LaWanda Bevill—A Kindred Spirit

(1965, age 17)

My mother called her a tramp. She didn’t even know LaWanda. Few people did.

I went to Benedictine Military School in the 12h grade. It was a Savannah Georgia all-boy military school in true southern tradition. We marched around. We fired our M-1 rifles. We wore pressed uniforms with shiny brass breastplates and perfectly polished black shoes. But our teachers weren’t Army ROTC. They were Benedictine priests.

There were expectations for the 35 boys that were in that senior class in 1965. Good grades. Strong discipline. Good character. But this essay relates to another expectation. Students from the all-boy Benedictine Military School were expected to date girls from St. Mary’s Academy. But there was another school in town: Savannah High School. For a cadet to date someone from the “high school” was unthinkable.

But I was not the son of a doctor or lawyer. I was what many refer to as an “Air Force brat.” I didn’t need to date the daughter of some other well-to-do. I was lucky enough to find LaWanda, who was a junior at Savannah High School. From the first time I met her, I knew she was special.

Once we started dating, we both had to deal with our decision. As a cadet, I had to deal with the incorrect conclusion some had made: that I was dating a girl from the high school for less than honorable reasons. That wasn’t the case at all. And for LaWanda, to date a cadet was to lose a lot of friends at her own school. “Too good for boys in your own school, LaWanda?”

We were close and we understood each other very well. Being with her was just easy. No games. No high school drama, especially since we were at different schools. Just quality time when we were together.

Neither LaWanda nor I cared much about what people thought or said. In my case, that even included my mother, who had nothing nice to say about any girl from the “high school.” LaWanda and I were both already hardened; we had both learned to make our own way. Her father, a police officer, had been killed in the line of duty. She lived with and took care of her grandparents, who were both deaf. Petty high-school taunts didn’t faze her. And she didn’t care what my mother thought of her as long as she could be sure how I felt.

Her house was right next to the railroad tracks. By “right next” to the tracks, I mean so close that when a train went by, the house actually creaked as it leaned toward the tracks due to the weight of the passing train. Her grandparents couldn’t hear the train or anything else. Perhaps that’s why she always had music playing. Music only she could hear. And to that music, she danced.

LaWanda was an amazing dancer. I was not. I took her to the commissioning dance at my school, similar to a modern-day Prom dance. She wanted to wear a beautiful black dress that I knew she couldn’t afford. But the night was special and she was going with me. So we both saved to be able to buy it. I pitched in from part-time job at Norwood’s Record Shop where I repaired audio equipment.

That dress was beautiful, especially when she danced. A lively song started from the band and she and I danced. After a few minutes dancing together, I could see it in little moves she was making. It was time for me to just let her dance. So I smiled at her, a knowing smile. I stepped away from her and just watched. She “let loose” and within a few minutes, other couples around us stopped dancing and just watched her dance. So free, so powerful, so mesmerizing. Soon she was dancing all alone. I saw the look on her face: the same look I had seen as she danced to the music only she could hear in her little house by the railroad tracks. She was lost in the music and I was lost in her. I was so proud.

LaWanda Bevill

I followed up on LaWanda Bevill years later. I learned that her love of dancing was to become her career. Unfortunately, I learned this from her obituary, where it said she “loved her community, the children and the arts.” Though she had jobs as in modelling and at the corporate offices of Best Western Hotels and Lodging, her real life-long passion was dance. She owned a dancewear boutique “Just for Kicks.” She was also a teacher at the Joyce Bennett School of Performing Arts in Key Largo, Florida.