This year, the fug orange and black jacket gets a rest. Instead I’ll be donning an equally fug skirt and and hoodie. I never thought I’d say these words, but I’d rather wear the beer jacket.

What does this have to do with anything, you ask?

Despite the fact I’m planning to give finishing the next chapter of Counterpoint before this weekend the old college try, but it’s safe to assume it will be delayed until after the conclusion of the festivities.

There are Princeton alumni (my husband among them) who attend Reunions every year.  Tents adorn the campus—five classes to a tent—and Thursday and Friday nights are pretty much an open-air kegger with live bands. Saturday afternoon is P-Rade, where each class year dons a costume.  The Old Guard marches through campus and is subsequently joined by each class year. The younger classes salute the older alums as they pass with the cheer above, known as the Locomotive, joining the parade when the end of it passes them on the sidelines.

The first time I attended P-Rade, I was seven months pregnant with my son. As the only sober person in a sea of drunks, I had nothing to do but observe.  I noticed women in tailored mens’ beer jackets among the Old Guard. I asked my husband how that was possible when Princeton didn’t accept women until 1969. He explained to me that it isn’t uncommon for widows to march on behalf of their husbands.

At the time, I pitied them. I thought it was a sad statement on the women of that generation that in lieu of commemorating their own accomplishments, they felt compelled to celebrate their deceased spouse. Five years of marriage changed my mind. I’m now able to understand how after losing the love of one’s life,  participation in a tradition that was significant to that person could make you feel close to him.

It was the inspiration for this scene in Art After 5:

I began to work along Esme, packing everything up. She stopped me when I reached a bizarre orange and black jacket.

“Not this.”

I took a second look at it. Princeton Class of 1986.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize what it was until just now.”

“He’d already ordered his new one. Are you familiar with the tradition?”

I shook my head. “Edward mentioned it once, but he didn’t go into detail.”

“Princeton alumni get new P-Rade costumes every five years. Each class year has a theme, and they dress up. They march through campus and congratulate each other on ruling the world. This beer jacket is from his 20th Reunion. The first time I went to P-Rade, the weather report called for severe storms. Carlisle insisted that God doesn’t rain on his own parade, and when the time came to march, the weather would be perfect. Of course, the sky opened up, and it hailed. It was hilarious, and the last time Carlisle ever made a bet with God.”

She smiled at the memory, then continued speaking.

“You know, as an outsider, P-Rade is kind of an amazing thing to watch. The Old Guard march first, and these guys are in their nineties. You see the occasional woman marching alone in a man’s jacket tailored to fit her. This confused me, because I knew Princeton didn’t accept women until fairly recently. Carlisle explained to me that it’s traditional for widows to march on behalf of their husbands. I didn’t understand it at the time, and the feminist in me was somewhat repulsed. I pitied them, thinking that they must not have any of their own milestones to celebrate. Anyway, I stopped going to these things when Edward became old enough to accompany Carlisle. I’d make an appearance at the tents at some point each weekend, but I let P-Rade be a father/son bonding ritual. Carlisle’s 25th Reunion is this year. I know he was looking forward to marching as a family, since Edward is now a student there. Instead, I’ll be marching as a widow…” Her voice broke, and her eyes filled with tears. “I’m fine. Really. Anyway, everything but this can go. I know Edward will want this.”

I’ve said that there are only two places in Art After 5 in which a character speaks with my own voice. This was one of them. I doubt I would have found Reunions so inspiring were they my own tradition. When I outlined Art After 5, I knew Esme would end up there—in a mens’ jacket tailored for her, marching with the Class of 1986.

Hip! Hip! Rah! Rah! Rah! Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! Sis! Sis! Sis! Boom! Boom! Boom! Ah! Eighty-six! Eighty-six! Eighty-six!

I’ll be cheering her kindred sisters from the sidelines.

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7 Responses

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  1. on 26 May 2010 at 1:50 pmOuiser

    Very moving post today Ms. Sleepy. Hope you have a wonderful time at the reunion!

    Cheers,
    Ouiser

    PS Whenever I read “P-rade” I always think “panty raid”

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  2. on 26 May 2010 at 2:31 pmlovestoread24

    Thanks for sharing this with us. I am not familiar with Princeton traditions, so your story sheds some light on an important moment in AA5. Don’t worry about the next chapter of CP- I am enjoying the anticipation of what is to come ( or cum ?).

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  3. on 26 May 2010 at 3:13 pmSassyk

    Thanks for sharing that with us, I found that quite interesting. Enjoy yourself and behave…sort of… :-)

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  4. on 26 May 2010 at 9:50 pmKate

    Thanks for sharing this! Have fun with your husband.

    I admit I can barely wrap my mind around the concept of taking my boyfriends last name, let alone taking his place in alumni traditions, but I understand marriage changes lots of things.

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  5. on 27 May 2010 at 1:12 pmCarolyn

    Have a great time, Colleen. Thank you for explaining this. I wish I could be part of such a tradition…

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  6. on 27 May 2010 at 8:51 pmMeilleurCafe

    Thanks for giving us some sweet, thoughtful background on this. I wondered if perhaps Esme was speaking from your own experience when I read it in AA5.

    You’ve provided me with a better respect for a tradition that was once only an annoyance because of the traffic it causes.

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  7. on 29 May 2010 at 6:47 amLilly9999

    Agree – thanks for sharing. I love that some points in the story come from RL. Enjoy the weekend – and spread the love!

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