Entering contests has never been something I liked to consider. I know only too well my limitations. My mother, for example, would often look at me, shake her head, and say, “I don’t know what I am going to do if you don’t keep growing!” I had often thought the same thing and needed no reminder. My older brother spent a good deal of his time instructing me in my homeliness and stupidity. Not having the traits of beauty or family connections, I grew up well aware of my drawbacks and too wise to draw attention to myself or suffer certain defeat.
Anyone who entered the movie theater on a particular day participated in a drawing. I was certain I would not win; however, my heart always beat faster before the winner’s name was announced. One day, wonder of wonders, I won -- a $5 prize -- to me at the time a fortune. I was not going to tell my mother, but knew my brother would not allow such a failure. I was sure she might tell me I would have to give her the money -- we were very poor. Surprising, she said, “Well, you won it; it is yours.” I spent that money thousands of times while fondling the bill itself until it was well worn. Then I saw the “wise” use for it, a two-piece bathing suit. Today, I could possibly wear that suit to church without a problem, but it was a shocker back then! In all honestly, the clerk told me it was a sale item and could not be returned. Who would want to return such a beauty? Swimming was a delight for me even if my mother insisted that my brother accompany me to the pool each time I went. I showed my suit to everyone, with my brother saying to my mother, “Surely you are not going to let her wear that.” Wear it I did every chance I got. No one back then had extra clothing.
Never did I think my prized possession would cause me trouble; however, my mother was waiting for me in the kitchen with two straight backed chairs, one for me and one for her. Today, I remember the occasion as the last one I had to enter the interrogation room. I knew my small town was having a beauty contest but never once would I have thought of entering. Beauty contests were for petite, beautiful girls rich enough to buy many outfits. I was none of the previously mentioned. However, a gentleman, possibly trying to be polite, had called my mother asking if I could represent his store. Who knows what she told him. I would never have been so foolish; however, I no longer was allowed to go to the pool with or without my brother and never saw my beautiful bathing suit again, not even in a rag bag after her death. Can you imagine my reaction when one of the students at CHS asked me to be in a fund raiser in school -- a beauty contest?
The school was frequently having contests, most having to do with teachers. I remember there was one in which students could pay a fee to vote for their teacher and get to put a pie in the winners’ faces. When I was asked to participate, I assured the spokesperson I would do no such thing. She said, “Oh, Ms. P or Doctor J (I was called both), you would be sure to win.” She thought I feared losing; what I feared was winning. Such a practice could only assure I lost some respect. I refused to budge and replied, “That is what I fear. I am certain I am not mature enough to be involved.” What happened was what I anticipated -- one of the winners had the pie barely touch her face, almost like a kiss, and the other had the pie violently pushed into her face, knocking her off the stool. I thought the contest was a recipe for disaster. Students later wanted me to participate in a basketball game -- teachers against students. Although I had the height, I did not have the stamina and the youth.
Students did involve me in contests I did not enter and could not have hoped to win. One was being named the wittiest female teacher every year that they had the contest. Another was having the annual dedicated to me one year and co-dedicated on another. What English teacher ever had such treats? When the school offered financial incentives for student achievement, I was involved and a winner every year. After all, student achievement was my job, and overseeing a “zoo” was not my goal. Two of my greatest compliments of all time came from students. For example, one boy told another who was pushing boundaries, “You had better leave her alone; she just looks sweet.” Another, now a teacher, replied to her principal’s question, “Did you misbehave in Ms. P’s class,” with “Oh, no, we might have missed something.”
Contests may teach the limitations of a person. I know mine. I am not yet old enough to be the oldest person in town; age has lessened my chances of being the tallest. I plan to spend my last years calling as little attention to myself as possible.