Friday, August 3, 2012

Love in the Fifties

by Colleen Sutherland

(This is a sort of prequel to the previous Love through the Decades stories. I wish it weren't based so much on my own life. CS)

Everyday it's a-gettin' closer
Goin' faster than a roller coaster
Love like yours will surely come my way
A-hey, a-hey-hey

Willard swung her around and headed for the back forty. He drove her across to the corner and made an abrupt left turn under the basketball hoop, shoving his dancing partner backwards as he drove full throttle around the gym floor. He was cutting hay, thinking about summer.

This is what dancing feels like in Alcenora High, Sheila thought. She read that Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, only in high heels and backwards. This was the same except Sheila was wearing tennis shoes and being pushed around the gym floor during seventh period physical education class by a farm boy with no sense of rhythm.

That morning, Sheila hoped for a snow day. A February blizzard swept across the Great Plains overnight and should have hit Alcenora, but instead it went south to Milwaukee. All Alcenora got was a dusting of snow, not enough to give her a break.

Oh, how she dreaded each day of high school. Junior year then a full senior year to go.

“God, I hate school,” she said to her mother as she wolfed down a piece of toast standing up. Her starched crinoline slip itched her legs when she sat down. By the end of the day her legs would be rubbed raw in the name of fashion. “Can't I be sick or something?”

“Don't take the name of the Lord in vain,” her mother said. “This should be the best time of your life. What is your problem?”

“If they would just leave me alone to study.”

“The boys?” Her mother was ever hopeful.

“No, the cheerleaders. They got it into their heads that every girl should go to the prom.”

“Well, why not?”

“I don't have a boyfriend.”

“Boys don't like smart girls. I've told you that over and over. It wouldn't hurt you to act dumb.”

Sheila didn't bother to answer. They had this conversation too many times. Her mother and father expected her to fit in with prevailing society. She was supposed to be a good little girl, have a good Lutheran boyfriend, get married and raise lots of good little farm kids after she had worked a few years as a good little secretary. They didn't know that she changed her class schedule to college prep courses every semester, faking their signatures. She stole blank report card forms from teachers' desks and filled them out herself, giving herself mostly B's in secretarial classes. She went down to the barn to have her father sign them because he never asked any questions. It made no difference that they smelled like manure when he was done because those weren't the ones she returned to the school anyhow. She was an expert at forging their names.

Every week she took the $1.25 her mother gave her for lunch money and put it together with any babysitting money into a secret bank account for college. She should be able to get scholarships to make up the rest. She haunted the guidance room during her meal-less lunch hour looking at the shelves of college brochures, hiding her selections in her locker so her mother wouldn't see them.

They would soon find out when she made the National Honor Society. That would be in the newspapers and they would get engraved invitations to the induction ceremony. Maybe she could convince them it was for her grades in in the business classes. She better make her report cards a little better next time. Neither of her parents had gone to high school so it had been so easy to fool them.

Would they be proud of her when she was valedictorian? Probably not, unless she had a boyfriend by then.

The music came to an end. Now she was supposed to make polite conversation with Willard. They both stared at the scoreboard which had the last basketball scores. Neither she nor Willard had been to the game. Apparently Alcenora won.

Mr. Orson, the overweight boys' physical education teacher put another Buddy Holly song on the turntable and yawned, leaning back on the office chair he had dragged into the gym. This was a day off for him. He let Miss Dorsey run the show, teaching the kids dance steps she learned by watching American Bandstand the night before. Most of the girls already knew the dances. Sheila didn't but with Willard as a partner it didn't make much difference.

If you knew Peggy Sue
Then you'd know why I feel blue
Without Peggy, my Peggy Su-u-ue

If only they would let her change partners, but none of the popular girls would have anything to do with
Willard. He grabbed her hand and waist and started pushing her backwards again. All around them couples were swinging to a rock 'n roll beat but Willard didn't know the difference between a waltz and a polka, let alone a modern dance.

Aaaahhhh.” Sheila crashed into Yvonne when her Jack swung her out directly in the path of Willard's plowed row.

Sorry,” Sheila said. Willard hadn't noticed. But Sheila wasn't sorry. If she had known Yvonne was back there she would have stomped on her foot for good measure.

Yvonne and her buddies cornered her when she got off the school bus that morning.

Has Willard asked you to the prom yet?”

I'm not going, I told you that.”

Everyone has to go. This will be the best prom ever, you have to be there! It will be something to remember at our 50th reunion.”

I'm not going to the reunion either.”

She wouldn't either. High school was something to endure until she got to college where she assumed there would be intelligent life. Once out of Alcenora, she was never coming back. She muttered through her French class vocabulary and thought about Paris.

Maybe she would go to her college reunions.

She watched Yvonne and Jack gyrating to the music. They were going steady and Yvonne thought they would be married soon after graduation. Or before. Jack had been overheard telling his friends that a piece of Saran Wrap and a rubberband made a good condom. Sheila knew Jack's father. He was fat. His mother sometimes showed up in the grocery store with bruises. Jack seemed to be heading in the same direction. A little weight was fine on a football star but it would stick. Sheila had seen him yelling at Yvonne when she didn't agree with something he said.

Sheila put her mind elsewhere, on the term paper on Marie Antoinette she was writing for her history class. She was back in the world of Versailles, of gold furniture and great art. The dresses were beautiful, she supposed, but they were the same bulky skirts girls wore in the Fifties. She wondered if Marie Antoinette had legs rubbed raw by starchy petticoats. She dreamed of the Hall of Mirrors as she and Willard did another round under the basketball hoops.

One of the other teachers was in the room talking to Miss Dorsey, whispering something in her ear.

Noooooooo!” Yvonne overheard and began to wail. “Buddy Holly dead! No, no, no! It can't be true!”

Mr. Orson thought it was a request. He looked down at his stack of 45s and plucked one out but no one was dancing.

Well, that'll be the day
when you say good bye,
yes, that'll be the day,
when you make me cry,
ah, you say you're gonna leave,
you know its a lie,
'cause that'll be the day when i die.
well, when i die.

Buddy Holly was dead. Mr. Orson began to pull his records out of the stack. They wouldn't be played again this year. Sheila smiled. She abruptly turned away from Willard and headed toward her locker to take off her gym shoes.

Badminton tomorrow,” Miss Dorsey called as the bell rang.

1 comment:

  1. That's so you. He danced like he was driving a tractor :)