by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson
I went to a ball last month. A real ball. I’ve been to proms, and dances, and parties, but never to a genuine ball. It was an exhilarating experience!
The Husband is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I could be a Daughter of Confederate Veterans (and if there hadn’t been a disastrous courthouse fire in Tennessee in the 1880s I could be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, too!) but having attended meetings of both organizations decided that the Sons was much more fun. Happily, they welcome wives, so it works out well all the way around.
This year the 121st Reunion of the SCV was right here in our home town, so of course we went. There were all kinds of great lectures and workshops and things dear to an historian’s heart. Not being an official member I couldn’t attend the business meetings, though The Husband was an official delegate, so I spent my time shopping. The vendors’ room had everything from coasters to books to complete costumes. I saw a hoopskirted day dress and bonnet that were beautiful but which sent my VISA into screaming hysterics. I contented myself with buying a Confederate Rose t-shirt and a handful of books.
We had made one mistake. Though we had made our reservations for the Reunion as soon as tickets were available The Husband didn’t get around to buying meal tickets until it was too late and they were all gone. We weren’t happy about this, as some of the best lectures were given at the luncheons.
And of course there was the ball. Then somehow my Fairy Godmother must have worked her magic since a dear friend of ours who had bought tickets had problems with his upcoming move to another state, so he gave us his tickets to the ball.
Okay – a fancy evening party, my ruthlessly modern mind said. I wore a nice cocktail outfit of sparkly blouse and jacket and swirly palazzo pants, with my diamond earrings and hair ornament. The Husband wore a nice suit and tie. Believe me, once we got there we looked like the poor relations.
Most of the men were there in dashing and braid-laden uniforms from various regiments; the rest wore tuxedos, but all of them paled next to the women. There were a few there in full fig modern evening gowns, but the majority wore period-correct ante-bellum ball gowns. The hotel where the Reunion was held is a very nice one, but it is new, which means that the lobby is on the small side. On the other hand, I don’t know of many hotels with a lobby big enough to hold such a plethora of spreading skirts. Most of the hoops were so big that if one woman wanted to shake hands with another they couldn’t get close enough even to touch fingertips! There were curls and flowers and jewels and fans (well, I can’t say anything about fans since I always carry one in my purse for purely practical reasons) and lace mittens and… You get the idea. A lot of the men also wore swords, which sometimes made navigating this crowded lobby most interesting.
Once in the banquet room I was struck that the tables were almost uncomfortably close to one another, yet there was a very wide space between them down the middle of the room and two more against each outer wall. We were served a nice banquet meal (a couple of steps above the traditional rubber chicken, but nothing to rate a high number of stars). We had landed at a table with two very charming couples, all wearing costumes – including a handsome young man who should be gracing romance novel covers (sigh) – and enjoyed talking with them very much.
Then as the tables were being cleared the pageantry began, and I do mean pageantry! Flags. Sword arches. Presentations. Singing of Southern songs. Even debutantes in white escorted down the center aisle - all wearing hoops, of course. It was as exciting a thing as I have ever witnessed. Then, after the last debutante had been presented, they played a beautiful dance tune that would have been played at a real ante-bellum party so the girls could do a turn with their presenters – father, uncle, one grandfather, family friend, etc. One of my most astonishing images of this evening is people in apparently authentic ante-bellum costumes rushing about taking pictures with their phones!
Of course, I didn’t have my phone – it wouldn’t fit in my favorite evening bag – so since The Husband was taking his I didn’t worry. At least not until I saw his pictures, which were all of uniforms and the military devices thereon. He hadn’t gotten one picture of the dresses or any of the non-military pageantry. Humph!
The last ‘official’ exercise of the evening before it turned into a simple social gathering was the Grand March. To the rousing strains of “Dixie” a line of individual couples walked down the broad center aisle, going in alternate directions at the head of the room, then back around down the outside aisles to rejoin and promenade the main aisle again, this time four people across. The last circuit was eight people across, which was about two people too many for the space, but by then everyone was having so much fun and laughing so hard it didn’t make any difference. Then the ball was over and this Cinderella had to morph back into a plain old writer. For now.
We’ve already made our reservations – hotel and Reunion – for next year in Memphis, meal and ball tickets most definitely included. The Husband is looking into having a Confederate Navy Officer’s uniform made and, yes, I have been sneaking surreptitious glances at hoopskirts.