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The Prince of Polka – The Pre-Prom Dinner Dance
by Don Drewniak

The church in Fall River, Massachusetts that my mother and maternal grandparents attended was St. John's Ukrainian Catholic Church. It owned a picnic area in a wooded area on Eagleville Road in neighboring Tiverton, Rhode Island throughout the 40s and 50s.

The picnic area consisted of three weather-beaten wooden structures and an outhouse or two. During the summer months, it was the site of Sunday picnics. One of the three structures was utilized for the sale of liquor. The second for the sale of food: holuptsi (cabbage rolls), pedeheh (same as Polish pierogi), kovbasá (kiebasa) and kapusniak (cabbage and sauerkraut soup). The third was a dance pavilion that always featured an accordion band. And, of course, the music of choice was the polka.

I was probably as young as four when my mother began teaching me how to polka. Over the years, she would farm me out to other “ancient” women. As a result, I became reasonably good at it. The only other dance I managed to master was the briefly-popular Chicken in the late 50s. It involved the flapping of arms and walking backwards imitating a chicken.

With the polka and the Chicken as the mainstays in my dance repertoire, I somehow made it through a few dances held at St. Patrick’s School and Durfee High. Then came my senior prom. Fittingly, my prom date was a Polish classmate, Helena (name changed to protect the innocent), who I dated sporadically during the second half of my senior year. The prom, held on a Friday night, was preceded the night before by a dinner dance at the Pocasset Country Club in nearby Portsmouth, Rhode Island. It featured a band that played mostly rock and roll mixed in with a few slow dances. With just a few minutes left before the band called it quits, I had managed not to embarrass myself on the dance floor.

Then came another of life’s never-to-be-forgotten turning points. The band leader announced that the next dance was a polka. Helena jumped up, grabbed my hand and pulled me out onto the floor. No one else joined us. The music began and we both proceeded to put on a show and, in the process, had the attention of most of those in attendance. The band played and played. We danced and danced.

And then disaster struck. I missed catching her hand as I turned her into a spin. There was a square-shaped wooden support column in the middle of the floor. She spun into it full force. Bouncing off the immovable column, she dropped to the floor. I dashed to her and helped her up. She was physically unhurt, but the psychological damage was irreparable. The drive back to her house was dominated by silence.