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Saturday night we went to dinner at a favorite Thai restaurant.  With a table near the entrance, we had a perfect view of the high school couples who were attending prom.

The girls wore dresses so sparkly, they should have come with warning labels. The boys sported tuxedoes and those shiny patent-leather shoes.

The girls tugged at the spaghetti straps that wouldn’t stay in place while trying to lift the hems of the dresses off of the floor with their other hand. Their necklines scooped and dipped, much to their dates’ obvious satisfaction.

“You went to your high school prom, didn’t you?” asked my husband.  I told him yes, but it was the 70s and my dress looked more like an Amish woman’s nightgown, compared to these gowns. Well, maybe not quite that bad. And I remember having a fun time, happy to be with my boyfriend and comfortable in my well-shopped for dress.

What I noticed most about these prom participants, was not one of them smiled. They did not appear to be having a good time; they appeared very ill at ease in their fancy frocks and rented shoes. The girls ran in a posse, back and forth to the bathroom while the boys circled in a small huddle.

Soon a couple came in alone – no limo and no awkward flamingo dancer dress, but a girl wearing a stunning red satin dress and shoes that didn’t rival a local skyscraper’s height. Her date wore a suit a with a tie that matched her dress. They sat down and giggled and chatted away the night.  

Growing up is tough and even when we dress for the next act of our lives, it still takes time to grow comfortable in our own skin, our own lives. Perhaps that is what nights like prom are for – a brief, exciting dress rehearsal.

(S-R archives photo: Shadle Park High School student Erin Fiorillo shows off one of the many prom dresses she has collected for her senior project.)

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Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

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