Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Terror and the Symphony Ball

When I was a kid, there was such a thing as the Jackson Symphony Ball, put on by the Jackson Symphony League. It was a really big deal. Patterned after the New Orleans Mardi Gras Krewes, they had a king with a court and pages, costumes and dancing, and the whole thing was held in the Jackson Coliseum.

The idea was to make money for the Jackson Symphony (now the Mississippi Symphony). I don't know if it didn't actually raise any money or if it was too much trouble or what, but they haven't had a Symphony Ball this big in a long time.

My mother wasn't the kind of person to join a volunteer organization like the Symphony League without doing any actual volunteer work so one year she ended up in charge of all the costumes for the Symphony Ball. I remember racks and racks of costumes filling the living room and the dining room of our house and strangers in and out to try them on.

The King of the ball that year was the governor of Mississippi, John Bell Williams. Williams was a World War II hero and lost one arm in battle when his bomber crashed. Sometimes he wore a mechanical prosthetic arm that ended in two curved metal prongs.

Williams was an old style Democrat and had previously served in congress in Washington. He supported segregation but, as governor, he didn't fight the court order when it came down to desegregate Mississippi public schools.

Arrangements were made for the Governor to come by our house and try on his king costume before the ball. My dad had supported Williams' opponent in the governor's race so this was a slightly delicate moment.

My mother pulled us kids aside to tell us that a very important man was coming to the house and we were to be on our best behavior and be very polite and say "yes, sir" and especially not to stare because he had only one arm.

Determined to be a good boy, I spent the next day and a half preparing myself to meet this important man with one arm. I wasn't going to stare and I wasn't going to say anything stupid like, "Nice to meet you, we voted for William Winter." or "Hey mister, where's your arm?".

The big day came and a nicely dressed, older man came to the door in a dark suit with a hat. I was six years old.

Now, my mother was wise to warn us about meeting a man with one arm, and I was ready for that, even though I'd never met a man with one arm before.

What she didn't tell us was that he had replaced that arm with what appeared to me a gleaming metal HOOK like Captain Hook from Peter Pan, so I ran and hid on sight of it, not to come out until after the Governor had left.


Nicole Bradshaw said...

So, was his costume Capt. Hook? That would have been in bad taste . . . .

A. Boyd C. said...


I wish it had been. As best I can remember it was more like a Burger King outfit.

Sandi said...

That's hilarious. Poor Boyd.