To say the least, Leona and Norman were surprised by Pearl’s announcement. They had no idea what the venture would involve, but never once having discouraged her, they asked if she was prepared for all the work it would take to become a contestant, and more importantly, if she knew the rules.
“Oh yes,” she said. “You have to be between the ages of 17 to 25, which I am. You have to be an American citizen, which I am. You have to meet residency requirements, which I do. You have to meet the character criteria, which I’m sure I do. You have to be in good health, which I am, and you have to meet the time commitment, and job responsibilities, which I know I can.”
Pearl was just beaming as she talked. The one thing she did not lack was intestinal fortitude, and pure drive. Leona and Norman had raised her to believe that there was nothing she couldn’t do, if she worked hard.
Leona asked Pearl if she knew that she must first win Miss Alabama, before she could compete in the Miss America pageant. “I do?” Pearl asked. “I believe so,” Leona said.
Pearl didn’t miss a beat. “Well, then I will enter the Miss Alabama pageant, and I will win.” Leona smiled and said, “you do understand that making an effort is often just as rewarding as actually winning. If you do your best, you may not get the prize, but you’re still a winner. I want you to remember that.”
Pearl smiled and said, “I’ll remember.”
Leona knew that she would have to enroll Pearl in a finishing school. She would have to learn how to walk and turn properly, she would have to list a talent, and she would have to be fitted with a gown.
Leona gingerly asked Pearl if she had a particular talent in mind. Pearl thought about it for a minute, and then said, “yes.”
“Might I know what?” asked Leona. Pearl smiled as she said, “It will be a talent that no one else has.” Leona wasn’t sure exactly what she meant but, as always, encouraged her by saying, “Whatever you do, my precious Pearl, I’m sure it will be wonderful.”
Pearl started dancing around as she said, “I told you. One day, I’m going to be famous.”
The first week of finishing school proved to be a little daunting for Pearl. After hours of walking in high-heeled shoes that she had never before worn, her calves and feet were aching. A few tumbles left her a bit more embarrassed than injured, but she was a good soldier.
The olden days of walking with a book on the top of your head, had given way to the more modern “shoulders back with a straight spine,” which allows you to carry out the perfect “strut,” a slightly serpentine path that makes your hips twist.
She was given instructions to never interject “ums” into her sentences, and to be prepared to answer surprise, sometimes ridiculous questions, designed to catch the contestants off guard.
Leona arranged to have the finest dressmaker in town, design a dress just for Pearl. It came dear, but to Leona, seeing the finished garment on Pearl was worth the expense.
The entrance fee was paid and pageant day arrived. With hugs, kisses and best of luck wishes, Leona and Norman watched as Pearl went into a room to get dressed.
To be continued______________