“You could shake my entire family tree and not one debutante would fall out!” – Miriam Oehrlein

By Ann Ipock

"You could shake my entire family tree and not one debutante would fall out!" – Miriam Oehrlein

As a child, I was always fascinated with beauty pageants – the glamour, the sophistication, the rush of adrenaline – heck, the importance of it all. Each year, my sisters, my mother and I would gather ‘round the TV and watch Miss America with all the hoopla, critiquing each contestant and picking our favorite. Sometimes I would imitate a ballerina – being the clown that I was, make that a bad impersonation – and everyone would crack up laughing. Or someone else would try to sing along with a contestant, being silly and hitting all the wrong notes on purpose.

I was also fascinated with friends whose mothers – attractive women with high-powered careers – worked outside of the home, a pretty rare thing in the ’50s and ’60s. Maybe that fascination was because those particular friends took piano lessons and wore stylish, expensive clothes: Ladybug, John Meyer or Villager. Oh, to live that life! I considered my family sort of plain. I never saw a Fortune magazine in our home or a copy of Entrepreneur, though we subscribed to Readers Digest and National Geographic. (But in all fairness, my father, now 86, is definitely an entrepreneur. He and my mother own a strip mall, and he is an accomplished woodworker, having built too-many-to-count pieces of furniture, including a complete solid red oak seven-piece bedroom suite when our daughter, Kelly, got married. All of this with a high school education, but not college. He would tell you now that he graduated from the School of Hard Knocks.)

Yep, I was a dreamy-eyed, impressionable, sensitive kid who simply wanted to be a movie star, a singer, a dancer or anything bigger than the boring, small-town feel I felt then – and though I went on to act in community theater productions in Murrells Inlet and Georgetown, I never got my SAG card or hit the big screen. I equated all of this “stuff” in my childhood to success, prestige, a pinnacle; as if you had “arrived” and now held a ticket to a perfect future. Of course, I was only twelve-years old, what did I know?

In my teen years, I became fascinated with cheerleaders – probably because of the cute boys on the team and the revelry and close-knit group. I even cheered for the Cardinals in high school, complete with red-and-white uniforms, pompoms, megaphones and teased hair! What fun! But later, while many of my friends were joining sororities – another mysterious, “what is this?” society, I never joined one. Instead, I graduated from a community college and lived with my parents during those two years.

However, the most enigmatic of all the “girls’ clubs” was achieving the status of debutante. In order to be one, The Terpsichorean Club, a private, ultra high society, formed in the 1920s, decides which young girls will be selected. This is based on their families’ contributions to North Carolina’s economic, cultural, social and civic life. The girls are then presented to Society at the annual Cotillion Ball, resplendent in their beautiful white dresses, pearls and sturdy names, which sound more like law firms to me. Collins Stovall Anderson, for instance. The debutantes – “debs” for short – are accompanied by their family and a male escort to the Ball. Also a half dozen or more activities take place over the frenzied weekend; teas, luncheons, lawn parties, etc. To tell you the truth, I must confess that even now while reading the Sunday Raleigh News and Observer, I love perusing the bridal section, which lists the debutante’s “coming out” year in the bride’s write-up.

What I’m trying to say is I now know that success has nothing to do with what club or society you’re in, what beauty pageant you won or how many pedigrees or diplomas you have. It’s what you do with your life AFTER all the glory, glitz and glamour. In that vein, I was recently discussing this with my friend, Miriam. She said, “Honey, you could shake my entire family tree and not one debutante would fall out!” She is hysterically funny, and she has a dry, wicked sense of humor! Now get this: A native of Greenville, South Caroina, and a graduate of Clemson with a biology degree, she now owns Miriam O Jewelry and was the winner of the Belk Southern Designer Showcase in 2012! She is a successful business woman, mother and wife, and may not be a debutante, but she IS a designer of jewelry, much admired and quite happy, thank you very much!

I guess dreaming, longings and fantasies are just that – not reality – though it surely helps to have all of this as a writer! I certainly don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being a debutante, a sorority sister or rising to the top as a (cough!) movie star. Settle down! But it’s not the end-all, be-all.

Still. I wonder how Margaret Ann Morris (my given name) would’ve looked on my Crane vellum stationery with my Mont Blanc pen and my very best curly cue handwriting – sending thank you notes to all of the dignitaries and officials who selected and supported me as a debutante.

About this writer

  • Ann Ipock Ann Ipock, the first Sasee hat recipient, is the author of the “Life is Short” humor trilogy. She currently writes for four publications and lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, with her husband, Russell. www.annipock.com

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