The party that broke the spell

Papa gave me permission to attend a dance party! I didn’t have to ask. It was friends who asked him. I was 18 then, a very diligent student of an all-girls college, who chose poring over textbooks and novels than partying. But this particular one, I really wanted to attend. My secret crush (SC) was going to be there. Besides, I practiced the twist so many times before the mirror to ready for this shindig. Perhaps, Papa and Mama thought I was getting to be too much of an academic recluse, so they said yes. The boys were surprised. They expected a no.

It wasn’t all books for me. My extracurricular activities at school dominated my scholastic schedule as well. Theater/drama was my first love. Next was folk dancing. I was often on stage for one or the other. I even fantasized becoming a stage singer. That became reality when I was picked for the role of Laurie in Oklahoma, after a score of challenging singing lessons, of course. I was ecstatic. If my voice didn’t ring so awesomely broadwayish, my passion for drama kicked in the spice in my performance.

Back to my partying or lack thereof. I was terribly excited about going to that Saturday night social. I readied my attire days before, a red pleated skirt matched with a red jacket over a checkered red and white cotton blouse. So apropos and hip, I thought. Two young men fetched me that early evening. For Pa and Ma’s peace of mind, two’s better than one. They weren’t really friends, but secret admirers, I later learned and was told. My parents solicitously watched as I walked out of the veranda down the stairs with the nice boys. An open horse-drawn carriage called kalesa or karetela was waiting with its driver on the street.

The wooden carriage – open on all sides, was common transportation especially in the provinces. Generally, the rickshaw has a high step for passengers to climb to get in, with four thin posts that hold a thin awning, has a narrow bench on each side and another facing the horse for the driver. The ride is always a bumpy adventure. How the horse would wind the kalesa in between and around jeepneys was a marvel to me. This time though, I felt like a princess being ushered up by my knights. It wasn’t a grand ball that I was going to, but it felt like one. In my red attire, I felt mod. The truth? I was nervous. Remember, I usually didn’t attend co-ed parties. And this was a dance! I folk danced, not party danced. I memorized and delivered lines on stage in plays, not conversed with boys. I sparred in debate teams, not resparteed to admirers’ queries. Anyway, the bumpy carriage ride almost threw one escort off the bench. That perky horse! It just probably aimed to slide my escort closer to me. I hung on tight to the carriage railing, afraid to be jerked out of the kalesa and land on the stony path with red dress and all. None of those two escorts was my secret crush. If either was, I would have wished for a carriage jerk that would push him close. If only Papa could hear my thoughts, he would have said no to my attending this party.

There I was, feeling like a young teen when I was almost entering adulthood. In that era of my youth and in my community (and especially with my family), dating was not the accepted custom. If a male wanted to court a female, he was expected to visit the object of his attention at her home. And yes, visit in the presence of family, or the very least, her parents. I had several of those visits, but none from my secret crush. So this party was very important to me.

The 10-minute carriage ride seemed like eternity. I was in very pleasant and humorous company, horse included, but I wanted to be at the party. As soon as I entered the host’s home and walked to the patio, you can guess what my eyes were roaming for. However, I didn’t fail to notice the chairs lined at the periphery of the patio, the boys seated on one side, and the girls on the opposite side. The phonograph occupied a square table at one end of that circumference. A long rectangle table stood on the other end, laden with pitchers of lemonade and water beside platters of sandwich cookies and saltine crackers. Potato chips were not common then. Besides, if some stores carried them, they were super expensive. Through the evening, the pitchers were often emptied. It was a clear, balmy night, with little breeze to cool the sweating dancers.

The dance floor shook with rock n’ roll and twist. Eager boys and girls showed off their dance moves which no one really noticed because everyone else was busy dancing. Except this girl – my eyes were on my secret crush. Slow music, also called the sweet or drag was not a favorite at all. When it played, only a few couples danced, those that were in relationship or rumored to be on the brink of entering a relationship. I did dance the slow waltz with one of my escorts, the boy who almost got jerked off the kalesa. He was actually sweet and very gentlemanly. He was also smart and good-looking … he just was not my secret crush. Did I dance with my SC? Yes, just once, for a twist to the accompaniment of a favorite Beatles song. I twisted my best, bent backward just a bit more, twisted downward just a bit more, lifted a foot as I leaned sideward. Wow, I was on the roll. However, there was no chat, how could one carry a conversation with such a blaring music that must have rocked the whole city. Surprise of all surprises, after that dance, he ceased to be my SC. My infatuation waned. To this day, I really cannot fathom my sudden disinterest. Could it be his dance moves, or the way he chuckled, or his Elvis Presley hair, or his eyes that squinted when he pretended to be serious, or his show of interest in me. Just as well. I vowed not to have a boyfriend in my college years anyway. I was extremely scholastically ambitious.

It was 10, half hour before my curfew. My two nice escorts walked me home. No kalesas and jeepneys were on the streets that time of the evening. Half hour of listening to a marathon of corny and witty jokes on the way home, but I was happy. I made it to my curfew … there would be no rebuke that night.

That party broke the spell for me. But I got a few more suitors who visited me at home, under Papa’s watchful eye. None of them, by the way, became my boyfriend. The promise to myself held. So, back to my books, dramas, folk dancing, and to writing for the school paper. Did I learn to socialize with boys? Wait … I’ll tell you about the year I got to grad school in Manila … next time.

Linda P. Jacob

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