The first time I attended a high school prom in Rich County, I thought the Rich County people were from another planet.
I was married. My wife Nellie had grown up in Rich County, and said that we had to go to her little brother’s prom.
“Your brother’s prom?” I asked. Like, what?
“Yes, my brother’s prom.”
Weird, I thought. Because in the big city, older brothers and sisters who have graduated simply do not go to high school proms.
But I’m always up for strange new experiences, and so we went.
And I can report that it was indeed strange. In the big city, grandma and grandpa do not attend the prom, nor do mom and dad or little brothers and sisters. And they most assuredly do not sit in the stands and watch the junior class perform a dance.
But that’s what they did in Rich County. And so I sat next to grandma and grandpa who were nigh unto eighty years old and watched an announcer present the junior class. There was a makeshift stage. And the announcer would announce the names of a young woman and a young man. On the stage, the young woman would take the arm of a young man, and then he would escort her out to the center of the floor to the applause of everyone in the gym. The couple would then perform a little action—he might twirl her, or she him, or she might jump in his arms, or he in hers, or she might lift her dress enough to show she was wearing cowboy boots that matched his, or dozens of other little creative things, and then they’d walk to the side to make room for the next couple.
In Rich County, there are only forty or so kids in a class, so it didn’t take long. When the juniors were all announced, the whole junior class, in their tuxes and dresses, spread out and took their places on the floor. A song began to play, and then they performed a dance that had been choreographed specifically for the occasion.
When it finished, the mother or father of each junior went out onto the floor and danced a slow dance with their son or daughter.
They then presented the seniors in the same way, after which the parents of the seniors went out and danced with their sons and daughters.
Only when that dance ended did the lights dim and the “normal” dancing begin. Nellie and I danced a few songs, and then she said it was time for us to get some refreshments and go.
And that’s what we did, leaving the teens to their evening.
I had never before seen anything like it. I laughed and wondered. Those funny hicks, I thought.
I took a job in San Francisco for a few years, then another in Columbus, Ohio. And then, years after that hick prom, Nellie and I moved from the big city to Rich County. That was almost thirteen years ago.
This last Friday I watched as my third daughter was announced and walked down from the makeshift stage. She was escorted by a young man, looking handsome in his tux. I watched him twirl her and another girl (he got to escort two). And when all the seniors had been presented, I got to dance with my girl at the prom.
I cannot tell you how sweet that was to look in her eyes, to see my little girl grown up into this beautiful, strong woman. I thought about how she was soon going to leave us, and tears threatened to spring into this papa’s eyes, but she smiled and said, “Don’t you dare.”
What’s a man to do? I obeyed. And instead of blubbering, we danced.
When we finished, I gave her a hug and a kiss on the forehead and returned to the stands.
I’ve danced six times with my girls at these Rich County proms—once when each was a junior and once when they were seniors. And I love this tradition.
I love that a huge part of the community comes out to the dance. I love that we honor and applaud these great kids. I love watching the juniors in their gorgeous dresses and handsome tuxes perform these beautiful, formal dances that remind me of something you might find in Victorian England, something that seems to have stepped right out of Pride and Prejudice.
What an excellent evening.
How lucky I am that places like Rich County exist, and that I get to live in one of them.