Tonight, sitting around a table with a group of girlfriends, we discussed those awkward teen years. You know the ones where you look back at pictures and wonder why your mother let you go in public looking like one of nerdy Steve Urkle’s cousins or the ones where your bangs were super fried by a spiral perm and sprayed 6 inches above your forehead with White Rain hairspray.

During the peak of my awkward stage, my childhood best friend Deanna decided she wanted to be in a beauty contest. Whatever she did, I did. If she wanted to go to the mall and make a music video to Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me, we did. Her, the rocker chick singing in the microphone slinging her highlighted hair to the beat. Me, the one playing the keyboard trying unsuccessfully to do the snake, a dance move I am anxiously waiting to show up on dance floors again. If she tried out for cheerleading, here we went. Me being cut in the first round and her ultimately making head cheerleader. So when she decided she wanted to enter the beauty contest at the county fair the summer between 7th and 8th grade, we filled out the entry forms printed in the local paper and went looking for dresses.

Keep in mind this was in the late 80’s when girls in our part of the country still wore hoop skirted ball gowns to pageants. After trying several of what looked like replicas from the closets of the characters on Gone With The Wind, Deanna ended up with a puffed sleeved sweetheart neckline pale pink hoop skirt dotted with white lace and dainty little pink ribboned bows. I ended up with the only thing they had in my size, a shiny royal blue satin hoop skirt.

The day of the pageant came and the lady at the beauty shop fixed the most valuable asset I had, my long flowing auburn mane in a sponge rolled frizzed curl side ponytail complete with a white lace and royal blue bow. My Moma did my makeup, some of her Clinique powder, peachy blusher, a dab of mascara and some pink shimmer lip gloss but no eyeliner even though I begged and pleaded for it. Apparently, I was nowhere near being old enough for eyeliner even at the mature age of 13.

All the contestants crowded in a tent behind the stage waiting our turn. The tent, a loaner the funeral home used for graveside services, trapped the August heat beneath the hunter green canvas. All us girls sweltered, mascara running and curls falling. Except for my side ponytail. It was teased up so much it would take two days before it fell flat.

First, they called Deanna. As she floated across the stage with grace and poise rarely exhibited by a 13-year-old girl, the announcer began, “Contest number 5 is Deanna Leach, daughter of Robert and Ellie Leach, her hobbies include cheer leading, swimming and talking on the phone.” She twirled in front of the judges making eye contact as she slung her cascade of curls over her shoulder. They were mesmerized.

Next was my turn. Outweighing all the other contestants by at least fifty pounds, the announcer, a weatherman from Channel 4, started in, “Contestant number 6 is Valerie Kemp, daughter of Donnie and Jackie Kemp…..wait, I wonder if this little lady is kin to the Kemp’s that own the grocery store.” Oh Lord, I prayed, please let him just announce my hobbies as boring as they might’ve been. Not the grocery store. He continued, “I stop there every time I’m in Ashland City, best fried pork chop and biscuit around. And that Mr. Kemp always makes sure they have chitlins’ when I want to buy some. You know stores in Nashville just don’t carry them anymore.” As he continued on about my parents grocery store like it was a paid advertisement, I made my way across the stage, missing half the turns and not even remembering to stop and make eye contact with the judges. I was too busy looking down trying to maneuver that giant blue hoop skirt and praying the announcer would quit talking about pork products.

I don’t remember if Deanna won that night or not. We didn’t care. If you were a contestant, you got to ride rides for free after the pageant at the fair that night. We changed out of those enormous hoop skirts and rode ride after ride hair sprayed so stiff with ozone depleting Paul Mitchell freeze spray, it didn’t move. Even when we rode the Scrambler. Now that’s some good hairspray.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.
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