The Christmas Formal Dance highlighted the holiday season for us as teenagers in 1965: always at the Hotel Rooftop Ballroom, always 8-12pm on the second Saturday in December, always girl-asks-boy, always a band we’d at least heard of, always a new dress, always a corsage, and always greatly anticipated.
“If ya’ll get back from the dance early enough, I’ll make you biscuits. I’m staying up to watch that late movie – it’s over by 12:30, though, so I’ll be asleep soon after,” Mama said. “Come back here if you want to. Have a good time!”
Mama’s baking powder biscuits had become legend to my friends that autumn when she served them with hot chocolate while we were decorating the freshman homecoming float. Being in the days before cholesterol-awareness, these jewels were made from shortening, white flour and salt.
When baked to perfection, she topped them with real butter and cane syrup. I believe more than one suitor’s ardor for me was increased that fall by the hope of getting another plateful of those heavenly treats. But she reserved them for special occasions when the gang of us was going out together, like the Formal that chilly winter night.
All dressed up, we wore high heels and brought soft slippers to dance in – they folded in half to fit in our purses with Kleenex, some change and a lipstick. We were off to the dance, definitive teenagers with hormones raging.
Six of us, more or less paired off for the occasion, went rocking and rolling for four solid hours. The bougaloo, the swim, the frug: we did all the latest dances, including the two-arm-clutch slow dance popular so long before the lambada. Kissing in dark corners of the hotel balcony, we were sure no one had ever felt as alive as we did then. It was adolescent euphoria, full blown and scary as hell.
Still, when the band shut down and the lights came up, we shortly found ourselves in Mama’s kitchen. Shoes off, ties loosened, crumbs on our lace, the cool and hip partygoers so suddenly became silly and giddy on hot biscuits and Mama’s warm presence.
“Well,” she said, “Who’d you see and what’d they say? Who took the pictures? Was the band good?” On and on we talked into the night, telling her (and ourselves in the process) what we thought about thins and people and life as we knew it.
The others called home. Saying they were at our house was good enough for an extension of our 1am curfew and bought enough time for a few hands of cards and one more biscuit. She talked to us that night in a different way, as if we were interesting and maybe equal to her, instead of just kids. She encouraged our insights, honed our descriptive talents, treasured our opinions and laughed at our jokes.
She also, in her wisdom, kept us off the streets and off each other and made us think we were getting her to do us the favor of baking biscuits.