Ahhh, fall. I love fall. The colors, the cooler weather, the fun printed leggings. Except, this is South Carolina. Fall means it’s still eighty degrees out and kids are sweating through their Halloween costumes. We went to a pumpkin patch the other day and I got a sunburn and was sweating like a sinner in church.
But I do so adore fall. And hey – eighty degrees is a good bit cooler than it was in late July. I think we topped out at 103, so eighty almost seems like jacket weather. Almost.
Every year a local farm does a little beauty pageant kind of thing for kids to be named Miss or Mister Pumpkin Patch. They do it for each age division. It’s fairly simple, a stage walk in something nice and answering some questions. My kids have done it forever, even Jace. Except this year he’s aged out of the boys division. Once boys turn ten they’re deemed too old, but then, not many ten-year-old boys want to participate in dressing up anymore anyways. So I only enter the three girls into their age divisions. Chase plans to take Jace fishing while the girls are strutting on the stage.
Frankie Ann and Delia’s kids are all still old enough to participate. Nat, who turns ten in December, decided he would rather go fishing as well. So Nathan and Nat plan to join Chase and Jace fishing. Frankie Ann’s husband will be out of town, so she enters Ronan and Raphael into the Mister Pumpkin Patch contest.
Now, before you get on me about putting my children in an antiquated and outdated thing like pageants, this is a time honored tradition in the south and my kids all had the option to participate or not. All the girls love it and I love it for them.
The day of the pageant, and the cutest little cherubs you’ve ever seen are scattered behind the wooden outdoor stage at the Bellamy Acres Farm. Mommies are chasing the younger ones trying to keep them as clean as possible. Who in their right mind puts a two-year-old in a white dress for a farm pageant? It is after Labor Day.
I put the girls in gorgeous fall colors. Savannah’s hair looks wonderful against green, so I put her in a lovely deep green dress. Way too grown up for my taste, but the girl keeps on maturing. I can’t take it. Caroline had on a perfect red, orange, and gold dress that shows off the tan that still sits on her skin. Magnolia’s dress I made myself from gold and brown tulle. Her chestnut curls and baby pudge are more adorable than I can say.
We all sit nicely in the back, Frankie Ann’s three next to us. The twins are dressed in tiny tuxedos with orange cummerbunds. She is trying to keep them still and out of the dust that coats the floorboards. The minute they’re still, Raina and her peach-colored pouf of a dress are dashing off after stray candy.
“You need to give them technology, F.A.,” I say with a laugh. My girls are sitting perfectly still, each with a phone or tablet to entertain them.
“Sometimes I wish I gave in to that,” she said as she picked Raina up again and plopped her next to Ronan. “Sometimes, like now.” She fluffed her daughter’s near-black hair.
“Where is Delia? She’s cutting it close. She hates to be late,” I said, checking my phone for the time.
Just then Delia showed up, arms in the air, bags hanging from her arms.
“I’m here! I’m here! Lottie, come on,” she fussed at Charlotte, who trailed behind her with a super-sized soda in her hands. “Oh my gosh, why did I give her the soda?”
“It’s like those pixie stix they use on Toddlers and Tiaras,” F.A. said. “She’ll be all hopped up.”
“That’s the idea. I want her to be peppy,” Delia said with a wink.
“Mommy, there’s Raina. Mommy, Savvy’s here. Mommy, I need to get dressed. Where can I put this? The floor is dirty. Raphael is sneaking off,” Charlotte rattled off, her body bouncing with each word.
Frankie Ann caught Raphael by the arm and scolded him as she put him back in his seat. She squatted in front of all her children and reminded them that they could get a treat of they behaved for the judges – and for her.
“What’s the treat?” Delia asked as she pulled a silver and purple dress over Charlotte’s head. “Stay still, Charlotte Louise.”
Standing back up, F.A. said, “I told them we could rent that new dinosaur movie and have ice cream.”
Before we could comment, the director came by. Therese Stanton had been running the pageant since forever. A former Miss South Carolina, Therese was the picture of beauty. She stopped in front of us, her blond hair perfectly done, but something was amiss. Her eyes were puffy, like she had been crying.
“We will begin in five minutes,” she said, a hint of a warble in her voice. “If you have a child under one year, be at stage right now. One and two year olds, are next. Then three to five, six to ten, eleven to fifteen, and fifteen to eighteen. Oh, boys are after the five year olds.”
She scurried away quickly to the next group of kids down the line, an exasperated huff following her.
“Wow, she looks so stressed out,” Delia said.
“She looks like she’s been crying,” I noted. “Poor Therese, I hope everything is okay.”
We all shook our heads and resumed readying our children. Magnolia pulled her bow out of her hair, sending me into a slight panic. I quickly used bobby pins to smooth it back out and get the bow in place.
“Momma, are we done yet?” she asked.
“Ahmoshh,” I replied, as I opened another clip with my teeth. Shoving it in place, I looked at Savannah. “You and Cari sit here. We’ll be right back.”
“Yep,” was all she replied. Her face was obscured by her phone.
“Okay, Magnolia, let’s go.” We made out way to stage right and waited. I fluffed the tulle of her dress as we waited for her name to be called.
Charlotte was called first for their age division. Delia shoved her up onto the stage and we all watched as Charlotte strutted in the practiced pattern. At the end she held out the sides of her dress and gave a little curtsy. Delia ran around to the other side while the emcee asked Charlotte a few questions.
