Monday, July 10, 2017

Looking Back from a Milestone

      How is it possible that this little cutie is now sixty years old? Truth is stranger than fiction. But, since this is a milestone birthday, I thought it was a good time to take a look back.
       If I have to find one word to describe my life, it is Blessed. From the beginning, I was loved and cared for.
       My earliest memory is from my third birthday. I could verify this if I could find the picture we have of me and the little white metal dollhouse I received that day. I remember placing the tiny plastic furniture in each room while sitting next to my parents' bed. Daddy's arm hung over the side, against the white chenille bedspread with pink flowers. Did he recognize  my early interior decorating talent? Was he even awake? That was not important to me. I just wanted to share the moment with him. After all, we were best buddies.
    Now comes the hard part- the most traumatic moment in my young life. I vividly remember the day I skipped home happily from kindergarten with the other neighborhood kids. Rounding the curve to my house, I noticed our car was sitting in the driveway, with lots of stuff packed in it. Daddy met me as I came in through the back door, and gave me the unbelievable news. He was leaving, and Mama and my sister Toni and I were not going with him. Then, the strange words that are stuck in my head forever. "Don't forget. No matter what happens, I will always be your Daddy."
     With the wisdom of hind-sight, I know that my parents handled their divorce extra-ordinarily well.  On that first day, I remember my Mama was crying, and I sat with my three year old sister in the big chair in the living room, trying to re-assure her that everything would be okay. But, I don't recall any angry shouting, no negative words about my Daddy. Not that day, or ever during my childhood.
     Mama just worked super hard, Daddy paid the child support faithfully, and we had a whole community of support. In particular, our neighbors on Fourth Street Circle and our church family at St. John Lutheran Church in Pittsburg, Kansas became the necessary village for my little sister and me.
    We had a happy life, filled with love, and never felt neglected. We visited both of our grandmothers frequently, and stayed for a week every summer with our Daddy, and his new wife. Mama used her tax refund money each year to take us on exciting vacations, and we participated in every free or inexpensive activity we could find. We never described ourselves as coming from a "broken family".
      When sister and I were teenagers, we experienced something few of our friends could imagine - the courtship of our mother. The man who swept her off her feet moved us to a new state just before my senior year, and the adventure continued. There was no bitterness, even though we left our friends and our wonderful hometown behind. I loved and trusted our new step-dad and we gained two new brothers and two new sisters in the bargain.
     In Arkansas, my sister was my best friend. We navigated the strange new waters together, and were fortunate to land in a new small community that welcomed us. Once again, our mom encouraged us to join, participate, meet new people. So, we did. By the end of that school year, we both had lots of new friends. For me, there was one very important new friend. He invited me to the prom, and I knew that once again, God had blessed me.
     As Mrs. James Russell Carlisle, my childhood dreams started becoming reality. I had never really visualized a particular type of house, or a career. What I really wanted was two or three children, and a happy home with their Daddy, who would stay around to help me raise them.
     The three kids the perfect completion of that dream. James and I set about raising them to the best of our ability, and since both of us had been raised in the church, we knew right where to go for assistance. Our kids were raised the same way we both had been, with love. In the process of participating with them in their activities, we all became richer. We didn't wait for the help of the village, we jumped in and became a part of it.

    And where am I now? Well, unless I plan to set some new records for our family, I am certainly past the center point of my life. Our family has grown so much, that we haven't posed for a picture that includes all of us yet. 

Blessed and Happy are still the two words that come to mind. I have dreams yet to fulfill, plans to stay busy and experience new things. But, the most important thing is, I have confidence that this life here on earth is just the beginning. If I don't complete everything I have planned, God has bigger and better plans for me. 
     Sixty is a new horizon, but with Jesus close by my side, I am ready. After all, looking back, God has done a wonderful job of blessing me so far, and He's not finished yet.

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.