When you’re watching your grandchildren grow up, you can’t help but compare their lives to yours at the same age. It’s always jarring to look at a picture of yourself and realize you look as old fashioned to them as your grandparents did to you. You only hope that they can look past that and learn from your infinite wisdom, also hoping you have any.

When I was in 7th grade, junior high then, most of us started social dance classes. Other communities had similar places, but, in Tulsa, we had Skilly’s, where we first learned etiquette. They seated the boys on one side and the girls on the other and the boys had to learn how to walk, not run, across the room and politely ask a girl to dance. That was palm-sweating, nerve wracking, embarrassing and, yet, we all learned to be gracious. Not only did we learn to dance – fox trot, waltz, swing, cha cha – in the basic class, but they had dances for us to get real practice. This is me in 7th grade at one of the dances. Since I started junior high at 11, I must have turned 12 by this time, probably wearing my first heels, strapless dress and petticoats.

Karen at Merry Maids Dance 1958

We had lots of dances in junior high and high school. It seems like there was always something going on. We also had social clubs in junior high and high school for both boys and girls. The clubs had dances, the school had dances, there were dances after football games, friends had dances in their homes where we played our stacks of 45s and 33 rpm records. And rock and roll was growing by leaps and bounds, so we had great music, lots of local bands, and plenty of opportunities to practice our skills. We danced fast and furiously and we danced a lot. At least I did back in the 50s and 60s. New dances came out all the time. The Twist was our new favorite my senior year.

As with most things, there was good and bad in the clubs, which excluded some kids and involved voting on members, not all of which was pretty, kind or fair. But, we learned to organize and plan events under the helpful eyes of our mothers, we learned to invite people out, and we started dating. Dating started with dance school, social club and school dances with your parents driving. There was the giggling with your friends at school while you eyed the boy you wanted to ask you out. There was the cringingly painful waiting by the phone, literally waiting by the phone since we didn’t have either portable or cell phones, and there was the horror when someone asked you out that you didn’t want to go with. And, finally, there was the joy of having the right boy call or ask you out, followed by the awkwardness of being together and getting to know each other. No wonder so many couples went steady, which was when you were supposed to be exclusively with that boy or girl. At least you didn’t have to wonder about the dance.

There weren’t just dances. We dated a lot. There were coke dates (casual dates to go get a coke and either get to know the person or just be together), movies, football games, basketball games, picnics, church events, and anything else we could come up with as an excuse to go out. Once you were going with someone, it wasn’t so much a date as deciding where you were going to tell your parents you were going. One time my future husband and I toured the Wonder Bread factory on a Friday night for a cheap date. I didn’t ever lie about where I was going, but I did end up other places, too. There was a lot of time until our Midnight curfew for most girls. I got to stay out until 1:00 when the dances ended at 12.

We hung out with our friends, too. I spent a lot of time cruising with my girlfriends and even groups of guys. Nobody seemed to ask where we were going on those nights, so we just cruised all over town, laughing, listening to the radio, and looking for whatever Friday night would bring. American Graffiti was the story of my high school days, music and all.

Anyway, I digress with lots of memories here. By the time we got to graduation, most of us had been on lots of dates of various kinds. Here I am at what was called the Southern Ball, a high school sponsored dance, my senior year. I had the dress and heels, had been to the beauty shop, because I know I could never have gotten my hair to do this on my own, and we were headed out. Rockin’ and rollin’ in the big heels and big hair. I think I still had my braces on – they came off right before my prom.

Scan 13

By the time we got to college, we were prepared as much as you can be to jump into the craziness of campus life. Here is a picture of my husband and me at a dance at Oklahoma State University a few months before we got married, my senior year. I love his high water pants – he had gotten out of the Navy that summer and grown a few more inches and his old civilian wardrobe needed some updating. But here we were, engaged and out on a date, going dancing as we had since we met.

Karen's engagement picture

My grandkids don’t date as much. They have a few dances, which they hate because there are so many drugs and the dancing isn’t as much fun. At least we knew how to do close dancing as well as do the newest ones and anyone drinking was thrown out. Movies are expensive so that isn’t an every weekend option. There don’t seem to be places for all the kids to hang out and they don’t attend the school sporting events like we did. It’s a new world. I don’t blame their parents for sheltering them more, for keeping them home where there are movies and video games to entertain them. I don’t blame parents for anything. We all do our best to protect and raise our children and who am I to say what I would be doing today. I’m just an observer, looking through the lens of what was and what is.

The word dating has a new generation meaning. Parents go on Date Nights, where we used to just go out with our husbands. The word dating is almost a euphemism these days. I never know for sure what they mean when adults say they are “dating.” It has shaded differences, for sure.

I’m being nostalgic as I remember the fun we had, blocking out the bad dates that also came with the experience. I hope my grandkids date with more than texts and emails, explore meeting different people and falling in love in the best of ways, not matter what they call the process. It’s all about learning to be in relationships where we feel the most comfortable and loved and have the most fun life can offer us. I wish everyone finds that, at least once in their lives.