The Same Old Song

For Dougal Tukten Neralich

promAnyone who thinks that time travel is impossible should attend a high school prom, as I did recently, in response to my middle son’s suggestion that I be a chaperone for the last social function of his graduating class. On the big day he sported a tuxedo that made him look like a cross between James Bond and a Japanese gangster, just as my own prom picture, now mercifully lost, made me appear like a self-conscious Cary Grant trying to impersonate a cowboy.

Actually, his prom attire was identical to mine, and his male friends could have been my classmates, three decades ago. Their dates were clad in gowns and dresses that were somewhat more sophisticated than those I remember at my prom, but the corsages and the hairstyles were about the same.

The photographer present to “immortalize the memories” of these youthful couples was, I believe, the same man who took my prom picture, for he looked about two hundred years old, and his antique camera might have been used by Matthew Brady to record events at the Battle of Bull Run. As my son and his date stepped forward to have their picture taken, I had an unsettling moment, for despite my many disclaimers about being his father, the lad resembles me, and when the camera’s flash went off, I felt vaguely displaced.

Naturally, a few things about prom have changed since my high school years. One significant difference is that the actual dance has been displaced from the center of things by what students in my day would have regarded as peripheral matters. On prom day, my son and his friends devoted most of their energy to pre-dance celebrations and dinner rituals. Also, everyone at my prom showed up at about the same time, but today, many students arrive fashionably late, to add impact and a degree of drama to their entrances.

Perhaps the most distressing change I noted involved music. During my high school years, prom entertainment was provided by local bands who were usually inept but who did, nonetheless, understand how to play proper dance music. Today, prom music is generally provided by DJ’s whose musical selections, played at headache-inducing decibel levels, are not conducive to dancing; I noted, sadly, that most couples just sat together at tables, talking.

And then, all unexpected, time once more collapsed. The DJ announced the final song of the evening, and my heart swelled with remembered joy as the lovely music of “In the Still of the Night” wafted across the room. My son, wearing my prom jacket, wearing my smile, led his date onto the dance floor, while his father, standing twenty feet and thirty years distant, closed his eyes and began moving slowly in time to a rhythm that was for me so sweetly familiar and for my dear boy so sweetly new.

This posting first appeared as the frame for a wine review on May 26, 1999 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Readers will find many more such reviews in the electronic archives of the paper at                      I urge parents to spend as much time as possible with their children; the years really do fly by, you know.

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