The Lovely Girls Contest
The Rose of Tralee contest started last night and was all the talk on the radio and around the kettle at work today. I'm not sure I understand how it manages to draw in a million viewers when no one will ever admit to watching it. But, being as this is the silly season, the talk radio especially gets a lot of mileage out of it. Is the Rose of Tralee outdated? Does anyone care? Is it really just a Lovely Girls contest?
The Rose of Tralee is sort of like the weather - it's subject matter for idle chit-chat with people you don't know very well. While I was waiting for the kettle to boil this morning, one of the students who is working over the summer asked me if I was watching the Rose of Tralee. I shook my head and then she asked me a question I've never been asked before. "Did you ever have any ambition to be a Rose?" (There are, after all, International Roses, including a Chicago Rose.)
I decided it was time to come clean about my past beauty pagent involvement. No, I'd never had any ambition to be a Rose, but I was once Little Miss South Park and I competed for the title of Little Miss Parma. The suburb I grew up in, Parma, had an extensive park district and they would have summer activities at all the parks. It was a great way to pass the summer afternoons - by going to your local park and participating in arts and crafts or organized games or whatever was on the schedule for that day.
The suburb also had two "beauty" pagents each year - Miss Parma and Little Miss Parma. Miss Parma was your standard Miss America type pagent, minus the talent portion. Little Miss Parma was the junior contest and it was for girls between the ages of 5 and 10 or 12 (I can't remember now which). To compete, you had to be registered for activities with your local park and had to win at the local park level. Then, on a Friday night in June, the contest was held near the big fountains in Parmatown mall.
This wasn't any scary little-girls-parading-around-like-miniature-women-creepy contest, like the ones you were subjected to endlessly during the whole Jon-Benet Ramsey thing. No, this was a wholesome sort of popularity contest. Girls weren't allowed to wear make-up or nylons for the contest. The big prize for the winner was getting to ride alone in the back of a convertible in the Fourth of July parade. Any girl who won at the park level also got to ride in a convertible in the parade, but the losers had to ride three to a convertible.
I was never the girliest of girls, but I really wanted to ride in a convertible in the parade. I don't know why - I just liked the idea of waving regally while perched on the back seat of baby blue '57 Cadillac convertible.
I can't remember how old I was, but it was the last year I was eligible to compete, so I was something like 9 or 10. I'd been going to South Park for activities for weeks, so I knew the counselors very well - three college kids - two boys and a girl and they seemed impossibly mature and grown-up to me. The day of the competition, Suzanne, our babysitter, curled my hair and encouraged me to practise answers by talking into the curling iron, while she held it like a microphone. I was a little nervous so she tried to loosen me up by encouraging me to swear, which just caused me to collapse into a fit of giggles because I never had the nerve to utter a single swear word until I was 13.
The competition at the South Park contest was not very tough. I think three other girls showed up and I won fairly easily. I was confident and smiled and answered in complete sentences such tough questions as "What is your favourite television show and why?" (The Dukes of Hazzard because Bo and Luke are cute.) and "What do you want to be when you grow up?" (A doctor, probably a pathologist.)
I won the title of Little Miss South Park because I knew the judges and was comfortable with them. At the big night in Parmatown Mall, I was a disaster. I didn't know anyone. The crowd seemed impossibly large. I forgot to smile. I don't even remember much of the contest at all. I do remember seeing a picture in the local newspaper the next week - the subject of the picture was the little cutie who was sitting in front of me. Cutie is grinning up a storm and in the background, you can see a scared little girl with long hair who looks like she might burst into tears at any minute.
I don't remember if I was disappointed about not winning, since I was going to get to ride in a convertible in the parade anyway. The girl who won bore more than a passing resemblence to Miss Piggy and she smiled maniacally throughout the whole competition. I don't even think she showed up for the parade. She missed out. Riding in a convertible during a parade was everything I'd hoped it would be.
That's the story of my foray into the world of Lovely Girls Contests. Somewhere, in a box in my parents' attic, there's a purple ribbon sash with the words Little Miss Parma and a picture of a little crown, all made out of glitter.