Monday, December 29, 2008

Etiquette Lessons

The Durant Hotel ballroom in its glory years.

A conversation about etiquette lessons offered by Mrs. Church and Mrs. Patterson in Flint brought back these memories for Pat McFarlane Young...
In my quest to be "one of the bunch" or, as it was known in the forties, one of the "400" crowd at Flint Central, my typical screwed up teenage mind felt my life would be transformed if only I could attend Mrs. Church's etiquette classes. The culmination of the classes was a dance party in the Durant Hotel ballroom, which all the peons had to hear about in school the next day.

At the time, this quest rated right up there with bleaching a streak in my hair like Nancy Jacks, having an arm full of turquoise and silver bracelets from The China Closet, or a collection of angora ankle bobby socks. I knew my parents would never understand this desire and consider it a total waste of money. But somehow I got the money and enrolled with Mrs. Church. I believe the classes were held at her house in the Civic Park area, meeting once a week for a little more than a month.

After telling my parents some bogus story I would run to the bus stop on Lewis and Kearsley Park Blvd. and catch the bus. It was dark when class ended. The other kids’ parents would pick them up but I had to run like hell to catch the buss. If I missed it, I would have had a hard time explaining to my folks.

Somehow I made it through the classes and even finagled a dress for the dance party. My parents did drive me to the Durant, but I can't remember how I managed to arrange it. I do remember the thrill I felt standing on the balcony overlooking the Durant lobby and going in to the party. The big thrill of the night was that Don Cronin asked me to dance. He later became the mayor and worked with my dad at Darby & Son Real Estate. He turned out to be a very nice, kind man and I always remembered that dance.

Looking back I realize that high school is the hardest time in a young person’s life because they are trying to decide who they really are. It took me many years to figure it out, and I now realize old age is as hard as high school. I'm still searching.

A recent shot of the ballroom before renovations began on the hotel. (Photo by Mellowedee via Flickr.)


  1. Ah, yes, Mrs. Church...

    It was early to mid-sixties when I took dance/etiquette lessons from the famed instructor.

    At the time, I believe Mrs. Church’s residence was located on Neome Drive, a short, narrow, curvy street off Welch Boulevard, near Cook School.

    I was dropped off at her home one evening a week--joining 10-12 other teenage boys and girls. Upon arrival, we would all make our way down the narrow stairs to the basement. There, we would spend the next hour or so learning the art of ballroom dancing--and the graces, too. It was there, in Mrs. Church's basement, that I was schooled in the appropriate way to hold a girl. Now, that was scary!

    Mrs. Church always carried castanets to get everyone’s attention. (I have a feeling they may have been surgically attached to her hands.) Click, click, clicketty, click! Mrs. Church was one-of-a-kind, for sure--unforgettable.

    Thanks for the memories, Mrs. Church.

    Disclaimer: As far as I know, Mrs. Church and theChurchGuy are not related.


  2. Am so glad they are renovating the Durant... I wanted it done 20 years ago. I can't wait to see it when it's done.

  3. Randy, You've dredged up some forgotten stuff there. I was with you in that basement over by Cook school. Some of the most excruciating moments of my youth. What were our moms thinking? That we would somehow rise from the mire by learning the waltz, fox trot and cha cha cha?

    The horror of being singled out to demonstrate some move with Mrs Church and having your hand disappear into the folds of her waist while neighborhood kids peeked in the basement windows taunting and making faces.

    Maybe she thought we would leave there and fox trot to Zookie and the Potentates at the Longfellow dance. I don't think so.

    I think we were the last of an era over there with Mrs Church. Thanks for the memories Church Guy.

  4. My dearest, John (jbing50),

    I was so busy looking at my two left feet that I forgot that you were there, also. It was a traumatic experience, wasn't it? The only dance I ever mastered was "The Freddie."

    I do believe we may be only a handful of people alive on the planet who remember Zookie and the Potentates and their 'hit' single, "Telephony." Yes, I had the 45.

    For more "Zookie" memories, check out:

    1. Hey Beau... I'm Zookie (Gary) :)


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at