Miss Luella Sue Pepper was in need of a husband. She had just turned eighteen and she was ripe for marrying. Her Daddy, William Kean Pepper, said so. Her Mama, Eustasha Alice Pepper, said so. So did her Aunt Michaela Marie. Seemed it was apple picking time for their young darling, her being the fairest maiden in the Valley. Only problem was Miss Louella Sue was not in a marrying mood. She liked her solitude. She considered herself wearing the likes of that Emily Dickinson down in Mississippi.
The night of the debutante’s ball Miss Louella Sue locked herself in her room. There was not anyway she’s going to that fancy dress shindig. No way atall. She’d heard stories.
Her Mama, Eustasha Alice, did her best to get her one-and-only darling to come on out of her room and go to the ball. She knocked on Miss Louella Sue’s door with a knock that sounded real urgent like. “Y’all come out of there, y’hear. It’s time you put on your best shoes and get on down to the American Legion Hall with me and your Daddy. I’m sure you’re gonna meet a right nice boy tonight.”
“I am not going,” Miss Louella Sue called out, and she meant it.
“You know Mary Eloise Gaine’s boy, Henry, will be there, Darling.”
“I ain’t interested in no Henry Bradford Gaines. You ought know that.” Miss Louella Sue meant these words even more.
Her Mama said softly, persuasive-like, “Darling, I know you want to be one of them poets. And you can. Going to this here cotillion will give you something to write about. You can write poems about how all the boys tripped over themselves just to get to dance with you.”
“I don’t care what you say. I am not going to no ball. And that’s final.” As far as Miss Louella Sue was concerned, it was final.
“Your dear friend, Pearl Eugenia Willingham, will be there. She’ll be downright disappointed if you don’t share this night with her.”
“How do you know that?” She was asking ’cause she really wanted to know. How could anybody know anything about what Pearl Eugenia wanted? Pearl Eugenia shared her wants with not a single soul.
“She told me so. She did last Sunday at church.”
‘Bout this time, her Daddy showed up at Miss Louella Sue’s door. He walked right hard past her Mama and knocked on the door. It was one of them I’m-meaning-business knocks too. “Girl, you get your skinny butt dressed and get downstairs. If you ain’t down there in a half hour, I am gonna personally knock this door down and tan your hide. You’re going to this do whether you like it or not. So you want to be able to sit and sip punch and let them boys admire you? Or do you want to have to stand all night ’cause your butt will hurt something bad?”
From behind the door came a whimper of a voice, “Yes, Daddy.” She knew that there’d be no going against her Daddy no matter what. Miss Louella Sue may have been spoiled all the way down the Mississippi to New Orleans, but she wasn’t so spoiled she didn’t know trouble when it came her way. There wouldn’t be any sweet talkin’ her Daddy tonight. ‘Sides maybe she’d get a poem or two out of this night just like her Mama promised.
So she swallowed her pride and got dressed. In two shakes, she was downstairs, wearing the red and white evening gown her Mama bought over in Memphis for the occasion. Her Daddy looked her up and down and smiled like he’d smiled when he got that new hunting rifle last Christmas. Indeed he was proud. He leaned over and pinned a white orchid corsage on her. Then he gave a sigh.
“Darling Daughter, you gonna make some fella one beautiful bride,” he said, beaming proud as he could be.
Mama and Daddy Pepper loaded their one-and-only in his brand new red Ford pickup. Before you know it, they were at the Hall. They weren’t the first ones to arrive and they weren’t the last ones. Mama led her daughter to the staging area for the debutantes. Soon she’d be walking out into the ballroom, getting herself presented like she was one of them New York City debutantes.
As Miss Louella Sue Pepper walked backstage, all the other girls stared at her. They knew she would have the pick of the litter tonight. She was one fine looking girl and they knew it. But all Miss Louella Sue Pepper could think of was how tight her shoes were. She was also thinking getting dressed up like this was downright unnatural. She’d rather be out of these clothes and in some jeans and a t-shirt than standing in a line looking like a fool for all to stare at.
Then it hit her right side up against the head. She didn’t have to play favorites with any of them boys. She would give a dance to each and every one of them. At the end of the night, she’d go home with a smile on her face, knowing she had outwitted her Mama and her Daddy.
She and the other girls made the walk out into ballroom, all eyes fixed on the five girls, folks ooo-ing and ah-ing at the girls. Those young ladies were something that night. All dressed up and presented to the town and ready for marrying.
Miss Louella Sue danced first with the hotshot of all the boys, Henry Bradford Gaines. His flaming red hair was something to behold. But she was not impressed. If he thought he had a claim on her, he could guess again. She went on to dance with the Breckinridge boys, all three of them. But not at the same time.
Once she’d made it through those fellas, she took herself a break. She sat herself down to give her footsies a break. She sent Peter Charles Breckinridge, the youngest of the brothers, off to get herself some punch. “And don’t come back without it,” she commanded in that Southern Belle voice of hers.
She was joined by Pearl Eugenia Willingham. She said to Pearl, “What you thinkin’.”
Pearl said to her, “Don’t know why everybody makes such a fuss.”
“Me neither. It’s almost like we’re lambs being led to the slaughterhouse.”