I briefly mentioned the Sub Debs in one of my previous posts and said I was not even going to try to explain them. I am, probably foolishly, going to retract that statement and give it shot.
I remember once trying to explain Sub Debs to a Hollins girl, and soon to be New Orleans Debutante, during a fraternity party when I was at Washington and Lee. Once I finished the convoluted explanation I am about to attempt again, she looked at me and said: “That’s the silliest thing I ever heard of. Either you are a Debutante or you’re not. There is no in-between.”
Like most folks, she just didn’t get Danville, Virginia.
As far as I can tell, Sub Deb Clubs are exclusive to Danville, Virginia. The Danville Debutante Ball had died out several years before I got to High School. My suspicion is that, in a town of less than 50,000 people where everyone knew everyone’s secrets and carried grudges for generations, it became impossible for the committee to agree on 12 or more girls they could unanimously recommend as the Debutantes of the season. And, less face it, in a town that small, it was just plan silly.
Sub Debs are basically High School sororities and were the center of social activity for many of us. They always had a Christmas Dance and a Spring or Fall Dance. As I recall, there were five of these clubs and I’ll try to summarize them below.
I will also say, I expect to be verbally tarred and feathered by some of these girls who will disagree with my assessment. Even after 35 years, these girls, now women, are very loyal to their Clubs and will, I’m sure, call me to task. I will admit I am only speaking as an outside observer.
I will now fearfully list the clubs in order of their social prominence as I saw it then…
1. The Sub Debs: Most of the clubs, as you will see shortly, had initials or names. Not THE Sub Debs. These were the goddesses who walked among we mere mortals. These girls, as a rule, were smart, beautiful, well-dressed, wealthy and from the best families. If there had been true Debutantes in Danville at that time, these girls would have been them. You just knew these girls were going to either going to marry captains of industry or become one themselves.
2. The SBV Sub Debs: These girls were also generally smart, pretty and from good families. However, the initials say it all. SBV stood for “Southern Belles of Virginia.” A lot of these girls ended up at Mary Baldwin College. It was possible for someone who was not a goddess, as I will reveal shortly, to be an SBV. I had a lot of friends in this club.
3. The BFB Sub Debs: I would say the SBV’s and BFB’s were tied as to their social prominence. I know some of my friends will not agree. The BFB’s, or Bare Foot Babes, tended to be smart, more down to earth and the daughters of the professional class in Danville. They were more egalitarian and less likely to be enamoured with the Olde South BS than the SBV’s. These were good, smart girls, who had fun and generally did well in their careers. They were not as focused on husband hunting as the some of the SBV’s were…
4. The JSJ Sub Debs: These were mainly North Danville girls and it was more a true sorority than the Big 3. These girls actually liked each other, were down to earth and didn’t take any of the Sub Deb crap seriously. They didn’t play some of the games that went on in the other clubs. I had a lot of friends in this club also. I think JSJ stood for “Junior Senior Jivers”, but I never quite got that…
5. The AMC Sub Debs: These were the Party Girls, the Good Ole Girls and the girls who liked to drink and have a good time. I think this club folded not long after I left for College. The initials allegedly stood for “All American Male Chasers.” That says it all….
All of these Clubs had semi-formal dances at various places. The Big Three tended have their dances at the Danville Golf Club, if possible. Otherwise, the dances were held at various VFW posts or the Country Club Inn. I don’t remember them being at the other two Country Clubs.
But I don’t remember a lot about those dances. I will tell what I do remember.
My last two years of High School, I went to a lot of their dances. One memorable season, I went to all five dances held by all five clubs. The girls always chose which escort to ask to the dances and sometimes allowed non-member girls to attend.
I was a relatively popular second tier escort as I was reasonably attractive, could dress well, dance, generally hold my liquor and they knew I would not try to attack them in the back seat of the car during or after the dance. In other words, I was a safety escort. There will always be a need for guys like me…
For all the pretense, the dances usually ended up being drunken revelries. House bands of the era played some Beach Music, but also a lot of covers of the more popular music of the era: Arrowsmith, Boston, etc. Not my cup of tea, but I loved going to dances anyway.
