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A TGB READER STORY: The White Cotillion

By Tim Hay

I was not pleased with my “Sidehill Gouger” comeuppance delivered by “This Betsy” - the freshman in my back seat occupying my rear-view mirror. Not wishing to receive another dose of her unnervingly-accurate analysis, I zipped my lip for the remaining two hours of our Christmas break trip to Spokane.

After I'd dropped all four girls off at their homes, my mother met me at our door with the revelation that I was going to the White Cotillion. In 10 days. For which she'd purchased two expensive tickets.

Because I had recently been a recipient of a Dear John letter, I was now without a date to this over-the-top shindig. Three phone calls afforded me no replacement date. Hoping to net a little consolation from my mother, I described my Sidehill Gouger encounter with This Betsy.

Mom just snickered! Then looked me in the eye, meaningfully, and said, “Tim, why don't you call “This Betsy” for the White Cotillion?

Ten days later, carrying a slender sense of dread, clad in tux, cufflinks, cummerbund and carrying her corsage, I stood in her entry. Her mother called upstairs to Betsy. Their stairs creaked a bit in anticipation, and -

There she was! In a white formal, flared-out by (most likely) multiple petticoats. All set atop white high heels and slender legs.

Betsy's sparkling eyes and almost-shy smile provided proof of the boy-girl impact she possessed. If anybody can over-grin, I know that I was doing so as I watched This Betsy pin her orchid corsage onto her 'formal'.

I opened her door to my Dad's big Buick and we departed back to my home, where my parents were hosting some friends for dinner. Betsy and I talked all the way there. Hard liquor was pervasive in the 1950's, so Betsy and I were hardly inside before Dad had poured scotch-and-sodas for us.

“Mom and Dad, I'd like to introduce This Betsy”.

Mom, in recognition, smiled warmly. Dad looked impressed. And Betsy blushed.

I'd pushed it a bit far. As usual. Chatting with the family guests, I had one eye on my watch and two eyes on Betsy. No one, including myself, had thought to ask Betsy her age. Later she told me that, not only had she just turned 17, but that her scotch-and-soda had been her first real drink. Ever.

When I sprung that little gem of information on my Mother the next day, Mom was mortified.

Spokane's social event of 1956 was the achingly-formal White Cotillion Ball, marking the presentation of 18-year-old daughters of the Spokane Club members to Spokane's society.

The Spokane Club building is an architectural confection. Its red brick, white stone, fancy moldings and shiny-clean beveled-glass windows combining with multiple Christmas trees had the effect of approaching a Disney magic castle. Betsy's eyes glistened in response.

Once inside, she marveled at the luxury, the elaborate holiday decorations, the almost ankle-deep carpeting, the white moldings and especially the cut-glass wall sconces and the dozen layered chandeliers pouring their sparkles of delight onto the 200 formally clad party goers.

At first we circulated, sipping punchbowl nectar from our long-stemmed, cut-glass, champagne glasses, talking and talking. Huge round tables, friends, the four-course dinner served by uniformed waiters.

We ate, barely appreciating our meal, eyes on one another, talking and talking.

We watched the grand ceremony welcoming club daughters to Spokane society. Then we danced. A bit more closely than the others were dancing. We drifted to a small table in an obscure corner. Talking and talking. Later, we became aware that most of the Cotillion dancers had left. We followed, hand-in-hand.

The Buick would not go as slowly as I wished. Betsy slid over next to me. My entire being had become a smile. All too soon we were back at her home. I turned the lights off. And we sat. Next to each other. And talked. And talked even more. My watch too-soon showed after midnight, and she had to leave. It was unavoidable.

I leaned in. Betsy turned her head toward mine. The memory of that one single oh-so-sweet kiss remains with me today. For we have been “we” for 60-plus years. And This Betsy is still calling my bluff.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

Comments

Wonderful story, Tim. Thanks. It's a great way to start a snowy cold day.

What a lovely little story! I am from Spokane but lived on the North Side near Gonzaga so we didn’t go to the White Cotillion. But our prom was at the Davenport!

Glad you are still talking!

Knowing you and This Betsy in person makes your tale even more delightful, as I can hear it in your voice. How marvelous that you still remember this so clearly 60 years later!

Nice story!

Lovely story and incredibly well written!

A nice respite after having endured the impeachment trial, the dread of Trump's State of the Union address tonight, not to mention the vote tomorrow.

Love endures! (60 years!! WOW!!)

It's an interesting story but would probably be more interesting if I understood the references to "Sidehill Gouger” and “This Betsy.” Is it possible to include a link to what must be a previous story? It would be very helpful

Great story! But as Patricia says, what is a "Sidehill Gouger"? Also, I'm gathering that a "Cotillion" is some kind of important party or dance? Or countryclub thing? Anyway, clarification would be great, thanks. (Again, great story.)

You have a fine talent for an engaging narrative, Tim.  I had to find out just how it all turned out. Thank you for sharing your sweet story. 

Now, 'lemme-see', 2 hours from Spokane in the '50s might have put you in Pullman and WSC...maybe? My husband  was getting his Engineering degree there in '51-'55. Maybe you were there with him. I was becoming an RN at Sacred Heart Medical Center. Your story brought to life so many memories for me. 

And yes, to Irma's comment "love endures".  We married in '58 after I graduated. Had he survived the cancer this would be 62 years for us.  He was and good man, gentle husband, Dad, and grandfather.  Love for him in our family still endures! 

Some how I knew what that ending was going to be. Well written. :-)

Wonderful true-life story. Mr. Hay, thank you for sharing & congratulations on you & This Betsy sharing such a long (& apparently) loving relationship.

Loved this story!

Plus I got to learn the meaning of “Sidehill Gouger” and "White Cotillion", two phrases I'd never heard in my life. How fun is that.

Thanks Tim. This Betsy sounds like a keeper for sure.

White Cotillion is alive and well in Houston, TX - amazing how long the South can hold on to tradition ! Great story, especially the 60 year part...

Charming.

What a wonderful, romantic story. The political distress we are experiencing at this time needs more stories like this. So uplifting, bringing a smile to my heart.

Maggie Zwilling

For those still wondering, I looked up "sidehill gouger" and it's a mythical creature (still not sure how it ties into Tim's story), and a "white cotillion" is an old-timey debutante ball which I thought had been discontinued after World War I. Learn something new every day! :-)

It's a fearsome critter!

A cotillion ball is essentially, and often still refers to, a debutante ball.

P.S. Wonderful story Tim, and congratulations on 60-plus years1

Sweet story, happy ending. Nice!

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