The Night I Charmed An Alma Girl

By: Jim Taylor - Freelance Writer
London Free Press - February 3, 2003

It was a scene from "Gone With the Wind". The beautiful blond princess standing at the top of the ornate winding staircase, Rhett Butler waiting proudly at the foot of the stairs, an orchestra playing a waltz in the background.

Except, it's hard to imagine Rhett Butler would be fighting back panic and wondering how in heck he'd wound up in this predicament.

The scene was Alma College's annual spring prom and the predicament involved a teenager who was feeling like a fish very much out of water.

Alma College was more than just a private girl's boarding school. It was a mysterious, medieval castle surrounded by trees, tucked away on spacious grounds not far from the city's core --- grounds that included an ethereal outdoor amphitheatre, where over the years, countless couples exchanged wedding vows and nursing students attended graduation.

During my days at St. Thomas Collegiate (go Stamps!), I'd seen the uniformed girls strolling on Talbot Street. They were the daughters of the rich and famous and they came from all over the world to attend the school. Or so I was told.

So, imagine my surprise when I was called to the principal's office one afternoon. Actually, I wasn't that surprised. It wasn't the first time I'd been called to the principal's office in the afternoon.

What now?, I thought as I studied my shoes. Finally, Mr. Trevithick, in that ever-academic tone, said, "Taylor, you've been asked to be an escort at the Alma College spring dance."


I never did learn how that came about. Never asked. But it seemed that, on occasion, requests went to Collegiate - I never knew if Arthur Voaden or St. Joe's received similar requests - for guys to escort the Alma girls to school dances.

I figured I was asked because I played football. It certainly wasn't my marks.

At first I thought, no way, but one look at Mr. Trevithick dissuaded me from that course of action. I had no idea what I'd let myself in for.

Face it, young women were sent to Alma, many from far away lands, not simply to be educated in the three R's, but also to learn to be proper young ladies. You know - manners, etiquette and all.

Now, believe me when I tell you, Mom was a great teacher of such things. But she did not have a great student. Back then, the social graces didn't top my list of things I needed to know. In fact, as I recall, that list, for me, was made up entirely of football and hockey. Oh yes, and how to be cool.

I was about to be tested.

It's sad that this heritage building, born in 1877 and closed as a school in 1988, could soon be destroyed.

In the '50's, the thought of razing it would have been incomprehensible. Particularly to a young teenager about to go on his first "formal" date.

Mom marched me to Barnes Men's Store, the best place to buy clothing the city, where I was fitted for my first blue blazer, gray flannel slacks, gray trench coat (just like Humphrey Bogart or George Raft would wear) and a tie. A tie! I didn't even know how to tie a tie.

Then came the corsage of white somethings for my date. Gardenias, I think. Mom said carnations were for funerals.

Finally, with a last rub of the shoes on the back of the pants, a final tug at the tie, it was up the steps and through the big double doors and into a world of dark wood, dim lights, a library-like smell, and unbelievably high ceilings.

Wait. Wait. Wait with a couple of school chums on a similar mission, for what seemed like an eternity. They looked very uneasy. Did I look uneasy?

Finally, my date's name was announced. Monica VonOlderhausen … or something like that. Hey, it's been a while. Someone said her father was president of the Bank of Peru. I didn't ask.

But I'll always remember looking up those long stairs and seeing this gorgeous creature in the long evening gown slowly descending and lighting up the room with a regal smile that cause my knees to buckle ... almost.

She pinned a flower on my lapel, took my arm and led me to the reception line.

For the life of me, I can't remember the rest of the evening. Except, I danced with the headmistress. I was told it was expected. Her name was Mrs. Steele Sifton. I remember because at the time I though, how appropriate.

I do remember that, a couple of weeks later, I took Monica on a less "formal" date. We went to see a hockey game.

I did say I was young and a jock, didn't I?

Wherever you are Monica, I'd do it all differently today.

Then again maybe not.

Jim Taylor is a freelance writer. He can be reached online at