Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Practicing Poise and Personality through Pageantry

Something you might not know - I was actually the official Bryant Junior Miss for 1975. Well, at least by default. Here, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story. My high school sponsored a pageant each year, which was affiliated with the national Junior Miss program, a well-respected scholarship contest of the time. The winner of our pageant went on to win a regional pageant, which meant the runner up became Bryant’s Junior Miss. This lovely young lady also won a regional contest. Both participated in the State contest, held that year at Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock. Because of their regional wins, neither wore the title of Bryant’s Junior Miss at that event. I had been the second runner-up. So, logically, the vacant title belonged to me, right?  I laughingly mentioned this forgotten detail at our class reunion, and my sweet classmates awarded me with an overdue tiara.
So, what may you ask, is the big deal with a title, even when a tiara comes along with it? To many young ladies, that title represents recognition for a lot of hard work. Girls love to be reminded how pretty they are, but to be judged the prettiest is not easy. Our pageant in Bryant included several musical numbers, demonstrations of talent by each contestant, and a “runway walk” to show grace and poise in formal dress. The audience at the evening performance saw all of this, but they weren’t present for the interview process held earlier. I remember being very nervous, and also that I was required to purchase a pair of gloves for the occasion. Easier to find in the mid-seventies than they would be now, but still out of my comfort zone for sure.
 Like any competition, pageants can become all-consuming and overdone. I certainly don’t endorse some of the gyrations that parents put their children through all for the sake of winning. Pageant Moms can be every bit as bad as Little League Dads. But, for young people who really display an interest, and parents who are supportive without being pushy, contests of all kinds can be a character building experience for all involved.
Local pageants in particular celebrate the culture of their area. In agricultural areas, they usually emphasize the most prominent crop. So, we end up with Watermelon and Pink Tomato Queens in Arkansas, and in Florida, Strawberry Queens. On a trip to the Plant City, Florida one year, we attended the Strawberry Festival, held on fairgrounds that reminded us of the State Fairgrounds in Little Rock. One display in a large exhibit hall held the gowns of past Strawberry Queens dating back to the 1930s. The local ladies have taken this thing very seriously for a long time.
There is certainly something to be said for youngsters who can help the family with their dirty, labor intensive work by day, and then clean up to don fancy clothes in the evening. It takes a well-rounded young lady to pull something like that off, for sure. In the Ouachita area, some of these pageants are held around livestock shows, so horsemanship becomes one of the judging criteria. A few years ago, we helped some ladies to select just the right cowgirl attire for the Conway County Fair Queen pageant. Glamour, glitter, boots and hats combine to produce some great results too!
When our daughter was three, our hometown of Shannon Hills held a beauty pageant as part of their Fourth of July celebration. This was no easy feat, as a couple dozen moms and little girls were required to compete in fancy dresses and swimsuits, as well as preparing a short talent demonstation. At that age, the costume changes alone are a major accomplishment. The local cable TV channel “streamed” the proceedings live, and the ordeal (oh, sorry, I mean the contest) will live in our memories forever. This is certainly the stuff of family legends!
Most recently, our grand-daughter participated in the pageant at the Fourche River Days held at the Perry County Fairgrounds. Girls from the age of seven months to 15 years smiled, waved and posed to the delight of parents and grandparents. Our nine-year-old coveted the crown itself, but she learned that they don’t just pass those sparkly treasures out to everyone who registers. She is beginning to appreciate the pain and effort that goes into winning any competition.
The lesson in all of this- Anything worth having is worth working for. Congratulations to area youth and their parents who are showing off their varied talents and competing in so many different ways. The prizes won are worth the effort, and you will be stronger for it. Even if your tears mess up your makeup a little bit in the process.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Little Things Can Be Really Big

Kids of all ages are fascinated by miniatures. Little girls love to move furniture around in doll-houses. Many young men have spent hours designing and building an electric train layout, then watching the scale model engine pull its cars around and around, through tunnels and over trestles. The scenery around the tracks can be simple or complicated, with trees, buildings, even small people involved in the tableaux.
A Hot Springs man has taken this idea to the extreme, and his labor of love, appropriately called Tiny Town, has been a popular attraction for generations. It’s all in the details, and we are so happy that he cared so much about every little piece of it.
Another location in the area, Garvan Woodland Gardens, is famous for the large displays of flowers and native plants in every season, as well as a spectacular lighting display at Christmas time. But, one of our favorite areas in the garden features a rustic creation that is constantly evolving. The Fairy Garden is constructed with tiny castoffs and natural material, and prompts dreams of magical creatures and their adventures. We can’t help but wonder what happens when all of the guests are gone, and the little inhabitants come out to play. I am noticing more and more pictures on social media of home-made fairy gardens, and there are even special items being sold in the hobby and gardening stores that folks can use to customize their own little fantasylands.
As a girl, I read a series of books by Mary Norton called The Borrowers. This fantasy centered around a family of tiny people who lived underneath the floor of a house. All of the lost items of the house became furniture and tools for the Borrowers. Postage Stamps became colorful artwork for their walls. Spools of thread were tables and chairs. The adventures began when the some of the younger family members crossed into the world of the larger humans. This fueled my imagination in a huge way, and instigated my love for teeny, tiny details.
The whole idea of “less is more” translates to other areas of our lives as well.  New generations of young couples and parents are starting to enjoy the old principles of fellowship, once again appreciating simple gatherings in homes, as opposed to fancy and expensive events in larger venues.
Many churches have moved from large evening worship services held in the sanctuary that holds the whole Sunday morning congregation to small groups that meet in members’ houses. This enables real visiting and develops meaningful friendships. A popular women’s ministry called Heartfelt Friends refers to this phenomenon as “moving past the foyer faces.”
Our group has been meeting monthly since early autumn, and five “Moms” have enjoyed pampering their seven younger “sisters” by paying attention to the smallest details. Cloth napkins, napkin rings, candle holders and floral centerpieces turn a simple meal into a special event. There is not a big expense involved, as the hostesses each bring a dish, and decorative items they have acquired over years of entertaining. Some of the dishes and table decorations have their own stories and memories of past family dinners with well-loved relatives. With so much emphasis on the smallest things, these dinners are simply elegant.
As we have repeated this process, we have enjoyed bringing special gifts that will help the topics of our evening’s bible study to stay with our young ladies for a long time. At our last get-together, we learned about what was most important to our new friends.

The dinner and study had carried on longer than usual, so our leader was hurrying a little to wrap up since all of us had activities planned for early the next day. As we passed out the simple gifts and snapped pictures, the young ladies began mentioning people in their lives who needed special attention and prayers due to illnesses and other difficulties. We had honestly considered skipping the usual closing prayer in favor of heading to our respective homes. But, it was obvious that ending our gathering without that ceremony was not going to happen. Luckily, someone had started writing down the requests, and we joined hands and prayed together, relishing the love that filled the room. We could have skipped dessert, skipped the gifts we handed out, but the simplest thing, praying together, had turned out to be the most important.
Is bigger really better?  Maybe sometimes. But often, in our day to day lives, taking time to enjoy the simplest pleasures, the smallest details can be very enjoyable. This month, take a look around. Inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places. Often, it’s the little things that mean the most.