I generally hoped that some day they would wise up and book an orchestra that would play Cole Porter tunes. I didn’t get that until College. As I have said before, I just didn’t quite fit in to Danville…
Anyway, I did have some great times at these dances. Remember, this was 35 years ago before Mother’s Against Drunk Driving and when the legal drinking age was 18.
It was a time and place with a lot of rules-spoken and unspoken- and not many chances to break free. We saw these dances as an excuse to lose control.
Looking back, we were very stupid and very lucky. We always kept our booze in the car and drank in the parking lot. Most nights, we spent more time in the parking lot than on the dance floor…
I can’t count the number of people who passed out cold or got sick in the parking lot at these dances. More than once, young ladies had to go home- or to a friends home- without their dresses because they or someone else had gotten sick from too much cheap liquor.
Such was the time and the place.
I’ll never forget one particularly entertaining night when I agreed to escort a young lady after all my friends had warned me not to do so.
At this particular dance, my date proceeded to drink me under the table and throw me in the back seat of the car and attack me. I was not prepared for this and somehow managed to escape. To get even, she went after one of my friends to see if he would be more accommodating- not realizing I couldn’t care less.
He had also had quite a bit to drink. When he basically called her a drunken slut, she physically attacked him and tried to stalk and terrorize him for the remainder of the night.
In the meantime, I ended up in the back of the Band’s truck with his date who taught me that some bras actually unhook in the front. We quickly realized we were just being silly and rejoined the dance while my original date continued to stalk my friend and yell profanity at him until she had to be physically restrained.
It was rather like a low-rent French farce or a Southern Pedro Almodovar film.
But she was from a good family and it was a Sub Deb Dance, so it was all forgiven the next day.
My Mother was fascinated by these clubs and determined that my sister would be an SBV, mainly because some of her chief rivals had daughters in that club. She also thought since I knew so many girls in that club, I could help make it happen.
It didn’t happen. She was blackballed.
I don’t think my sister gave a damn. She always marched to her own drummer and had her own friends. She just wasn’t the Sub Deb Type. She didn’t need an artificial social position through a sorority like some of those girls did.
And she knew our Mother was crazy. I think she also knew this wasn’t about her as much as it was about the mothers.
But my Mother was livid and decided it was all my fault. So she launched a campaign of terror against me leveraging her usual weapon: The Telephone.
I was away at school for my Freshman year at Washington and Lee. Remember, this was before cell phones and answering machines. We had a pay phone if the hall of my dorm and that’s the number my Mother had. Whenever she called, people knew to say I was out.
She didn’t know several of my friends and I had a private phone we shared in the dorm. I never gave her that number. If I was smart enough to get into W&L, I was smart enough to generally avoid the Telephone Terrorist.
But she is and was a very persistent woman. When she finally got me, the conversation went something like this:
“Why didn’t your sister get into the SBV’s? You know all those girls and I know you said or did something to hurt her chances. If you were so popular, I don’t understand why you didn’t help her get in. This is your fault. I know it. I know you did or said something about her that killed her chances. What did you do? I want to know. If my friend XXXX’s daughter can get in there, there is no reason she shouldn’t have.”
And so she kept going for about 15 minutes.
I assured her I had nothing to do with it and that she greatly exaggerated my influence, but I did promise to make a few calls. She still didn’t believe it wasn’t my fault. I think she still doesn’t…
Believe me, I had already left all this behind and moved on. I really didn’t want to get mixed up in these Peyton Place shenanigans, but I knew I would know no peace until I could get her some answers- and hopefully deflect her energy in another direction.
So, what I found out was that her friend’s daughter was actually the one who blackballed my sister.
This particular young lady had been a Baby Beauty Queen, our Honey Boo Boo Chile, when she was about five years old. There is nothing more dangerous than a Southern Belle who peaks too soon.
We were all greatly amused when she got drunk one night, and drove across the greens at the Golf Club, and got arrested.
But we all survived the drama of the Sub Debs. Looking back, it was a fun time, a silly time and way too much cheap drama about things that just weren’t important.
But then, that’s generally was how life went in my little town as I knew it….