The Time of My Life

Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2023 by Sara Etgen-Baker

Photo from the author.
 Photos courtesy of the author..

In the 50s and 60s, middle school didn’t exist—only junior high and high school. Junior high included grades 7-9 while high school consisted of grades 10-12. This picture was taken of me at the end of my 9th grade year as I headed to Austin Junior High for its Spring Dance—a timeless, teenage rite of passage of sort, a dance heralding the beginning of our upcoming high school years.

As I recall, the pre-dance preparations included getting my hair professionally done and finding the perfect dress—a cowl-neck, silky yellow and white vertical stripe dress. On the night of the dance, Dad surprised me giving me a yellow wrist corsage to match my dress. Before driving me to the dance, he tied it around my right wrist saying, “You’re a beautiful young lady! I’m proud of you.”

He drove me the short distance to Austin Junior High and pulled up to the school’s entrance and did the most amazing, chivalrous thing.

Wait,” he said as he put the car into ‘park’.” He got out of the car; walked to the passenger side; and opened my door. “Have a fabulous time. I’ll be here after the dance is over to pick you up.” As you can imagine, I felt so ladylike and all grown up!

I scurried toward the gymnasium where I found my friends waiting for me. Together, we pushed open the door to the gymnasium and gasped in unison. The dull, smelly gym we’d come to know had been converted into a mini ballroom. The bright, overhead fluorescent lights had been doused, replaced with twinkling string lights. Purple and silver crepe paper streamers and balloons hung from the ceiling, and rock ‘n roll music blared over the loud speakers. For two hours I had a great time dancing with my friends never expecting any ninth grade boy to ask me to dance.

At the end of the night and just before the last dance, it happened. Ralph Buchanan, the ninth grade heartthrob, made his way across the dance floor and stopped—stopped right in front of me! Me of all people. I just couldn’t believe it.

Would you like to dance?” he stammered.

I smiled, nodded, and blushed. He took my quivering hand in his, escorting me onto the dance floor. I put my hands on his shoulders. He put his hands on my waist. The scenery and people around us dissolved as we swayed back and forth together in a circle for three minutes—the shortest, most magical three minutes of my life.

Then, the music stopped. The string lights were doused, and the huge overhead fluorescent lights flickered on almost blinding us. The principal stepped onto the stage and picked up the microphone announcing, “Congratulations boys and girls. You’re young men and women now. On behalf of the faculty and staff, I officially proclaim you ‘high schoolers.’ Good night and good luck.”

A bewildered and speechless Ralph took my hand in his and ushered me outside where Dad sat waiting in his car. Then Ralph did just as Dad had done—he opened the car door for me. Although my legs felt tingly and a bit unsteady beneath me, I scooched inside feeling much like Cinderella who’d just been swept off her feet by Prince Charming. Before closing the door, Ralph said, “Thank you for the dance. See you at high school. Maybe we’ll have some classes together.”

I’d like that,” I replied, blushing once again.

Dad pulled out of the parking lot; turned toward me; and asked, “How was the dance? Did you have a good time?”

The dance was wonderful!” I replied, glancing in the rearview mirror quickly catching a glimpse of Ralph in the shadow of the parking lot behind me. “I had the time of my life!”

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