Gracie had a clear memory of being seven and sitting cross-legged in the middle of the new four-poster bed as she tryed to absorb the elusive skills required in the conversion of her plain sister to a beautiful princess.
The Cinderella story was the closest she could come to understanding about a fancy school dance. Somehow, the young man who sat fidgeting in the front room with Papa, in no way resembled the prince in her favorite book.It all seemed like it happened yesterday.
Her father called this perplexing end of school ritual an unnecessary, foolish and costly pseudo- rite- of- passage into unwise behavior.
“In my opinion,” he bellowed,” prom stands for PROMotion of PROMiscuity. It is just a license to drink alcohol and experiment with loose living.”
The money spent on the gorgeous blue gown with fluffy layers of lace and netting did seem like a waste to this sensible child. And how, she wondered, could a person dance in those high-heeled ,impractical strappy shoes. If she needed to be taller, why couldn’t she just stand on her tippy toes? There were too many question and too few answers.
Decades passed in a flash. She was safe asleep, crosswise in her comfortable bed, and having that recurring dream where the splendid blue gown seemed to float in the closet in midair. Nothing bad ever happened. It was just Gracie, seven again, standing with her hand on the knob of the open door and staring at the dress, trying to picture herself old enough to wear it; to look like a princess too. “ NO,” Papa said, “ That would never happen on this earth.”
Her peers had embraced the annual affair with gusto. Prophetically, her father had been right on several accounts. Her best friend drank spiked punch and fell down the stairs, breaking both legs. Three football players were in a car wreck. One died, two were injured for life. It seemed to be a worsening scenario every spring.
Strains of sweet music eased into Gracie’s sleepy mind. Slowly opening her eyes, she realized the clock radio was signaling its daily reminder to rise and shine. Unlike some of her neighbors here at the Rolling Hills Sanatorium for the Aged, she was quite capable of bathing, dressing, and appearing in the dining room for meals.
Every effort was made to provide the geriatric residents with a fun and interesting environment. Today, the talk at her assigned round table was about the new social director, Miss Evelyn. She had an idea to ressurect some fun memories by having what she called “The Seniors Prom.”
Gracie had no recollection of ever having been to a dance, but she enjoyed the excitement of the planning. At her age, there might never be another opportunity. She could almost hear her Papa. He would probably call Miss Evelyn a promadeer, and the scantily clad girls of today, the prom squad. He was that way.
The local formal rental store received free publicity when they provided tuxedos for the old gentlemen and long, modest gowns for the ladies. Volunteer beauticians and barbers performed miracles on thinning tresses. Years seemed to fall away from those made-up faces. An authentic Swing and Sway Orchestra agreed to play music familiar to aged ears. It was billed as the senior event of the century. The theme, supported by fake palm trees and twinkling stars, was “A Return to Paradise.”
Carefully, Gracie slipped into the plain, pink satin ball gown, not her choice but an acceptable substitute. She had a white wrist corsage and safe, flat shiny slippers. The police and fire departments loaned out a few good guys to help with the man deficit that always exists in old age. It was almost time for her escort to fetch her. She was happy to have a sure and steadying arm at her service.
As usual, she was ready to go too early. She felt a little tired and decided to lie across the bed for a short rest while she waited. Unaware of passing time, she finally stirred enough to realize the room was awash in shimmering light and the most dazzling Prince was standing at her side.
Smiling radiantly in sweet recognition, she placed her weak hand in his strong one and arose, leaving the old bed behind. Totally at peace, off she went, a dreamy ephemeral blue gown floating around her.
She may have heard a loving voice whisper, “Say goodnight, Gracie.”
She never looked back.