Beauty Queens & Lima Beans

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Anyone who knows me well also knows this story. I bring it up each fall around beauty pageant season.  It’s one of my first memories, and better yet, it’s my very first memory of being mad at my dad.

We used to eat all of our family meals at an olive green Formica dinner table. The underside of the table was ugly, cracked, unfinished particleboard which I recall well from all the time spent crouched underneath it, decorating it with my best artwork. I patiently scraped my scratch-and-sniff washable Crayola markers across the rough surface and I thought about what a better surface the adobe hallway walls would be for such a masterpiece.

Our house at the time was small, a hand-me-down home smack dab in the middle of the farm that had been my great grandparents’ then my great aunt and uncle’s. And just like the house, the table, the couch, and just about everything else in it was also hand-me-down. Including my high chair. So I sat in this high chair — just like my older cousins before me had — at this table — just like the wrinkliest people I knew at the time once had.Miss America Beauty Pageant 2011

It was suppertime, and tonight we were having pork chops (yum!), mashed potatoes (yum some more!), and wait… what the heck were these green things…? Mom and Dad sat down around the table with me just like we did for all of our meals. Mom was probably asking Dad about his day… talking cattle, hot weather, the usual. And while they chatted, I poked, I prodded. I sniffed, and I sliced one of the mystery beans in half with my spoon. I smashed it around a little bit, and flicked it to the other side of the plate. Dinner moved along as usual – Dad got up for a bowl of ice cream, mom started clearing the dishes while I polished off the last bit of my taters.

“Eat your lima beans, sweetie,” Mom said. “The Miss America pageant is going to be on soon and you don’t want to miss it!” I shoved a spoonful of beans in my mouth as quickly as I could. I had been practicing my pageant walk in Mom’s pink and white polka dot strappy heels all week for this. But as quickly as the beans went in, they came right back out. These were bad. Something was wrong with them…

How could no one else not have noticed?! As I scraped my tongue with a napkin and pushed my plate away, I shook my head vigorously to recover.

Mom laughed, and at first Dad did too. Then he called me a baby and told me to finish my plate.

Oh gawd. He must have been joking.  I couldn’t put myself through that again.

“Eat up or you’re gonna miss Miss America,” he reminded me.

Nope. Not gonna happen. I called his bluff, scooted my plate away as I weaseled my out of the chair, and sprinted down the hallway for my pageant-watching outfit (swimsuit and heels). Dad was quick. He chased me down, and I was back in the high chair with a spoon in my hand before I knew what happened. Those beans seemed to have multiplied during my short absence and were staring back at me. “You’re not getting up until you’ve cleaned your plate,” Dad said. I could tell negotiations were not an option. My quivering lip was going unnoticed.

Mom was already in the living room sitting on our hand-me-down couch. Dad joined her and shouted, “You better hurry – I think it’s starting!”

My eyes darted around the room for someone to save me. Tears were starting to come and I searched frantically for our dog who I prayed had an affinity for lima beans. That smart pup was nowhere to be found. Oh how I wished I was a dog at that moment. I tried everything… one bean at a time… swallowing them whole, mashing them first, holding my nose, squishing three together and swallowing them whole while holding my nose. No matter what I tried that smell was everywhere and I gagged and gagged at that olive green table.

And that’s when I heard it. “There she is, Miss America…” Bert Parks was singing that famous song, the girls were coming on the stage at that exact moment, I just knew it. And I wasn’t there. I stretched my neck hoping it would Go Go Gadget itself out of the kitchen and through the living room. Useless. My life was ruined. I gagged, I sobbed. It was the worst day of life as I knew it back then.

But eventually, as Miss Texas (the third Miss Texas in a row to take the crown) swooped up that beautiful bouquet of roses, waved her wave, adjusted her crown and wiped away her tears of joy, I thought of the tears I too had shed that evening.

I got my goodnight kisses as usual that night, and as I shut my eyes I replayed the pageant over and over in my mind. The gowns, the glamor, the swimsuits, the shoulder-pads… they were heavenly and the theme song was still fresh in my memory. But just before I drifted off to sleep I thought of the lima beans and said a little prayer.

I prayed that no one would ever serve me lima beans and force me to eat them as long as I shall live, and I prayed that no one would ever, ever find the lima beans that I’d smooshed with all my might under the table and rubbed in until they’d filled in the cracks and grooves of the particleboard. Amen.

1987- Miss Texas crowned Miss USA for the third year in a row

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