I’ve had two parents enjoying (ha!) brief hospital stays this week, but am happy to report that all parties are home and accounted for, neither needing any radical surgeries or treatments. Still kicking–as they should be. I got an email of clear health from the one who was leaving the hospital (in another state), while sitting in the emergency room with the other. My mother said to me, the next day, “I felt so sorry for you, sitting up here with me.” I said, “I’d have felt a lot sorrier for me if I didn’t have you to sit with.” She considered and nodded, then said, “You win that one.”
Working to help my mom get some things in order, I’ve come across some old pictures. Notably, I came across a stack of photos from my Little Miss Phenix City days. They run the gamut from hilariously confused to hilariously stoic. It appears that I was not the smilingest of little pageant queens.
This is the night after I had been crowned. I walked the runway at some point before the crowning of Miss Phenix City. I had been completely confused and bewildered by winning, and was even more confused and bewildered by having something else to do the next night. In my mind, I won, I was finished, and that was that. Sweet tiara! Now, let’s go dance to the music coming out of the transistor radio shaped like a can of RC Cola that I won. (It didn’t work well, btw. Mostly static.)
Given that I had really not understood the whole process, I certainly didn’t understand why people were cheering for me. I knew why my family was happy, but I didn’t know any of those other people, and couldn’t figure out why they would care. Also, it took a really long time to get my hair to do that, and it was not done without tears. I did not think anything in the world could be worth all that time getting my hair done.
My family, especially my mother, had been very clear with me that winning the pageant wasn’t a big deal. If I won, that would be a fantastic honor, but if I didn’t, that was fine. I was still Lane, and no tiara could make me any better than I already was.
I’ve written before that my school entered me in the pageant. I had no idea I was up for consideration until the school called my mother and told her to get me ready to compete. I think she had a week? So, we ran down to the Kiddie Shoppe in Columbus, GA and she bought me two dresses that were on the sale rack. My favorite was the one pictured above–it was a chick yellow, dotted Swiss, with a crisp white pinafore. I wore a floor length, white cotton sundress, with horizontal seams for the pageant. It had pockets. I loved the pockets.
What I did not love was having to have my hair styled on a daily basis. I did not love having to stay clean. I did not love being kept out of the yard for a week. I was a play-in-the-dirt, rip my tights rolling on the ground, black-edged fingernails kind of girl.
I do remember being excited and happy about my win, but I also remember being quickly disenchanted. I didn’t see that I had done anything special to win, so I wasn’t sure what the fuss was. All I did was walk up and down, and answer a few questions. Nobody had asked me to sing, or to tell stories, or show them stuff I could do…what was the big deal about me just walking around? (I didn’t understand that 90% of the competition had to do with what the judges saw when they took the little contestants out to lunch, out to a playground, and what they saw when they did little group interviews with us.)
Nothing about me had changed, but suddenly I was getting attention from people who hadn’t bothered with me before, and even at 6 years old I recognized it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the tiara. My parents had done a good job making me believe the tiara didn’t make a bit of difference, so I was suspect of people who seemed to think it did. And there was that one rotten boy, who threatened to break into my house and steal it.
When I started writing Destinee, I was trying to imagine what it would be like for a little girl whose world was founded on pageants. I was wondering what that little girl would grow up to be–that little girl whose mother had made her looks what mattered. That little girl whose family put value on her face, her hair, her fingernails, and not her heart, her mind, and her behavior.
But I wanted Destinee to have a happy family. They might not share my values and they might not have expected much from their daughter, but they love each other, and they stick together.
Tell you what, Destinee wouldn’t be looking like a deer in headlights on a runway. She’d look like she belonged there.