Thursday, December 16, 2010

To the Queen...

This past weekend was spent doing things which don't have anything to do with life on the farm. We, in contrast to our norm, shed our bluejeans and boots in exchange for me, a long formal gown and for Mark, well, a silk costume. Our purpose for such a drastic change was our attendance at a Grand Ball, a debutant affair steeped in the traditions of Mardi Gras based social clubs, or Krewes, where young maids of the town are presented to the observers and society in general. There is an entire weekend filled with parties, brunches, luncheons, practices, and more, all surrounding the climax of the Ball itself.  The preparatory events go on year round, culminating on this one special night of revelry.

A dear friend was to be the King of this year's weekend long event, a job which is both an honor and a big financial tug at the pockets, and  it also requires the willing fellow to wear sparkly jewel bedecked garments, lots of makeup, a wig and glued on beard, stretchy white tights, and tall white boots. His bewigged head is topped with an enormous dazzling crown that is covered in crystals and cabochons. His job for the Ball begins with him walking regally around the dark auditorium to the orchestra's tune, dragging an ermine trimmed velvet cape, and he grandly waves to the crowd bestowing them with his good will. After this he climbs to his golden throne and awaits the entrance of the rest of his court, and then, his queen. It is not a job for one with any insecurity issues.

Next come the maids with their escorts. These ladies are usually juniors in college and their names have been on the list for their being presented at this moment since they were born. It is preordained. They are generally members' daughters and many have been princess in previous Balls, and many have mothers, and even grandmothers who have all traveled this path thru the lights to the front of the audience for their gracious and deep sweeping curtsy, that signals their status as now being eligible for suitors. They smile and the lights dance in their eyes as they rise to go to the throne where they join the King in awaiting the presentation of the Queen. Before the mysterious identity of the Queen is to be revealed, the court princesses are walked out, well more like herded out.

The princesses are all about 6 or 7 years old. This particular age was chosen as the year before the little girls start losing those front baby teeth in order to avoid them being in that awkward spot that young children go thru. At this point they are still precious and cute, and they are dressed in delicate laced dresses with satin bows, white gloved holding bouquets, and wearing tiny pearl crowns and a touch of lipstick. Most of them fidget and twist and turn around to see the King sitting behind them and try to see what the other princesses are doing. They are also daughters of members and each has the possible role of future queendom, depending on her pedigree within the organization. They each step forward in turn as their names are called and give a slight curtsy, to the crowd' oohh and aahhs and generous clapping. Then, it is time for the Queen to enter the room.

The music changes and the room blackens. The audience rises to their feet and the spotlight hits stage right. There in the wings stands the one chosen to wear the crown for this year. She begins with a wave of the sparkling scepter and then begins her walk around the room to begin her reign for the night. the dress of the queen is typically an incredibly heavy garment, covered completely with hand sewn on crystals of all sorts, some reflecting light and others consume the light and show as a black flicker. So the dress dances like fire as she walks slowly thru the spot lights beam. She, also, drags a long velvet cape with the Krewe insignia, a very heavy thing which she must pull in her heels and make it look easy. Generally the queens who have had ballet training have been the most successful in pulling off the looking easy part.

There are elaborate sets, costumes, tableaus, and a few million details that all swirl around the ritual of putting on the Ball. The Ball itself is a full blown production that combines theatre with all of the centuries of history of how fathers have presented their eligible daughters to society. Think of the wedding ritual and protocol,  multiply that by a million times, and you might have an inkling of its complexity for a successful evening. It requires long hours of incredibly hard work for many people to pull one off and have every thing fall into place.

The logistics of the physical is one thing, but the knowledge of the social ladder within the organization is something that each captain for the year must deal with and not get wrong. There have been tears and a good bit of anger when so and so's mother was accidentally placed in the spot of lesser importance in the line of chairs of the Royal Box, the designated area for the members wives to see the procession with the best view.  Melt downs are not uncommon. So with all this huge effort over a bit of pomp, sparkles, crowns and big puffy dresses, one would be quick and right to ask,  is it worth it?

When I was somewhere in my teens, my mother and father, who had been very involved with the Ball thing for many years, told me that I was destined for queendom. In fact it was all the work that my parents did that was for my behalf to the chosen one. Pedigree is one factor determining queenhood, but willingness to work your butt off is another one that is paramount. I had no idea what they were really talking about having never been to a Ball and I certainly had no idea about what the being Queen would be about but I was not looking forward to it. Give me a horse to ride but don't put a spotlight and white dress on me. Years later things just happened, I eloped with Mark, and dashed my parents' hope for me to wave that scepter and tossed all their hard work down the drain. To say they were disappointed was an understatement, at my elopement of course, but the fact I turned down a crown was unbelievable. That is until we had a baby girl and their hope was renewed.

Years down the line both of our daughters have now been both princesses and then later queens. Mark and I did our duty, and worked the long hours and handled the multitude of details that come with the privilege. At first to repay my parents, but later it was about what you feel when it is your daughter's time to be presented. When your child is grown up and is wearing the lovely puffy dresses looking as beautiful as a work of art, you understand why. It is their smile that is the reward. In that moment, yes, it is worth it.

We had a wonderful weekend of the festivities, and whatever went wrong we never knew. Mark took many photos of the King and his court and folks have been clamoring to see more of them. I have taken the liberty of sharing here, some of our youngest daughter's experience with my iphone, taking them from Mark's blurb book he did about that year's Ball. A link is below to the photos of her reign. Regrettably the book only lets you preview 15 pages and these are taken up with essays but perhaps mine will suffice to give reference to the feeling.

Sunday afternoon after a splendid closing luncheon hosted by our King, it was back to the farm, the dress shoes were kicked off, blue jeans went back on, and we enjoyed the rest of the day resting by the fireplace.

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