It was senior year.
After the first few weeks of classes, the northern West Virginia outdoors began to feel as if someone left the door open to Alaska. By late September and early October, we adjusted to the continuous rush of cold air, and we began to bundle up in our knitted scarves and warm pea coats.
Fall had unmistakably arrived.
Along with the fresh look of the hillsides now painted in vivid colors of burnt umber, yellow-gold, and coral-orange, came the unmistakable aroma of smoke from bonfires built for gatherings after the football games. We Wheeling teenagers even began to extract our ice skates from the backs of the closets, anticipating that once the football season ended, we would be meeting at the ice rink at Wheeling Park on Friday nights.
But for now, it was Homecoming.
Though there was a great deal of talk in the hallways and in the cafeteria about the impending festivities, it wasn’t until the week before when the official announcement came on a Friday afternoon. Talkative students hushed each other after the bell rang, all pausing to hear the ritual announcement over the intercom at the end of class, following details about the big football game. That Friday in 1976, the announcer’s words came as a shock to my ears.
“Seniors’ votes are in, and the following students are this years’ Homecoming maids: Sarah Blizzard...
All Homecoming maids will be escorted at halftime by their fathers.”
I wondered how Dad would react. He didn’t attend our school functions. He was too busy on weekends, fixing clocks on Saturday afternoons. Plus, on Saturdays and Sundays, he started drinking at noon. Both clocks and booze were his passion, and he didn’t change plans easily. After spending his long work-week supervising at the power plant, he stuck to what he wanted to do. As soon as I got home that afternoon, I rushed indoors to tell Mom about the honor. She assured me Dad would be glad to participate.
“And there will be a parade, too, and Dad will have to ride with me in a convertible,” I said. Mom smiled, picturing her husband, a Marshall graduate, riding in the Central Catholic High School’s Homecoming parade in downtown Wheeling. When Dad came home from work, we ganged up on him. “Oh, by the way, Dad, you’re escorting me at halftime of the football game for next week’s Homecoming,” I announced.
“Oh I am, am I?” he said, that ornery look on his face.
“And you’ll have to wear your suit and tie,” Mom said. “You’ll be riding in a convertible in the parade downtown before the noon game.” The next day, Mom handed me cash and let me borrow her car to take to South Hills where I shopped at the mall for a new outfit to wear at halftime, and for an evening gown to wear to the dance.
When the big day arrived, so had the arctic air. I forgot all about the cold as Dad and I road through town in an open-air Corvette convertible, him sitting up tall and dignified in the passenger’s seat, and me, propped up on top like a life-sized, misplaced hood ornament. Thankfully, our driver took the turns nice and slow. But I still hung on to the T-bar for dear life, with my legs draped down next to Dad, and I remember the band marching somewhere way out in front of us, playing the C.C.H.S. fight song, and it’s all mixed together: the contagious Homecoming excitement, the presence of my larger-than-life dad, and a rite-of-passage stronger than the bitter cold, as I basked in the atmosphere and the waves from shoppers who’d stopped along the sidewalks to smile as we rode by. When we saw Mom and our next-door-neighbor who had come downtown just to wave at us, Dad let out a deep chuckle, and I think it made his day.
Back at the stadium, I sat on the lowest bleacher shoulder-to-shoulder with my classmates, my fellow Homecoming maids, hovered under a warm blanket keeping warm, until time to hear our names announced one-by-one for the procession. My teeth were chattering as I walked out onto the field with my proud Dad, and though I may have been freezing in my thin jumper and light sweater, my heart was racing with nerves. At least Dad thought to wear his overcoat. Both of us made an indelible memory that day, and I think I speak for my fellow maids: as far as Homecoming/Father/Daughter rituals go, it was simply unforgettable.