Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at email@example.com
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In the end, the prom dress goes in the garbage.
It's a pretty dress - pale green with swirls of pink flowers and an empire waist. I bought it in a head shop in 1972 in Illinois. It was zipped into a garment bag and has been hanging in a closet for the past 29 years.
My mother lived in the same house for 40 years. Six years ago, when she moved, she summoned my sister and I home to go through the things we'd been storing there for years. Her large basement and attic had plenty of nooks and crannies for all the chipped dishes from college, three mildewed copies of Camus "Etranger," and bridesmaid dresses. All of our dolls with their names scotch taped to their cracked legs are dressed neatly and lying in state in their cradle in the attic. Boxes stuffed with fondue pots, wine bottles with candle wax stuck on the sides. Closet drawers yield report cards, high school year books, boxes of letters. Scrapbooks, text books, photos of the Boston terrier I loved and Magic the scrawny horse I rode.
My sister saves everything. Her 5th grade report - written on shirt cardboard - about the Boll Weevil. A scrap of red-flocked wallpaper from her bedroom. A Playbill from "Inherit the Wind." Nancy Drew mysteries and a speech from the Democratic National Convention. I make piles for the garage sale and haul boxes of trash to the alley. My china horse collection goes to a neighbor's kid. A big silver milk can is sold for $5.00. Everything is packed, pitched, sorted except the prom dress. It lingers.
My prom date was my boyfriend, Joe. He was two years older than me. He'd dropped out of college to drive a taxi and to be the sound man for a band. He played the harmonica, had long, dark hair and a German Shepard, Princess, he had rescued from somewhere. My mother hated him.
He never went to his high school prom and wasn't much interested in going to mine. But he agreed. He had one suit - a light blue wool and he wore it with a pink turtleneck sweater. He picked me up in his AMC Hornet with Princess wedged in the back. We drove to the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago in a driving rain. Outside, it was humid - the kind of humidity you only find in jungles and the Midwest. There was no air conditioning. If I'd had a corsage, I'm sure it would have wilted in the heat.
We stayed exactly ten minutes.
Joe was sweltering in his wool suit, the dog was in the car and I hated everything about high school. The truth was - we didn't care about the prom. We wanted each other; not the lights of the hotel ballroom, the chaperones who feigned disinterest (while watching us like birds of prey), the little autograph books, and the bright flash of the photographer's strobe.
I had permission to stay out all night, and that was what appealed to us most. Joe's father had a sailboat where we planned to spend the night. We changed clothes in the bathroom of the underground parking lot. The dress, balled up in a plastic bag was thrown in the trunk.
In the morning, we set sail. As soon as we cleared the harbor, we took off our clothes and enjoyed the feel of the sun and the wind against our bare skin. No sunscreen, no parents, no worries. In the end, that's what is preserved - the memories - not the dress. Standing naked on the bow of a boat on Lake Michigan - confident, free, caught up in the intensity of a first love.