October 18, 2008

homecoming mum

it all started one day earlier this year in a conversation with my friend from dallas:

jake: did your high school have homecoming mums?
anneke: i don't think so. is that like a sorority mother? some kind of maternal figure that presides over the homecoming court?
jake: no, mum like chrysanthemum. you know, the big flowers that you wear on your shirt?
anneke: like a corsage or a boutonniere for a formal dance? yeah, i guess we had those.
jake: no, no, no. they're huge, and you pin them to your shirt and wear them around at school all day. they have ribbons and stuffed animals glued to them...
anneke: *disbelief*
jake: you should google it.

so, i did, and i couldn't believe what i found. a homecoming mum looks like a glorified best-in-show ribbon. it's an obscene floral bouquet, streamed with ribbons, often adorned with spirited flair. from what i can tell, it is tradition in certain parts of this great country of ours for high school girls to receive homecoming mums from their parents, their boyfriends, and/or their boyfriend's parents. they affix these monstrosities to their shirts and parade them around during homecoming season. as with any bizarre and materialistic ritual, size matters. the bigger the mum, the more popular the girl. and some of these are big. think: dinner plate. in addition to conducting some google research, i confirmed the myth of the homecoming mum with my texan coworker, and i've been mildly fascinated by this previously-unknown-to-me sliver of americana ever since.

i've been traveling a lot for work lately -- hanging out with our sales force inside retail stores. so, you can imagine my surprise when i found myself in dallas...in mid-october...inside a grocery store. jackpot.

apparently, kroger is your homecoming mum destination:

inside the floral departments, you find walls of unadorned mums just waiting to be jazzed up with accessories selected from the "flair board."

i was so shocked to see this seemingly unreal phenomenon with my own eyes, i started to feel like snapping pictures on my blackberry was producing results akin to those grainy photos of the loch ness monster. if my california compatriots were to understand the true nature of the homecoming mum, i was going to have to capture one in the wild and bring it back to the west coast.

to select my homecoming mum, i had to talk to the experts. i met with two floral department employees at a kroger store in allen, tx. upon going native to procure said mum, my first shock was to learn that homecoming mums can put you back up to $200. lucky for me, allen high school's homecoming had just passed, and i was going to get a substantial discount.

the second shock was the weight of these bad boys. especially once they've been weighed down with flair, a homecoming mum can start pushing a few pounds. when i asked how these abominations are worn, i got a lesson in creative pin usage. apparently, some girls attach their mums to their bra straps for extra support. others go the less-aesthetically-pleasing route and hang them around their necks with ribbon. the florist told me about one girl whose mum was so big that she requested straps so she could wear it like a backpack. a mum backpack.

and that's just the tip of the mum-culture iceberg. i started to ask about who buys the mum, because i'd heard it can come from different sources. i learned that buying your own mum is just about the lamest thing you can do -- it's much more socially acceptable if someone else buys it for you. "but what if multiple people buy mums for you?" i asked, "is it appropriate to double mum?" the answer is yes, and it's not that uncommon. yikes.

it also turns out that the color of the mum is very important. each class has to wear different colors. for example, freshman have red mums, sophomores have blue mums, juniors have red and blue mums, and seniors wear all white.

the mum i finally settled on was a heart-shaped junior mum. it featured a stuffed eagle head (for the school mascot: the allen eagles), a glittery football helmet, sequined streamers, feather boa bits, two(!) whistles, and a cow bell. it was a thing of beauty and a joy forever. i presented it as a gift to my dear friend julie.