My high school's homecoming is tonight, yes, on a Thursday, due to the various activities surrounding Cow Days, our local fall festival, which begins tomorrow.
In a small town, those are both major events. This is also the weekend during which numerous class reunions will take place, although a couple of classes held theirs a little earlier with somewhat mixed success. Often, folks who don't come home for the holidays will pop up in town for Cow Days just so their children can get a taste of what it was like growing up in Smalltownland. It's a point of convergence, both temporally and physically, this third weekend in September.
When I arrived at SFU, those enormous homecoming corsages with the ribbons that trailed to the ground were a foreign concept. We didn't do that at Smalltownland High...you wore your Sunday clothes to the dance and you would've been laughed out of town if you'd turned up in a cocktail dress or a formal. The only people who had flowers were the girls nominated for Homecoming Queen- and corsages were reserved for female senior cheerleaders and band members on Senior Night at the end of football season in October. It was different back in the olden days...
During homecoming week, each class labored away for hours after school every afternoon, each group diligently crafting a parade-worthy fantasia from tons of chickenwire and paper napkins. My class, for some odd reason, always had a mechanical feature, sometimes motorized, on its float. Twice, we produced fully automated carnival rides- a Ferris wheel our junior year, and a carousel our senior year- along with a levered foot kicking a field goal our freshman year, and a Native American culturally-insensitively bobbing on springs in a giant cauldron our sophomore year (our theme was "Indian Soup", and it included a giant red-and-white soup can for which I painted the medallion). It wasn't uncommon for spies to travel between the various warehouses and trucking garages in which we constructed these floats, reporting their findings to the crew from their own class. No one ever sank to sabotage, although we were accused annually of illicit assistance from one guy's father...it was always a bunch of boys who monkeyed with tractors who did that part of the work.
The band's homecoming show was invariably some syrupy ballad dredged out of the music library by the band director and repeated long enough for all of the candidates to march down the fifty yard line for the crowning of the Homecoming Queen. One year, we got stuck with "Ben", an early hit for Michael Jackson from a movie about a boy whose only friend was his pet rat- those of us who had to play this treacle unkindly re-christened it "Ode to a Rat", which was the title we gave anytime someone asked what the music was for the homecoming ceremony. (I can't remember some of the others, although they were all equally gooey to the point of our wanting to gargle turpentine afterward.)
Homecoming was the only football game for which the band wasn't required to stay in the stands past the first half. We were dismissed a whole quarter early, and spent the second half either at friends' nearby houses or in the school bathrooms frantically troweling on cosmetics and using whole cans of Aqua Net to undo the deleterious effects of Band Hat Hair. Once the dance started, we'd spend about three hours hopping around like frogs on a griddle to the melodic stylings of everybody from Bob Seger to AC/DC to Morris Day and the Time- it was not a dance at my school unless the DJ played "Night Moves", "Thunderstruck", and "Jungle Love".
One of my strongest dance memories is of the elaborate pantomime that went with Prince's "I Would Die 4 U", something that haunted me as I sat through Stacy's visitation and funeral in 1996- I kept seeing his wide grin as we faced each other on the dance floor, trying to get the gestures in the order of the lyrics, and screwing up every single time. His senior year, we'd worked out matching outfits and shared a pair of my rhinestone earrings. Now I wish I had a picture, because that was something else we didn't do as much back then...we didn't take snapshots of everything, not even homecoming.
Starting tomorrow, everyone will converge on the square, a third generation beyond mine milking the fiberglass cow for Kool-Aid. Tonight, the battles of adolescence will be waged at the homecoming dance. Twenty-plus years from now, someone else will look back on it all and remember...