The weekend customarily began with a Saturday morning picnic, complete with games and competitions. I knew that Father was athletic once upon a time, but I didn’t have an athletic bone in my body. I crossed my fingers and hoped that one of the competitions would include painting or writing a poem. The next part of the weekend was the ball on Saturday night. Fathers wore tuxes and daughters wore white dresses as they danced the night away in each other’s arms. I felt nauseated when I imagined a whole night of dancing with him! The grand finale was a Sunday brunch. A good time for all of the girls to gush about the ball and to send their fathers off with hugs and gushy farewells-- even though they could have a car sent to head home and see their fathers anytime they wanted.
I put it off for as long as possible, but the weekend before the festivities I headed home to go dress shopping with Mama. After about twenty dresses that were either too fancy, too revealing, or too much like wedding dresses, we found a nice simple one that was fitted at the top and flowed out below the thick white ribbon that tied around the waist. I looked nice, even my critical self-conscious eyes could see that.
“Beautiful!” Mama smiled. Neither of us knew it then, but it would be the closest thing to seeing one of her daughters in a wedding dress that Mama would see. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she took it all in. “You look like an angel, Addy.”
I stared at myself in the mirror with pride. I would be the prettiest, yet most understated, sixteen year old at the Father/Daughter Dance, even if it meant spending an entire weekend with the man I had despised since I was twelve.
“What a pretty dress.” Father arrived just in time to offer me his arm and head inside to the dance. He sent word that morning that he would not be there in time for the picnic, and I just stayed in my room instead of heading out to compete alone. Although I was disappointed in my father, I was actually kind of relieved.
We slowly made our way up the front steps of Ashley Hall, and straight into the elegant ballroom that was only used once a year. The room was filled with flowing white fabric, millions of blanched sequins, and more snowy tulle than I had ever laid eyes on. My dress was the simplest out of the bunch, but I knew that I wouldn’t look natural covered in bows and lace anyway.
“Good evening, Mr. Banks.” Dr. Hampton greeted us as we made our way through the grand ballroom.
“Good evening, madam.” He smiled, and I could tell that she was smitten as she fixed her hair and blushed.
“I’m a bit rusty.” Father extended his hand to me for our first dance.
“I’m rusty too.” I accepted his hand and was swept away in three quarter time. I tried to look pleasant, hoping that the tension in my body was not giving away the strained relationship that Father and I had. I didn’t want to give the girls around me something else to gossip about. I didn’t know any of them on a personal level, which left them searching for bits and pieces about my home life that would indicate any explanation as to why I was such a loner.
Father seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself, and after surveying the sea of men in tuxes I could easily claim to have the handsomest father in the room. I closed my eyes and remembered dancing with Father as a little girl. My little feet resting on his big ones, my smile wide as we glided around the living room, and Anna anxiously awaiting her turn. I missed the days before my opinion of him was tainted by reality. I wanted to relax and circle the room as we had done so many years before, but instead I kept my distance and pasted on a smile to hide my pain.
“I’m having a wonderful time!” Father handed me a champagne flute full of sparkling punch and led me to the chairs the lined the walls.
“Me too.” It was only a half-truth, I was enjoying myself far more than I expected.
“I’m sorry that we don’t get to spend more time together. We used to be quite the dynamic duo…” Father smiled as he thought back to the days when I adored him as a little girl.
“We sure did.” I smiled too, forgetting for a second why the dynamic duo had parted ways. I studied his face. He was handsome, anybody could see that. No wonder he had so many women at his disposal.
“What you thinking about?” Father nudged me with his shoulder.
“Nothing.” I turned my attention away from him and to the room around me. There was a constant flow of motion, white dresses and black tuxes swirled together and it was obvious that everyone was having a wonderful time. Some fathers were short and fat, some were tall gangly and bald, and only a few others looked like Ken dolls, like my father did. I knew that no matter what these girls thought about me, that they would look at me differently after seeing Robert Banks by my side. I wouldn’t be surprised if the girls were swooning right from their own father’s arms!
The nights of dancing was finally over. I bid Father farewell before heading back to my room. He was going to track Anna down and spend some time with her before retreating to the hotel for the night. I had no idea where he could find her, after all were rarely saw each other on campus at all. “See you at brunch tomorrow, Addy.” Father gave me a big hug, taking advantage of my lowered guards. I squeezed him back for a second, picked up my dress skirt, and headed off into the darkness of night. To my surprise, I had made it through the Father/Daughter Winter Dance in one piece!