Mardi Gras Ball 1972
After a long day, I was tired and anxious to get back to the dormitory and rest a few minutes before dinner. It was Caroline’s turn to cook and her meals were always the best. I looked ahead and saw Billy Bennet leaning against one of the white columns in front of the dorm. He looked handsome in his light blue jacket and his dark, wavy hair. As I ascended the steps he gave me his handsome smile with his perfect, white teeth.
“Hi, Kathy! I was wondering if you would like to go to the Mardi Gras Ball with me this Saturday night?” Billy asked.
“Sure, what time?” I asked, picking up on his nervousness. He was a regular at the girl’s dorm where he read the newspaper, flirted casually with the girls and told corny jokes. Nobody could get passed his awkward demeanor.
“It starts at eight, so I’ll pick you up at seven if that’s alright,” he said as started down the steps sideways. “I’ll be wearing a tuxedo!” he called back.
I borrowed a full length, turquoise evening gown just my size. I was really nervous as I walked down the long hall toward the lobby where I saw Billy waiting for me. When he turned around he took my breath away; I guess I took his breath away, too, because his face lit up.
“You look absolutely stunning and that color becomes you!” he said grinning from side-burn to side-burn.
I said, “So do you, I mean you look very handsome in your tux!”
He chuckled. “Thank you! I have this flower to pin on you if it’s okay.”
“A flower for me? Sure, but I don’t have one for you!” I said.
“That’s okay,” he smiled.
After he finished pinning on the purple orchid, he offered me his arm and we walked out the door to a snazzy little sports car. I could tell Billy was in his element when he opened the door and tucked me safely inside the car. I watched him from the corner of my eye as he walked confidently around the back of the car. I felt so protected and… mollycoddled for the first time in my life!
The smooth drive in his open convertible allowed me to see how New Orleans sparkled at night! The cool, night air helped calm my nerves enough so I could steal occasional peeks at my handsome date; his eyes never left the busy, weekend traffic. But, at a red light, he looked over at me and smiled the sweetest smile. I felt like we had just stepped out of a Harlequin romance novel. The romantic night was turning into a date that I had never allowed myself to dream.
Billy pulled the car along side the Opera House, behind a limousine, and put the car in park. The car motor wasn’t the only thing still running. The valet copied the car license and put Billy’s name on a tag before he attached it to the car key. Billy hopped out of the car and swung around the front to help me get out. I pulled up the bottom of my gown with my left hand before I grabbed hold of Billy’s arm with my right hand. I felt like Aubrey Hepburn and Billy was Gregory Peck! This had to be how the movie stars lived all the time.
I wondered if God was calling me to marry a rich, caring preacher like Billy? I didn't feel adequate for a calling like that. But, if so, I guess I wouldn't have to worry any more about finding a job, learning how to cook, or set a fancy table; I would probably have a maid & butler!
Inside of the half empty theater it echoed with soft, cheerful voices as we walked in the main entrance. The inside of the dark, musty, opera house had definitely seen better days. We stood there half wondering what lay ahead behind the closed curtain. Billy touched my arm and asked me where I wanted to sit. I looked around and when I looked up in the balcony, he nodded and said, “Let’s go!”
We were the only ones sitting in the dark balcony. Billy acted like he wanted to loosen up but he didn’t know how. It was hard for me to relax when Billy was as tight as balloon ready to pop! I wished I knew how to help him unwind, Lord. Neither one of us were a good conversationalist. I wanted to help him untie the emotional rope that was suppressing something from his past.
It was fun watching the handsomely dressed couples as they came in and filled the empty seats below! I didn’t say anything to Billy, but I was wondering where the ballroom dance was going to be afterwards. I imagined a spacious room, with blue satin walls and gold moldings. I could almost smell the the aroma of Louisiana magnolias. Beneath the crystal chandeliers, I envisioned dancing couples, while others stood around fancy tables and drank spiked punch. Then, I remembered I couldn’t ballroom dance nor drink spiked punch!
