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A Stone's Throw: Blasted ambitions

 

Betty Stone

 

My mother went to Mississippi State College for Women. So did I. Throughout my youth and childhood I heard about the Junior-Freshman Wedding at the college. So and so was the freshman bride or the junior groom (no men there then) at the grand pageant joining the two "sister" classes. Such was an honor devoutly to be desired, or at least acknowledged. 

 

The ceremony was one of several promoted and directed by the legendary Emma Ody Pohl, who taught dancing and physical education at The W for over 50 years. Probably her most famous project was the Zouave, a precision drill that took place every three years and in which every student was required to participate unless she had a medical or some other valid excuse. The student body was all female and all white then; and for Zouave they dressed identically in navy blue shorts and white shirts with red banners across their chests. It was an impressive sight as they filled the front campus. 

 

The Junior-Freshman Wedding was not quite as spectacular, but it carried with it a lot more prestige every year with a hierarchy of honors for those in the "wedding party" itself. All the freshmen had to have full-length pictures made in tacky blue wool swimsuits in order to evaluate their posture and thereby "audition" for a role. It felt somewhat like what you might imagine a crime lineup to be.  

 

Such pageants, long outdated now, were probably variations of ceremonies in prestigious institutions, possibly one of the Seven Sisters, that Miss Pohl researched. Starring roles in the "wedding" were greatly coveted, if not by the students themselves, then by their mothers who happened to be alumnae. 

 

My own mother built the "wedding" up as perhaps the only accolade of any importance in a student's career. Well, I am sure you can guess what happened. Not only did I not make the cut for the wedding party, I was not even cast as one of the horde of participants -- sort of like the crowd scenes in "Gone with the Wind" -- made up of just about everybody else in the freshman class! 

 

It seems there was a height requirement. It was not much, maybe as short as 5-foot-3-inches. My problem was that at my tallest I have never been more than 5-foot-2 1/2-inches. So I was disqualified. I had one good friend who was just as short as I was. Although we always considered that to be an asset when we went to dances, because we were shorter than nearly every boy who danced with us, it cast us out into the cold when it came to The Wedding. 

 

We consoled each other and found that nearly every cloud has a silver lining however. The vast majority of the freshmen who were in the pageant, but not in the wedding party, had to stand on the wood-covered radiators around the periphery of Whitfield (now Rent) Auditorium. Their costumes were identical bilious green satin gowns that showed not only every curve, but every bulge. Their responsibility was to stand perfectly immobile for the duration of the ceremony. Inevitably someone almost fainted. 

 

I may be enjoying my sour grapes, but I just wanted to observe that not every ambition is worth getting all hot and bothered about, and you might be just as well off to blast them out of your mind. 

 

If I have any young readers starting another school year, I just want to tell them not to get upset if everything does not work out as they, or their parents, might like. Do not worry about what you cannot do. You may not make the honors college, get in the best dorm, be on the football team, lead the cheers, have the perfect schedule or the coveted social contacts. What you can do is your personal best. I have lived a long time, and I do believe doing so pays good dividends. I know this sounds trite, but things usually become trite because they are true. Give it your best shot. Bloom where you are planted. Like cream, you will rise to the top. Good luck.

 

Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.

 

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