An excerpt from Chapter One, "Hope in the West, 1902-1915," of Olive Conran Westhues, Prairie Fire: Autobiography, 1902-1972, Waterloo, Ont.: K & A Westhues, Publishers, 1992..
But all was not hardship on our ranch. The schoolhouse was the center of all community activities, and box suppers were a favorite social event. Whole families attended, parents and children alike. Husbands usually bought their respective wives' boxes at the auction, then gathered their younger children to eat with them. An older girl brought a box of her own and hoped that some bashful young swain she liked would recognize it (maybe from a hint she had spoken within his earshot) and buy it.
I remember one such supper in particular. The teacher's box, you see, usually brought the highest price. Any young man who was labeled "teacher's beau" knew that her box would be bid up on him by less fortunate would-have-beens. But such a young man would ordinarily pay the necessary price rather than forfeit his honor.
At the time of this box supper, teacher was boarding with us. As a trick to the young men, she and Mama filled a beautifully decorated box with all kinds of goodies and put my name in it. That night the teacher carried this box proudly into the schoolhouse while I carried another, just slightly less beautiful, that had teacher's name in it. I understood, of course, what was going on, but felt no anxiety. Sharing such a secret with teacher made me feel wonderfully grown up.
When the auctioneer held up the box with my name in it, its appetizing contents partially exposed to view, the whistling and stamping among the bidders was deafening, and the bidding was brisk. The box brought a goodly sum, teacher's beau having finally given up and let it go to another young man who had already bought his sweetheart's box. The poor fellow was twice unlucky, first for having mistakenly assumed the box was teacher's, and then secondly for having gotten stuck with it when he only wanted to run up the price.
But then suddenly, and yes, a bit belatedly, I felt unluckiest of all. My grown-up feeling vanished. With dread I wondered what the young man would do when he discovered my name inside that box instead of teacher's. I stood very close to Mama and wished I was at home. When the boxes were opened I saw the look of dismay on the young man's face. Embarrassment overwhelmed me. Being both a good sport and a gentleman, however, the young man quickly recovered and directly marched across the room to Mama. "Mrs. Conran," he said, "I bought your daughter's box. My fiancée and I would be pleased if she would eat with us."
All at once the sun shone for me again, and I was seated with all the grown-up couples, eating good food and having the time of my life. That wasn't all. After the supper the dancing began, and this same young man said to his fiancée, "I'll have to have one dance with my second sweetie for tonight." He swept me up onto the floor and I danced my very first waltz with him.
Papa and Mama were good dancers and loved to whirl to the music of a polka or schottish. Not all of our neighbors danced, many belonging to churches that forbade such frivolity. The same neighbors frowned on the play parties we went to in summertime. There we sang for the games we played. Many a night I went to bed hoarse from singing, "Skip to my Lou, my Darling," "Miller Boy," or "Old Dan Tucker." Church people called these games dancing, and such indeed they were.