They are one of the first chances for young people to have an adult-like event. Get extra dressed up. Buy and wear flowers. Go out to dinner with a date. Be part of a formal activity. Stay out extra late, perhaps even all night. And have it all sanctioned by parents and school officials alike.
Both of my high school proms are burned vividly into my memory.
And I’m not the only one. At our class reunions, everybody has a prom story.
Carol Zimmerman was my date for both our proms.
She was my first girlfriend. Pretty and fun and smart. Not to mention probably the best female athlete in our school.
And she was stunning in her prom formals back in 1964 and 1965.
We dated most of those two years and a bit after we went to college.
We went to the beach at East Harbor almost every summer weekend.
Some of the week days, I would work alongside her brothers baling hay on their family farm on Hartland Center Road. I felt very comfortable with the whole family.
Carol tried to get me interested in horses and horse shows, but it didn’t take.
But we went bowling and to sporting events and saw all those corny Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies when they were new in the theaters.
I would be at the Zimmerman home many Sunday evenings to watch “Bonanza” with the family. They always made fun of the horse scenes.
A rooftop photo of our senior class outside the high school shows us side-by-side waving and smiling.
Carol was the very definition of a “good Catholic girl.” And, like most of the young women of that time, she pretty much lived by the rules. I remember, for instance, one Saturday night when she was babysitting for another family. She invited me over to keep her company. We talked and watched TV all evening, but at the very stroke of 11 p.m. — her parent–imposed curfew at the time — she ushered me to the front door and said good night. I smile every time I think of it.
I get an even bigger smile when I recall her coming to visit me at Ohio University our freshman year. She took the bus from Morehead State in Kentucky and got off carrying a small suitcase and garment bag. She hadn’t known I was picking her up on my motorcycle. But, trouper and horsewoman that she was, she rode side saddle, suitcase and hangers in one hand, the other clinging to my jacket as we biked to the girls’ dorm where she was staying.
After she got her teaching credentials, her first two jobs were in Kentucky and Michigan. We didn’t even attempt a long distance relationship. And a couple of years later she went to Colorado State University for her master’s degree.
Shortly after, she married a college football coach and had a couple of handsome boys.
Years would go by with no communication between us, even after she moved back to the area and began teaching at Western Reserve Middle School.
But we would run into each other now and then. And each time she would have some horrible story of a health issue she had or was having. Taken from work by EMTs after a blood pressure thing. Heart issues that almost killed her. And a stroke-like event which left her passed out in a Walmart aisle and unconscious for days after.
A year and a half ago, Carol sold her home — originally her grandmother’s place across the road from the family farm — and moved to Las Vegas to be near her boys.
That was the year of our 50th high school reunion. She sat with Char and me that night. The next evening was the Wakeman Alumni event. And everyone in attendance remembers Carol Zimmerman Manfull’s response when asked to tell a little about her life since high school. In absolute deadpan fashion she offered a non-stop stream of one liners (e.g.“I always wanted to be a widow, but eventually I just gave up and got the divorce”). It went on for 10 minutes or so. And people were drying their eyes from laughing so hard.
It will be the best way to remember her.
That’s because last week I got the news that Carol had died unexpectedly in Las Vegas.
It’s really impossible to imagine that I will never again share a laugh with someone who was once so important to me.
I think the best we can take from it is to be sure to enjoy the dance while we can.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at jimbusek@ hotmail.com.