My twins are graduating high school from a boarding academy. My daughter gets in trouble which puts her graduation in Jeopardy. This chapter is about them and my younger daughter, Connie.
For new readers, who may not have read my author notes, this is written in a conversational way as I talk to my deceased husband. When I refer to someone just as "you" this means I am addressing my husband, Evan.
The thing I liked most about living in Metairie during winter was that there were very few cold days. There was seldom a need for a heavy coat. If we went out of town for a weekend in the winter, I was anxious to get back to milder temperatures. There were always interesting things to do in the area. It was fun to walk around in the French Quarter or down the river walk. Sometimes we would go to Audubon Park and take Connie to the zoo, or to City Park where there was a petting zoo and playground equipment. Both parks had very old and beautiful live oak trees that spread their branches over the ground inviting children to climb among the limbs. If we did go to one of the parks, Connie always wanted to invite a friend along.
I remember an incident which happened one day, when I took Connie and her friend, Jennifer, to the zoo. We were watching the animals, blissfully unaware of the people around us. A couple of older girls came up and decided to start trouble. They began to make fun of Jennifer for some unknown reason. Connie bristled like a Tomcat and was ready to start a fight to defend her friend. It was all I could do to calm her down and get them away from the rude girls. I hadn’t realized how quickly my daughter was ready to take on a bully.
Connie had always had her own taste when it came to clothes. Now that she was in school, she became even more concerned about her wardrobe. I found it shocking that six and seven-year-old children wanted to wear designer clothes. I had not had that problem with the older children. I’d been able to find things they liked at Sears, Penney's, or Kmart. Now Connie wanted stone-washed jeans that looked like they’d seen better days, but still cost a small fortune and would be outgrown in a month or so. She insisted that she needed name-brand tennis shoes. I went to yard sales, when she wasn’t with me and found some of the brands she’d mentioned that looked new enough. She was so fashion conscious that if I stopped the car in front of a Kmart, she would hide on the floorboard, in fear of being seen by a friend.
In May, Don and Christi were scheduled to graduate from high school at the academy. Don was popular at school. He had always liked Elvis Presley, who had died three years before. Elvis impersonators were everywhere. Don discovered that he could do a pretty good impersonation. He had a similar voice, and the girls loved it. He visited a thrift store and found some vintage clothing and put a costume together. After performing at some of the school-based talent shows, he was asked to sing an Elvis song on Class Night for the program put on by senior students on the night before graduation. He was told he could sing one of the mellow love songs without the objectionable hip gyrations. Christi was part of a singing group which would perform, as well. All the exams were over and the seniors had little left to do, other than practice for class night and the graduation exercises.
We planned to go for class night and the graduation the following day. We were relieved to know that both of my children had passed their finals and would be graduating. Unfortunately, a few days before all of this was to take place, we got a phone call from the school, telling us that Christi and a couple of other girls had violated the school rules and wouldn’t be able to participate in class night.
In fact, the school was trying to decide if she would be allowed to graduate at all. There was talk of her being expelled. They informed us that she was not allowed on campus, and that we should come and pick her up immediately. At the moment, she was staying with a friend who lived off campus. They didn’t explain, other than to say that they would talk to us about it when we got there.
We were frantic. What had our daughter done that was so bad that she wouldn’t be able to get a high school diploma. We were preparing to make the trip to the school. when we got another phone call. This time it was the father of the girl she was staying with off campus. I answered the phone.
“Listen, you folks don’t need to make an extra trip here. Christi is more than welcome to stay with us. What those girls did wasn’t that bad. They were just trying to have some fun. The school’s overreacting. You need to let her stay with us, until you originally planned to come. Your daughter is standing right here with me. Do you want to talk to her?”
“Yes, please! Put her on,” I said. He handed the phone to Christi.
“Mama, please don’t get upset. Let me explain. We were just joking around. The boys didn’t even see us. We were only in the dorm for a minute. Some girl saw us going over there and had to go tell on us.”
“Christi, what on earth did you do? We don’t need this, right here at graduation. If you don’t get your diploma, we might as well have kept you home all year.”
“We were just playing a joke. We slipped into the boys’ dorm about midnight while they were sleeping, and we went in this one boy’s room who was always teasing us, and we jerked his covers off and yelled “Truckin!’ Then we ran back to our dorm. It wasn’t even my idea. Nobody would have even found out about it if it wasn't for that girl ratting us out.”
“YOU WENT IN A GUY’S ROOM? ARE YOU CRAZY? NO WONDER THEY WANT TO EXPEL YOU!"
The girl’s father came back on the phone. “Listen Ma'am, calm down. We’ve all done crazy things. They just made a little mistake. School’s about out, and they were just clowning around. I’m gonna’ talk to the school, and see if we can get things straightened out. I think they're getting all worked up over nothing. They’re not gonna expel them girls. This thing’s all going to blow over. Y’all let her stay here. I’ll tell them that we’re taking care of her. She’ll be fine.”
I was furious, but what he said made sense. Why should we have to make an extra trip? Maybe he would have some influence with the school. I talked to you about it, and we decided to let her stay with his family, until we went to the school for the Class Night program.
On Saturday afternoon, we drove to the school, dreading what we might find and wondering if we would see Christi. On Sunday morning, the school would have the Baccalaureate sermon and the graduation ceremony would be that afternoon. We were staying at a motel, so that we would only have to make one trip. Mom and Dad were coming up for the graduation on Sunday afternoon.
That evening, we sat in the auditorium anxiously glancing around at the crowd. Some of the people from New Orleans, who came for the graduation, sat with us. We hadn’t been able to get in touch with Christi, as of yet. Don sang, wearing a black outfit that had large stars sewn on using sequins. He had darkened his hair and painted on some black sideburns. We were amazed at how the crowd reacted to his Elvis rendition. The song had barely finished, when the crowd stirred, and we heard murmurs around us. Heads were turning and people were pointing. “Did you see that old lady.” someone whispered, “I think that’s Christi.”
We turned in time to see what appeared to be an old lady in a long dress wearing a bonnet over a curly gray wig. She was sitting a few seats behind us. She rose quickly, lowered her head. and hurried out of the building through a side door. Oh no. Surely that wasn’t our daughter. She wouldn’t have had the audacity to come to this program, knowing she wasn’t allowed on campus…or would she? Did we even know her any more?
We returned to the motel with, what felt like lead weights, in our stomachs. We were sure that if the school administrators learned she had attended that night, after being warned not to come back on campus, she would be expelled.
The following afternoon, we met with my parents and the five of us watched nervously, as the graduates marched in wearing their caps and gowns. We hoped, but didn't dare to expect, that our daughter would be among the group. And then….there she was, marching proudly with a male student by her side. The relief that flooded over us was palpable, causing the knots in our stomachs to dissolve.
After the ceremony, we met the man who had talked, in our behalf, to the school about overlooking the charges against our daughter. He apparently was a prankster himself. It had been his idea to dress Christi as an old lady, so she could see her brother perform.
We never found out if the school was aware that she had attended. We just loaded our van down with our two graduates' luggage and other things and headed home, thankful that this segment of parenting was behind us.