When the opera music started, the lights dimmed and the purple curtains trimmed in gold and green, opened. The stage setting was an outside French cafe with the lighted Eiffel Tower in the distance. An elegant couple, arm in arm, exited the cafe singing in French. For the next hour and a half I watched and listened with amazement as a mirage of people exchanged foreign words in song. I was amazed at how I could understand some of it with my heart. Following each of the three Acts, Billy and I clapped and shouted, “Bravo, bravo!” We couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculous we sounded.
After he put the top up on the car, we decided to skip the Mardi Gras Ball and go to a very popular site called Café Du Monde. The small café is located across the Street from Jackson Square and it serves strong, chicory coffee with powdered sugar beignets (pronounced ben yeahs). We felt over-dressed so we ordered our food then took it to a little table outside under the Louisiana full moon.
My light wrap was no match for the cool air pouring in off the Mississippi River. Billy noticed me shivering so he quickly removed his jacket and slid it around my shoulders. All the other things he had done for me that evening were so sweet but this simple act of chivalry caught me off guard. I couldn’t remember anybody ever giving me their coat.
The divine smell of his after shave around my shoulders made me feel woozy and a bit amorous. When he sat back down across from me I couldn’t help but notice how his white shirt didn’t hide any of his chiseled muscles. Embarrassed, when he caught me staring, I laughed and pointed at imaginary, powdery sugar on his face. I laughed more when he tried to rub nothing off his face.
Finally, he gave up and came over to the chair next to me with his napkin in his hand. He watched me finish my messy beignet as I starred across the street at the silhouette of Jackson on his mighty steed. When I looked over at Billy, he was looking down at my lips with a glazed look in his eyes. For a brief moment, I thought he was going to lean in and kiss the powdered sugar from my lips, but, unfortunately, he used his napkin instead.
Riding back home I wanted to pry him open with a million can openers. I knew absolutely nothing about his past, present or future! All I knew was he was a drop-dead gorgeous, he was a devout Christian who went to church every Sunday, he had excellent manners, he was kind, he worked out, he had money, and he was hiding something.
I kept quiet in the car all the way back to the campus, hating the silence between us. Before, I knew it, we were driving through the seminary gates and Billy was parking across the street from my dorm in the parking lot. I hoped we would sit and talk a bit, after he cut the motor in the middle of Hank Williams' latest song, “Jambalaya”! Instead, Billy jumped out of the car, ran around the front and opened my door. He took my right hand as I gathered my dress and stepped out. We crossed the street and walked up the few steps to my dorm. He stopped between two white columns where we turned toward each other. I was stunned by his handsome face glowing in the moon light. I could hardly breathe, wondering, if he was going to kiss me goodnight. If so, I was more than ready.
Still holding my hand he leaned down and kissed me … on the cheek. “I had a great time tonight,” he said with a husky voice.
“Me, too!” I said. “Thanks for a wonderful evening.”
“Goodnight, and sleep well … my dear, sweet, Kathy!”
“Goodnight! You, too,” I said as I walked away and opened the door to go in. When I looked back, Billy was already across the street and getting into his car. I watched him back up and drive away. I closed the door and leaned against it, wondering what or if anything was happening.
Time would tell.
For the next two weeks, I never saw Billy. He didn’t come by the girl’s dorm to flirt and joke with the girls, nor with me. I asked somebody about him and they weren’t real sure about something they had heard about Billy. I told them about our date and how attentive he was, but also how he was so quiet and distant. This person finally told me what they knew about Billy. They said Billy was still hurting and trying to get over his ... divorce.
I was in shock!
The same reason he never asked me out again was why he was so quiet in the car. He was still hurting and he couldn’t talk about it. And, he wasn’t ready for a new relationship.
I was glad I wasn’t nosy that night by asking him personal questions. I may have opened a can of worms. Later, I learned how a couple can be drawn to each other over a catastrophe like a divorce or a break up...and someone always gets hurt.
That night I knew God had kept my mind blank so I wouldn't ask Billy any questions. Thank you, God for coming to my rescue one more time. I prayed for Billy and asked Jesus to help him to find somebody when he was ready or maybe get back with his wife. I won’t know what happened to him until I see him in Heaven.
But, I did realize that sweet, handsome, rich Billy was not the Man God had planned for me.
Now, I would have to learn how to cook and how to set a table!