For during football season, when a young woman's fancy turns to Homecoming, a mum is so much more. It is a badge worn proudly upon the breast, a symbol that shouts to all the world, "Look! I have a date!”
I'm not sure exactly when mums became a part of Homecoming tradition. There was no mention of them in my grandmother's 1923 yearbook from Simmons College (now Hardin Simmons University) and my mother says nobody wore mums when she was in high school either, but then that was during the War, and just about everything was curtailed. Even Homecoming.
So I'm guessing the tradition probably began sometime around the 1950's. But regardless of when it started, there's no doubt about who started it. Girls!
I don't know about your own experience with Homecoming, but here's how the event unfolded back when I was in high school. The festivities began with a bonfire, which was hastily built by unskilled teenagers, and usually burned up in fifteen minutes, if they could get it lit at all.
Then there was a parade through the streets of downtown on Friday afternoon, where the high school band marched and played the fight song, and cheerleaders stopped at every intersection to lead the spectators in "Two Bits”. Each class built a float and as expected, the sophomore class float was usually just a flatbed trailer covered with green cloth, and a goal post at each end. BORRRING!
Next, riding on the back of a shiny convertible, was the Homecoming Queen. Perfect skin. Perfect hair. Perfect teeth. Dressed in a formal gown, wearing long white gloves and a sparkling tiara, she seemed almost super-imposed against a backdrop of parking meters and billboards for Buck's Television Repair.
On Saturday night there would also be a Homecoming dance. But that wasn't what mattered now. What mattered now was the mum.
When your date arrived to pick you up for the big game, you practically snatched the long florist box out of his arms and tore into its contents. (Yes, dear friends, I hark back to a time when a mum was a REAL flower – not one of those fake silk/paper jobs!) And you beheld it. And it was good.
Your mother helped you pin it on, and if you were lucky, it took two pins. Ah, the fragrant aroma of autumn flowers and glue. Oh the gentle sound of rustling nylon ribbon and tinkling cowbells, like a herd of little goats trotting down a Swiss mountainside.
The best part came when you arrived at the stadium, and had a chance to size up the mums worn by your friends. Whose date had forked over the most money? How long were their streamers? How many cowbells and plastic footballs dangled at the end? Who were the lucky ones to have a football player's number, shaped from pipe cleaners, stuck in the middle of the bloom? Was her name written in glittery gold letters? Did she have a single mum, or a double? Or a triple? There has always been a great deal of "mum envy” at every Homecoming game. But then, that's sort of the point.
Of course, during the evening the mum got in the way. ‘Twas a challenge indeed not to sit on the streamers, or to catch the sharp tip of a pin in the chest. But even if you did, it was a good pain. After all, there were girls in the stadium with no streamers to sit on, and no sharp tips of a pin in the chest. Those girls knew a pain far worse than that. They knew the pain of no mum.
But all good things must end, even Homecomings. The time came to take off the mum. It would usually lie in state in the refrigerator for several days, but eventually the petals began to turn brown and smell like baloney. So you dipped it in melted Gulf Wax and ceremoniously hung it in a prominent place on your bedroom wall. Henceforth it became a trophy that said to visiting girlfriends, "Yes, ladies, that was the year I bagged a really nice one”.
A mum can never be thrown away. Every girl knows that. It is packed away in a box when she goes off to college. The box will be lost when her parents move, and she'll never see the mum again. But that doesn't matter.
A mum is a mum is a memory.