Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Happy Birthday Memory

It was a day and night I'll never forget: April 25, 1965 marked my 20th birthday and my first and only prom.

My birthday prom was the result of a delightful conspiracy between my sophomore year suitemates at Northwestern -- Cheryl Martindill, my roommate of two years, and Lorraine Plomondon and Lorie Condon, who shared the adjoining bedroom.

In our warm little circle, I was the odd one.

They were all in sororities. I had balked at even going through Rush, convinced that sororities were, at best, throwbacks to my girls' high school with way too many candlelight ceremonies and songs of idealized sisterhood. And, at worst, I would rant that sororities were "fascist", that they dictated who one's friends and what one's activities should be at a time when we were supposed to be exercising our newfound independence.

They all had social lives. Mine was pretty sparse since my freshman year heart throb Bob McVea, after a few dates, had moved on in search of more agreeable company.  Okay, I had to admit that I was prickly, filled with raw, angry ambition. I demanded equality and intellectual respect from my male classmates. At the same time, I felt wounded that, while guys tended to like me as a friend and colleague, there tended to be little, if any, romantic interest coming my way.

They were all veterans of high school proms and college formals. I had no such experiences. True, my Catholic girls' high school had junior and senior proms, but I never knew any guys to ask -- and so never went. And at Northwestern, in the Sixties, there were neither formals nor informal mixers for those few who chose not to affiliate with the Greek system. Although I would never admit it, I felt wistful as I watched my friends get gorgeous for their formals while I waited up for them at the dorm, feeling like Cinderella wallowing in hearth ashes.

But all that was about to change.

Alpha Delta Pi, the sorority to which Cheryl and Lorraine belonged, was having its Spring Formal on my birthday that year and, in a loving, Pgymalian-style endeavor, my suitemates conspired to transform their prickly, ranting, casual dressing, date-challenged friend and, for her birthday, give her a total prom experience.

I was skeptical. "I don't have anyone I can ask," I said. "I don't have anything to wear and I can't afford to buy anything just for this. I really appreciate your idea, but....."

"But nothing," Lorraine said, contemplating a makeover as she ran her fingers appraisingly through my hair. "It's all set. Lorie is going to lend you her new formal and will wear her old one. I'll do your hair. We're making arrangements for dinner. And we'll fix you up with a date. This won't cost you a dime. It's our gift to you. Don't worry about anything."

I worried -- a lot. What if they couldn't find someone willing to go out with me? What if he didn't like me once he met me? What if I messed up and couldn't dance well? What if....?

One "What if?" was answered a few hours before the formal when I received a delivery from the local florist. It was a corsage. And the card inside read "I'm so happy to be your date tonight. Love, Bob."

I was filled with relief and joy: Bob McVea was my date! I understood, without being told, that this was a "one night only" date, that it didn't mean that our brief romance was re-kindling. But Bob was a friend and a classmate. I could talk with him easily. I greatly enjoyed his company.

"Thank you! Thank you!" I cried, embracing my three suitemates. "I'm so happy and relieved!"

Cheryl smiled. "We wouldn't have asked anyone else," she said. "This is an evening for you to just enjoy -- and we knew you would with Bob by your side."

And I did enjoy it -- from the festive Chinese dinner complete with decorated birthday cake at a fancy Chicago restaurant before the formal to the dance itself. Dancing in Bob's arms that evening was the culmination of all my secret prom fantasies, all the glamor and fun and excitement I had missed in high school (and was missing in college as well.)  For one grand, memorable evening, I was Cinderella at the ball with her Prince. I knew it wouldn't be forever -- but, for an evening, it was just perfect. I felt uncharacteristically beautiful -- and I felt loved in so many ways by this circle of caring friends.

                 April 25, 1965: from left, Bruce Scace, Lorraine Plomondon, me,
                 Bob McVea, Fred, Cheryl Martindill, Lorie Condon, John

                Happy 20th Birthday with Bob McVea, Fred and Cheryl Martindill

                                     Cinderella for a night: Bob McVea and me              

Despite my initial nervousness, despite the fact that I never did become a sorority convert, despite the fact that Bob McVea and I would never have another date (though we would become lifelong friends), this was one of my best birthdays ever -- thanks to a sweet conspiracy among some very dear friends.

