Recently I was talking to a friend over lunch about the contests we’ve judged. Of course, we’ve both judged writing contests galore since we know something about that, but we discussed the more bizarre contests.
Years ago, I traveled to the middle of the state to judge a tri-county preliminary Miss Missouri contest. Me? Judging a beauty contest? That’s the bizarre part.
All day we five judges interviewed the contestants on their platforms, which translates to what issue they would address if they were given the crown. Those ranged from encouraging folks to eat healthier to literacy and everything in between.
That night we watched the young women parade across the stage in swim suits, evening gowns, and perform their special talents. We didn’t rank them against each other, but used a rubric to measure how they ranked on a scale of 1-10 in categories such as poise, stage presence, etc.
It all happened so fast. I was scribbling down numbers on a sheet when a runner would snatch it and take it away to an accountant for computations. I didn’t know who won until the crowning.
I remember only one contestant from that evening. She wore a dress that she or her mother had sewn. I could tell because all the gowns I’ve ever worn to formal dances were made by Mom. (They had no boned bodices or sequins on every square inch like expensive store-bought dresses, but I felt like a million bucks in them.) This girl’s talent was signing, as in deaf signing, and she did it to the song “I Hope You Dance.” There was a tech glitch, and she had to stand on stage alone in silence for a long 30 seconds awaiting the music. I looked for “courage with grace” and “bravery” and “grit” on the rubric sheet, but they weren’t there. I gave her a 10 on stage presence. She didn’t win. Didn’t even place in the top five, but in my book, she was the winner. I never hear that song without thinking of her.
My friend shared her experience of recently judging pies. Twenty-six homemade pies of all varieties—apple, cherry, lemon, chocolate, pecan…
“Three of us tasted every pie. It took about three hours, and it took me three days to get over it. I just don’t eat that much sugar.”
The pie judges used a rubric, too. Categories included flavor, texture of crust, viscosity, etc.
“Vis what?” I asked.
“Viscosity. The thickness of the filling. Whether it was gummy or too thin or just right.”
Thank goodness the judges were alone as they tasted and scored since one judge spit out a bite of gooseberry pie. Another pie just wasn’t done enough. The filling poured out of the slice like an egg yolk that breaks in the skillet.
She showed me pictures on her phone of some of the pies. Just beautiful. Tall meringues. One lattice crust sparkled with glitter.
“Sanding sugar,” she said and had to explain to me, a mediocre baker. “It’s large crystal sugar.”
There were more coconut cream pies than any other kind, and one judge said he didn’t like coconut. Really? And he was a pie judge?
Although not for a contest, every day we judge something or someone based on our own experiences, our own preferences, or sometimes for no good reason at all. At the grocery store, I squeeze limes and judge which are juiciest, a common test. At the hardware store recently, I picked a faucet that I judged would work best in my downstairs bathroom, as if I know anything about that.
But then, who’s to judge?
Mike is playing ball at Ryan’s house when he gets a phone call from his mom, who’s at friends’ house, telling him to head home because of an impending thunderstorm. Normally he would have asked to wait the storm out at Ryan’s, but he still has homework and it’s already after five on Sunday afternoon. He rides his bike to his house and goes inside when the tornado sirens start screaming. He checks the local weather on TV and sees a giant funnel cloud on the TV tower cam before the electricity goes off. He and his sister run for the basement. Then everything changes. Although this novel is by definition fiction, the events of the F-5 tornado that devastated Joplin, Missouri, are very real.
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