beauty is a light in the heart."
- Kahlil Gibran
"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
In 1989 when I first went to work for The Vicksburg Evening Post, I had one demand. And it had nothing to do with money.
Please don't ever make me cover the Miss Mississippi Pageant, I told my new boss.
In my almost eight years at the Post, I never once was sent to the pageant as a reporter. Since the state pageant, a preliminary to the Miss America Pageant, is usually in July, a summer intern got the coveted assignment.
Truth be told, some newsroom folks actually clamored for the pageant beat and were gloriously happy when it was awarded to them. Thanks be to those folks.
If I were on a couch trying to help a head doctor determine the derivation of my disdain for pageants, I suppose we might trace it to my own pageant experience.
Even now, I shudder to think on it.
To this day, my mother contends it was not her idea to enter me in the pageant. She says someone requested I be a contestant.
There were no runways or spotlights, no preliminaries or practices. And certainly no scholarships to help my parents pay my tuition to Merry Morning Kindergarten or first grade.
Prepped to compete
It was a two-hour affair. The Little Miss Grenada Lake Pageant.
The primping and preening my mama put me through prior to the pageant were intended to make me look heavenly, but it was pure hell.
I barely recognized the 5-year-old blonde scowling at me from inside the mirror. My hair, big from being professionally pouffed at a local parlor, was, I'm certain, the envy of my peers.
And the makeup didn't stop with lipstick.
"I did something else to you I don't even want to remember," said my mother, clearly still uncomfortable all these years later. "I darkened your eyebrows.amp"
There was no talent competition. No expensive evening gowns to buy or make. No questions about politics or world peace.
Only one phase of competition. Swimsuits.
As much as we've tried to force this recollection from our collective memories, my mother and I vividly recall my swimsuit.
It was a hot little number. One-piece. Turquoise blue with white daisies scattered about. With bright yellow centers. My white sandals rubbed blisters on my heels.
The red splotches on my legs and arms? Pre-pageant hives.
The title - and the tiara - were not to be mine. Maybe it was the hives. Maybe the scowl.
The winner got a parchment certificate and her picture, tiara atop her head, - in living black and white - printed in the newspaper.
I got taken out to the Monte Cristo for ice cream.
Even now, I still figure I got the better deal.
Contact Leslie Criss at leslie.criss@djournal .com or (662) 678-1584. The 2010 Miss Mississippi Pageant preliminaries begin Wednesday in Vicksburg. Final evening is Saturday and will be broadcast on Tupelo's WLOV.