So many years have passed. All three of my wonderful suitemates are gone. Lorraine died of an aneurysm at 42 and Cheryl of colon cancer at 60. And Lorie, with whom I had lost contact, recently showed up, too, on the list of deceased from Northwestern's Class of 1967. I cherish their memory. Bruce Scace, who married Lorraine five weeks after our lovely evening together (which he also helped to plan) enjoyed 22 years with her until her death in 1987 and has been happily remarried for many years. He is a loving father, stepfather and grandfather. Bob McVea, who now prefers to be called Robert, is a white-haired grandfather who retired from his successful newspaper career with no regrets and moved with his wonderful wife Mary to Florida several years ago. I cherish their warm and enduring friendship.

Yes, so many years have passed. But some moments, some nights, live on forever, shining bright in my memory. As I celebrate my 67th birthday today, I look back and remember turning 20, being a real life Cinderella-at-the-ball that wonderful night. And, once again, I think of Lorraine, Cheryl, Lorie, Bruce and Robert with love and gratitude.


  1. Happy birthday!!! What a wonderful memory to commemorate those terrific friends and your birthday with. That's a wonderful act of goodness. It is only too sad those other girls had such short times here on the earth.

    I hope this is the best birthday yet for you!

  2. Happy Birthday!!! Hope this one rivals that one.
    What an amazing group of friends you had. You looked gorgeous. He looked fine and quite happy to be there.
    Find it wonderful that she gave you her new gown and she wore her old one. That was extra special. Wonderful recollection.

  3. You all look so beautiful! What a friend to lend you her new formal! Happy Birthday, Kathy! I'll be having my 67th in June!

  4. Happy Birthday, Kathy.

    Memories of happy days make up for the less pleasant times, they are there to warm us and to make us smile. I am so sorry that your friends had to die young and that you cannot celebrate your good fortune with them. But they and their kindness live on while you do.

  5. Ohhh, what a nice story. I enjoyed reading it.

    So sad that the whole group is not here any more, but you are - and you're honoring their memories with happiness then, and happiness now. Happy Birthday!

  6. Happy Birthday Kathy! Yes, this portrait of a beautiful night would stand out for me too.

  7. This post brought so memories and emotions to the surface. You are lovely, and you are especially lovely on your prom. You were certainly blessed with some wonderful friends. It just really breaks my heart to think that those girls are all gone now. Their lives were way too short.

    Happy birthday, dear Kathy. We were born the same year, just a few months apart. We were in college at the same time. I can identify with so much of what you write. Your 20th is certainly a treasured memory. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    While I went through rush and even joined a sorority, I never was totally sold on the idea. I rejected the idea of the sorority being the primary source of friendship and loyalty. That just wasn't me. I never really fit the mold.

  8. What a sweet story and memory! I love it. How special. Happy Birthday Kathy! You look so beautiful in those pics. And happy.

  9. A beautiful memory ...Happy Birthday, Kathy.

  10. Oh, I just loved this. How beautiful!

    Happy birthday. Many more.


  11. What a lovely story. And how nice to think that your friends thought so much of you. Really heart warming!

  12. What a beautiful memory. And what a beautiful girl... (and you still are!). A real life Cinderella-at-the-ball.

    Happy, Happy, Happy Birthday...!


    Jo (Didn't you just love the prom dresses back then? So pretty.)

  13. What a wonderful look back with pictures of that night. It is a shame your friends passed away so young

  14. What a lovely, heartwarming story of true friendship and real kindness. So sad that those kind friends dies so young. Belated birthday greetings, Kathy -I was 66 the day before you turned 67. :-)

  15. Hope you had a very Happy Birthday, Kathy. Isn't it fun to look back on our lives and to enjoy all of the memories. So sorry that you have lost so many special friends in your life. I am almost 70 and have also lost friends, one in particular to cancer last year.

    Glad your friends helped make that birthday in 1965 so special for you. Glad also that you and Bob are still friends.


  16. Happy belated birthday, Kathy. I loved your story. Small town Illinois girl here, public school (only one in town), lots of proms and homecoming dances of which I only remember two. My opinion, you didn't miss much. I would rather have been prickly than trying to live up to everyone's expectations. I got to be myself at Stephens College (girls' school) 1964-1966 and never went to another prom. I wish you the best of health and much happiness in the coming year.

  17. There are some moments in life that create such beautiful memories to tap into for a lifetime.

    Happy sweet birthday, Kathy.
    Have a great day ~
    TTFN ~