As I watched the evening unfold, I realized I’d made the right choice, heartrending as it was, when I moved him into memory care a year ago.

Title quote: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Bare necessities.

We were salmon swimming upstream into a pack of grizzly bears. Two Fridays before Christmas, and we were at the largest mall around. What was I thinking?

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Grizzlies doing lunch.

I don’t like to shop anyway, especially not for something specific.

“Specific” was shoes for Peter. He complains he has no shoes every time we get ready to go out. The man has shoes, lots of shoes. He just doesn’t want to wear them.

Right away I found the perfect pair. Nevertheless, he had to try on every likely shoe in the store before he realized — or would admit — I was right. He liked them so much he put his old ones in the bag and walked off, though not before the salesclerk chased him down to scan the code off the sole.

The real reason for braving the holiday hubbub was to see the Leonard Bearstein Animatronic Orchestra that performs at Christmastime. Peter takes childish delight in them, plus it’s fun to watch him watch the children who are alternately thrilled and terrified by bears not much bigger than themselves.

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Leonard Bearstein musicians.

We elbowed our way around both levels of the mall, dodged moms pushing strollers the size of SUVs, teenagers meandering with cell phones in hand (why weren’t they in school?), and old guys tottering towards benches to rest.

It wasn’t long before I’d had enough. “One more stop,” I said, as we headed back to Macy’s and our exit to the parking lot. “I need underwear,” I told Peter.


“Yes, underwear…panties…knickers!” I pointed towards the lingerie department. The displays were an avalanche waiting to happen. Brassieres as far as my eyes could see. Peter said he’d wait by the door.

I edged through the racks. There were robes and slippers and nightgowns aplenty, but I didn’t need nightwear either, damnit, I needed underwear and there was none in sight. I had no energy for an extensive search.

Totally disgruntled — and, dare I say, hungry as a bear? — I headed towards Peter and the out-of-doors. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“There weren’t any! No knickers! Only bras!”

“How can that be?” he asked. “Don’t they sell them in sets?” He gestured, his hands drawing two voluptuous shapes in the air, with buttocky shapes beneath. “Why don’t they sell them together?”

Only an engineer would come up with a practical solution to vital, yet flimsy, womanly merchandise. The thought of women buying bra/panty sets, as if a “set” size would fit the whole woman, made me envision marketing nightmares: 34A up top meets size 18 XXL at bottom, or 44DDDD meets size 6.

“And you don’t even have a fur coat,” he said. His eyes crinkled merrily.

I looked at him with question mark eyebrows.

“Fur coat and no knickers…” he said, using one of his favorite English expressions. Such a comedian.

“You’re unbearable,” I growled. He laughed.