I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be Miss Crawford County.
There was a time, oh, about forty or so years ago, when the whole idea of being Miss Crawford County was a mainstay of my childhood fantasies. That and having a horse. And blue hair.
For the uninitiated–those of you who did not grow up in Crawford County Pennsylvania in the 1960s and 70s–the Miss Crawford County Scholarship pageant was held the first Monday of the opening of the Crawford County Fair. Young ladies between the ages of 18 and 23 were eligible to be nominated as a contestant in the scholarship pageant, a precursor to the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant, the winner of which would go on to the Super Bowl of beauty pageants, Miss America. You see, to the Abercrombie girls, Miss America was the only legitimate beauty pageant. Forget your Miss Teen Something or other, or Miss USA, or even Miss Universe. For us, the only real pageant was Miss America, and to get to the Miss America pageant, you had to first become Miss Crawford County.
My mother, little go-getter that she was, became involved in Miss Crawford County when she pimped some of her former students as contestants. When I say, ‘pimped’, I don’t mean it in the literal sense (c’mon!), for Mum made absolutely no money for her involvement, but her machinations toward getting her girls to wear the crown were no less committed. She was the original pageant coach before anyone had ever heard of such a thing.
I forgot to mention that other thing that set the whole Miss Crawford County to Miss America Pageant experience apart from the others: The Miss Crawford County contestants had to have a talent. They had to perform. My mum’s girls’ talents? Duh. Gymnastics. And, unless you’re one of the twenty or thirty people on the planet who haven’t read The Gym Show by yours truly, Linesville-Conneaut-Summit High School was the only game in town featuring a gymnastics team.
Her first successful queen was one Sandy Steiger who became Miss Crawford County in 1965. Her talent? Gymnmastics. Then it was the 1969 queen Connie Williams–again, gymnastics. She followed that with the 1970 queen Cindy Styborski. Now, here’s where it gets a little fuzzy. Cindy Styborski was an outlier–she was from Cambridge Springs High School, but her talent was still gymnastics. Don’t ask me how that all came about–I was only seven–but I distinctly remember Mum sitting at our kitchen counter gluing silver glitter onto a pair of canvas gymnastics slippers as part of Cindy’s costume. Who knew that girls from Cambridge Springs could tumble?
Apparently, the Miss Crawford County Scholarship Pageant director Miss Arita Lee Blair, the dance doyenne of Crawford County, felt that Mum’s success at
pimping pumping out queens was a talent that would be best served as the Official Chaperone for Miss Crawford County. You see, Miss Crawford County, as ambassador to the entire region, was often called upon to make public appearances. No young lady of such sterling virtue as a Miss Crawford County could be seen out at the Kiwanas or Jaycees without a proper chaperone. Who knew what manner of dirty old Rotary Club men were going to ogle our virtuous Queen? That’s where Mum came in. Arita Lee (who by that time in her life was certifiably batshit crazy) felt that if Mum was good enough to turn out winners, she would be good enough to make sure the winners were properly behaved and the beastly male-dominated environs in which our queen were subjected to were on notice: Don’t mess with Miss Crawford County.
Nineteen seventy-one ushered in the first of Mum’s queens to be chaperoned, Janet Mead from Conneaut Lake. Her talent? She played the piano. While it wasn’t gymnastics, evidently my mother felt she could work with Janet (even though I’m sure she privately felt that piano playing–a lesser talent–was best left to the buck-toothed and the cellulited-thighed, neither of which Janet was). Apparently her chaperoning talents paid off–Janet was second runner-up in the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant. Not bad for the tri-state area.
The 1972 Miss Crawford County was Jan Amboyer. I don’t recall what her talent was, probably because she wasn’t a gymnast (and probably the reason why she didn’t place). The following year, Becky and I were big enough girls to attend the 1973 Miss Pennsylvania Pageant. Our girl Lori Doutt from Conneaut Lake didn’t place, but she was cute and perky, and I wanted to wear my hair all the time the same way she wore hers that night–piled on top of her head in big, loopy curls.
The 1973 pageant experience was Mum’s last, and I don’t know if Miss Crawford County was ever the same after that. Ask Sharon Stone–she was Miss Crawford County 1976. Sharon’s talent? A dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address. I was there and in my naivete I thought she was perfectly awful. Another of my mother’s early protégés Alice Gillette was, in a cruel twist of unfairness, first runner-up and I still to this day think she should have won. Her talent? The perfect trifecta of gifts–she sang, played the flute, and performed a gymnastics routine.
Sharon didn’t need to be Miss Crawford County to go where she was headed.
In Part II of “Quest for Rhinestones”, I’ll outline Becky’s and my humiliatingly hilarious experiences with Miss Arita Lee Blair and the Miss Crawford County Pageant fantasy. Stay tuned.