I was, without a doubt, the world’s worst debutante in Hot Springs Arkansas history. Thinking about it makes me grimace a little now.
I was invited to be a debutante because my mother was one and my family constantly hosted parties for girls. But the timing was terrible and my mom, Ann Stell McDaniel, always wanted to make a point. Her grandstanding and gift for theatrics was the only good thing to come out of my debutante season.
I didn’t want to be a debutante but my mom said I had to do it, for my grandmothers. I was in college in upstate New York at the time. So mom told me to go shopping alone in Ottawa, Canada. I didn’t know what the hell kind of white gown to buy. I ended up getting a silky mermaid/Grecian toga gown rather than a great big poofy antebellum wedding dress.
The other girls looked virginal, I looked like a lounge singer.
My father had died the year before, so my brother, Granger, was supposed be be my escort. Unfortunately, Granger was wanted for questioning by the FBI at the time. They wanted to visit with him about a boat load of something that left the Island of Belize. So, Granger was a little tense at the time and
Here’s the great part of the story, though. When we gave the debutante committee a list of those we wanted invited to the Ball we included Louella Thomas (who had raised me) and Iolla Jacobs. Both women had been part of our family for more than thirty years. Mom and I wanted them there. The committee did not. We were asked us to reconsider. Apparently African Americans had never been invited to The Ball. mom was kind of annoyed. Still Grang and I made it through the dance lessons and cotillion. He kept a bottle in the car and made me drive him around all week.
Ann Stell was in her element, a justified, righteous war. With seething eloquence she told them Louella and Iolla would be sitting right next to her at The Ball. And when I presented her with a red rose she wanted me to give one to Louella too. They didn’t’ like that at all but had to relent. They knew my mother was brilliant and noisy.
Louella and I went shopping for her white dress together. Mom wanted it to match her own. I remember being in awe of the contrast between Louella’s beautiful ebony skin and the creamy fabric. We laughed and giggled and she called me “Her Miss Pooh”. At the time she seemed ancient but I realize now she was probably only sixty five or seventy years old.
The night of the ball Louella and Iolla sat next to my mom in the Arlington Ball Room. Granger looked beautiful and I took his arm. He walked me across the room and I presented my mother and Louella each with a red rose. Louella was crying, mom was smiling.
After the Ball there was a party. I caught up with Iolla and Louella as they were leaving. Two beautiful black ladies in an ocean of white and red.
“Hey, you can’t leave yet. You have to stay and dance.” I said innocently, sincerely and stupidly.
Louella just smiled and hugged me. “Find your brother to walk us to the car,Baby Girl, I think we’ve done enough for one night.”