DISCLAIMER: As the father of a former beauty queen and homecoming queen and as the grandfather of an aspiring beauty pageant contestant, I feel I have certain poetic license here. So before any beauty queen, mother or father of a beauty queen or any sponsor of a beauty pageant decides to take me to task for this post, please know it is written with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
One July many years ago, I was in the little town of Farmerville, near the Arkansas line in Union Parish. While there, I attended a beauty pageant called Miss Louisiana Watermelon. No joke. There was actually a beauty pageant named for a watermelon. It is held as part of the Louisiana Watermelon Festival and the queen would go on to compete in the Miss Louisiana Pageant later in the year—as Miss Louisiana Watermelon.
Intrigued at the prospect of any girl aspiring to the dubious title of Miss Watermelon, I decided to conduct some quick research into beauty pageants.
I already knew about the Queen Dixie Gem Pageant held each year in conjunction with the Louisiana Peach Festival in my hometown of Ruston. I covered several of them in my early years as a journalist. Not content with a big girl peach queen, festival leaders decades ago also came up with something called the Princess Peach Pageant for the benefit of the little girls. Two pageants in one. Bless their hearts.
One Queen Dixie Gem Pageant that I had the pleasure of covering sometime back in the early 1970s languished for a shade under five hours as the bevy of beauties paraded across the stage four separate times—for their initial introductions in street dress, then in evening dress, a return in tasteful one-piece swimsuits, and finally to display their talents by performing interpretive baton twirling to the overture to Phantom of the Opera. It was the beauty pageant from hell.
That’s because the emcee, quite a dashing spokesman for a Shreveport charm school in his own right, rather than choosing snippets of each contestant’s complete bio card on each trip to center stage, insisted on reading the complete biography of each contestant on all four of the trips. And each bio, without a single exception, included some variation of the clincher: “She enjoys the game of love…tennis,” or “She enjoys tennis, the game of love.” That tactic, employed on each of the 37 contestants, did little to shorten the pageant’s duration or to improve the disposition of the weary audience, growing more irritable by the minute.
The real highlight, however, came in the wee hours, somewhere around 1:30 a.m. when, as the judges were tabulating their scores, said emcee whipped out a three-foot-long scroll of paper from his pocket and proceeded with a rhythmic recitation of his list of things to do on a rainy day (In the interest of brevity, I’ve shortened the list by about 80-90 percent of its length.): “cook a meal, vacuum the apartment, water the plants, read a book, write a novel, call a friend, redecorate, play the piano,…sprinkle perfume in your drawers.”
Honest. He said that. I can only hope that last suggestion was meant for his bureau or dresser. At least it momentarily lightened the mood of the crowd that had by then become quite surly.
I also found a Miss Louisiana Swine Festival Pageant in Basile, a town that straddles the parishes of Acadia and Evangeline. It, too, has pageants for the younger girls: Baby Miss, Toddler Miss, Tiny Miss, Petite Miss and Little Miss Piggies but I did not have the courage or inclination to confront a Queen Swine or the princess piglets. I still don’t.
Yet, it’s interesting to contemplate this: The Miss Louisiana Swine winner advances to the Miss Louisiana pageant and that winner goes on to the Miss America pageant. So what if Miss Swine should win Miss Louisiana and Miss America and some enterprising reporter were to trace her lineage back to Miss Louisiana Swine?
I ache for the opportunity to be that reporter.
My less than extensive research soon brought me back to Farmerville and the Watermelon Festival. The burning question that kept haunting me was: Why? Why a watermelon queen when the economy of Union Parish is driven by broiler houses?
Broiler houses are facilities in which baby chicks are taken from the hatcheries and nurtured for their date thirteen weeks hence with Col. Sanders or Popeye’s. It’s big business. So big, that Gov. Bobby Jindal invested $50 million in state money to keep the chicken plucking plant operative there a few years back.
The answer is, there is a Louisiana Chicken Festival, but it’s not in Farmerville. It’s in Dubach in Lincoln Parish, just a short 12-mile jaunt up U.S. 167 from Ruston, home of the Peach Festival. Well, they have broiler houses all over Lincoln Parish, too, so while it’s not in Farmerville, it’s close enough—only about 15 miles away. So why not hold a pageant to honor that pillar of the economic structure?
Think about it. The Louisiana Chicken Festival with the lovely Queen Pullet and Princess Little Chick. Can’t you just see Queen Pullet walking along the runway in her evening gown of beautiful white….chicken feathers, her tiara a beautiful red comb and an ominous ax (to dispatch the chicken’s head, of course) for a scepter?
Of course, if you have a Queen Pullet and Princess Little Chick, you may as well go from the sublime to the ridiculous and have a Miss Louisiana Egg beauty pageant at the same time.
Miss Louisiana Egg? There’s a yolk there somewhere that should crack you up, but we’ll let it lie. Or would that be lay, the past tense of which would be laid?