My seventh grader just wrapped up his first season of Junior Cotillion, which culminated in the annual Holly Ball, held last Saturday night. I wrote about our initiation to this most Southern rite of passage for a local society magazine last month.
“What is the matter with him?”
“My dear, he isn’t received!”
Scarlett digested this in silence, for she had never before been under the same roof with anyone who wasn’t received. It was very exciting.
From Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
“Mrs. Stephen N. Joiner cordially invites you to attend the dances of the sixty-third season of Little Rock Junior Cotillion, September – December 2011.”
The centered lines of lacy italic script were a constellation of pixels on my laptop screen, but they were no less official than if they had been hand engraved on linen stationery.
“My dears,” I announced. “We are received!”
Even though I’d been told by seasoned Cotillion parents that my seventh grader’s acceptance was all but assured by virtue of his being male, willing, and in possession of a clean jacket and necktie, I hadn’t been so certain. I sweated over the application form for weeks. Was it better to type or handwrite it, I wondered. For the required applicant photograph, was our front yard okay for a backdrop, or was a studio portrait the “done” thing? As for references, did we even know any respectable people who would admit–on paper–to knowing us?
Surely we’d be rejected if the connection were made between my name and my recently released, R-rated memoir of domestic life. I thought about applying as Mrs. Husband’s Name instead, but changed my mind. The truth would come out sooner or later. It would be better to know up front if your mother’s professional predilection for over-sharing will get you forever barred from the ranks of polite society.
It was all a big mystery. Neither my husband nor I had any experience with Junior Cotillion, nor ever considered ourselves Cotillion “types.” Patrick grew up in a home that was solidly blue collar. I grew up in Canada. When I came to Arkansas at the age of 26, society page mentions of Cotillion struck me as foreign and old-fashioned a custom as bra-wearing. But as I got friendlier with Little Rockers (and underwire), I began to be charmed by Cotillion tales. On girls’ night out, after a few cocktails, a handful of friends would routinely break out dance moves learned under the tutelage of the legendary Mrs. Butt. I would laugh along as they demonstrated stargazer hands, or the hustle, and feel as if my own education was not quite complete. Even the stories told with groans and grimaces bound the tellers in a shared rite of passage. Those middle school years can be hell at times, no matter how you dress it up or down.
Also, there is the romance of Cotillion as a cultural ritual. I may have a gypsy soul, but I’m a traditionalist at heart. My sons have deep roots here, reaching all the way back across the Mississippi , through Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas to colonial times. They are Southerners, and I respect the notion that a Southern gentleman should know how to shoot, ride and do the electric boogaloo.
Besides, is there anything cuter than the annual newspaper photographs of the Holly Ball Royalty, with the young Queen consistently towering a foot or more above the King? Oh, puberty. You maverick, you.
But there’s more to Cotillion than quaint tradition, and more to my desire for my son to be part of it than wanting to school him in social graces, or introduce him to future business or marriage partners, or any of the usual reasons people offer for giving over seven nights of the year to ironing handkerchiefs, finding missing gloves, driving car pool and chaperoning post-dance dinners.
It’s about embracing, and being embraced by, the community that has become my home: Little Rock, with all of its eccentricities, and me with all of mine. About growing to love a place and its people– so much, I trust them with my own son.