I attended my first Texas Homecoming football game. This is culture shock. I stalk culture like an obsessed lover. I collect books about cultures I have visited, but also those I want to know. I don’t mind being an armchair traveler. I also read as many memoirs about life in foreign places as I can find. But never have I read a memoir about the culture of Texas high school homecoming football. Someone should really write the book and have it illustrated because words really can’t describe the scene. But I’m going to try, because I was too dumbstruck to use my pocket camera and like a dummy my big camera was in another location.
When I arrived at the game and found my friends immediately I was astonished by all the royal blue and white clothing. But what is most bizarre is the accessorizing the students do. The girls wear overalls which in most cases have not only been cut off, but highly decorated much like a scrapbook page. Letter patches spell their names across the derriere, outlined with embroidery. The cuffs are capped with coordinating fabric. Team spirit is splashed with patches and pins on all available denim. Hair is decked with school themed ribbons. There are crazy socks, and mismatched shoes painted or sparkled to theme. But strangest of all is the brooch. It is called a mum. It reaches from one shoulder of the girl to the other, hence the need for overalls to harness the thing in place when it is pinned on. The silk flower is then decorated with every sort of trinket that represents what the girl is interested in. There is usually something like a teddy bear attached in the center of the flower. Hanging from the flower are ribbons, but please imagine this carefully, there are dozens of ribbons and they drape all the way to her feet. Attached are bells, toys, bubbles, bitty bibles, and really anything original they can tuck in will be there. As she walks the ribbons tinkle and flow like a skirt.
There’s protocol with the mum. Freshman and sophomores can only have one flower, and her mum is blue and white. Juniors have silver and white with two mums, and seniors have gold and white with three mums. This information helped me know as I looked at the sea of teenagers draped with ribbons what class they belonged to.
The boys wear garters on their arms. This is a small mum attached with elastic to their bicep with ribbons that usually reach the wrist, and is not at all as extravagant as the girl’s mum.
The problem with this tradition is that the boys give the girl the mum, and the girl gives the boy the mum. They wear them to school the Friday of the game, and again to the game. The mum usually costs anywhere from 40 to a hundred dollars! The best ones are made by the mothers who grew up in Texas and went to some craft class to learn how to do it. But you can order one at a flower shop. The boy has to decide which baubles to include on the mum which is a surprise to her until the day before she wears it to school, and when he looks at the order sheet he is lost. A mother or friend must step in and guide him.
Most troublesome is the situation where a girl doesn’t have a date for homecoming and she has to go to school that Friday without a mum and crazy overalls. There are some rebel girl groups who band together and wear a mum their mothers bought for them. But most girls are too proud to do that. It’s awful for the girl who must endure school without a mum to wear, most of them beg their parents to not have to go to school that day. And that’s simply where my heart gets stuck.
As a mom of boys, I know they are clueless about the social implications of their responsibility to make certain every girl at school has a mum to wear. Usually in a group of friends, the girls have a meeting and tell all the boys who to ask to the dance! The boys seem accustomed to waiting around for the instructions from the girls. And the results for them are heavy costs. At our house the fall garden clean up is quickly accomplished by eager boys who need money to afford the expenses of homecoming.
There’s more. Saturday night is homecoming dinner and dance. Cha-ching, cha-ching for the boys who buy dinner for her and the ticket to the dance. Wrist corsages and boutonnieres are exchanged. The girl still spends more on the event because she went to the nail salon, hair salon, and shopping mall for shoes, purse, and fancy dress. They drive away to dinner, sometimes in a rented limo or bus, and then proceed to the dance which is always lame and they spend the least amount of time there. Meanwhile the parents gather for a dinner at someone’s house to talk about how fast their children have grown up.
There are parties after the dance hosted by some heroic parents, and then the girls spend the night at one house, and the boys spend the night at another. And of course, the boys walk to the house where the girls are supposedly sleeping and either drape the trees with toilet paper, or throw muffins at the window until the girl’s pop their heads out and giggle.
After staying up all night they go to church in the morning and sit on the front row and try to hide their yawns.
Now, if you lived in Europe where they don’t play American football, and you saw this scene I am sure you would think Texans have lost their minds. It’s as bizarre as a crowd being chased by bulls through city streets, or a tomato throwing festival, or a tribal ceremony in Africa where gourds are worn like underwear by the men. You don’t even have to be from another country to think this Texas custom is odd, anyone outside of Texas can be found in the crowd, they are the ones not watching the football game and stagger with gaping open mouths at the sea of teens wearing mums and garters. This Midwestern girl was in that group, and I’m still scratching my head trying to understand it.