The director said the name of the next girl, someone we didn’t know. A little girl in pale pink went up the steps, her makeup overdone and her hair making her a good five inches closer to heaven. I watched as Frankie Ann’s eyes bugged out at the sight of the child. Sure, our kids had one blush and lip gloss, but false eyelashes were a little too extra.
“Up next is Ra-eena O’Malley,” Therese said.
“Raina,” Frankie Ann corrected through gritted teeth.
Therese closed her eyes for a moment, then flipped on her headset. “Next one is rain-uh, not ra-eena. Rain with uh.”
“Oh my word if they get my baby’s name wrong I will flip my lid,” F.A. whispered in my ear.
“It’ll be okay. She corrected it,” I said.
We watched Miss Pink finish and exit the stage.
The emcee announced Raina, getting her name correct. Frankie Ann heaved a sigh of relief. Raina strutted across the stage, winking at the judges as she went. When the questions were asked, F.A. ran behind the stage after demanding that the twins stay put where they were.
Ronan began to follow after her, but I grabbed his arm. “She said the stay put, mister.”
“But I want my mom,” he said, his eyes welling with tears.
Raphael joined in, “Where did she go?”
“Just to get your sister, she’ll be right back,” I promised. I blocked their path while the emcee called another child to the stage. “Come on, F.A.,” I said under my breath when the director said Magnolia was next.
She came running around the corner with Raina in her arms right as Magnolia’s name was announced. I patted my daughter’s shoulders and eased her onto the stage. I watched her sashay across the floor, jutting her hip out at each turn. As she stopped in front of the judges, she snapped her fingers and winked. Oh my word, that child. I suppressed a giggle.
The emcee invited her to talk to him and I ran around the stage, thankful I had worn flats and not heels as I dodged people and chairs. I hollered to the girls that we would be right back as I hurried past and made it to the other side.
“So, Magnolia, you have an interesting name, do you know why your mommy and daddy named you that?” the emcee asked.
Ah, this my child knew. I had named her for my favorite flower. It was also the name of one of my favorite characters in the old movie Showboat.
In her sweet little southern drawl, Magnolia, replied, “Iss a fwower. Um. My momma says iss the pwettiest one and iss her favwite.” She smiled up to the emcee.
I quietly cheered as she was excused and escorted off the stage by an assistant. She stepped off the stage and jumped into my arms. “I did good, Momma!”
“You sure did, baby,” I said as I carried to back to her sisters. We heard both Raphael and Ronan answers their questions with the boys portion.
Caroline was next. My poor middle girl. I always felt like she was ignored for the other children. But the pageants, well, they were her thing. Caroline possessed a beautiful calm spirit and she was the most poised child I had ever seen on a stage. She smoothed out the skirt of her dress and shook her hands loose before looking up to me.
“I’m ready,” she announced.
She glided over to the stage area. Therese Stanton looked her over and raised an eyebrow, nodding with approval. I beamed.
“Caroline Moffatt, you are our first girl for this age division,” Therese told her.
“Thank you, Mrs. Stanton,” Caroline replied, keeping a straight face and even straighter back.
Her name was called and my daughter went on stage. Then my child was “on.” Like a switch, a huge smile was plastered to her face. She made eye contact with the judges and made a perfect curtsy. The emcee invited her to his side.
“Caroline, how do you feel about bullies?” he asked.
I listened carefully as I wove behind the stage to meet her on the other side.
She thought a brief moment before speaking. “People think bullies are no good. But, I think maybe bullies are the way they are because they’re hurting and maybe someone bullied them first. So if we could all just be nice, maybe all the bullying in the world would just disappear,” Caroline said.
“Are there bullies at your school?”
“Maybe?” Caroline answered honestly. “I don’t really know because I try to be friends with everyone.”
The emcee thanked her and showed her off stage. I gave her a big smile as she slowly descended the steps. “Oh, Cari, that was amazing. You are so graceful.”
Stage Caroline was gone and my silly six-year-old was back. “Thanks, Mom.” She plopped back down backstage and picked up her tablet.
“Okay then,” I muttered to myself.
I sat down and closed my eyes for a brief second. I was sweating and my hair was frizzed out, I could feel it. I fanned myself with some papers I had in the girls’ bag. Oh my goodness, I needed a nap and an air conditioner, I thought.
Before too long, it was Savannah’s turn on stage. She was old enough to handle herself, so I just peeked from backstage when her name was called. Delia and Frankie Ann had taken their children up front to watch the rest of the pageant. Once Savannah returned to me, we made our way up front to watch the oldest girls.
When it was time for results, we all sat with baited breath. I always stressed to my girls that it was more about having fun and not about winning, but of course I thought my girls were the best and should win everything.
I cheered like crazy when Magnolia’s name was called as second place for her age division. She received a sweet little tiara for her efforts, and that was all that mattered to her. Raina walked away with first place for their age group and I was overjoyed for Frankie Ann. When Caroline’s group went on stage, I pasted a smile on my face, praying she would place. I was ecstatic when Therese Stanton called Caroline as first place. There was my sweet girl with a Little Miss Pumpkin Patch sash on her shoulder and a hefty tiara on her head. Savannah managed to also win first place for her age group. The former Young Miss Pumpkin Patch placed a tiara on my daughter’s head and a sash on her shoulder. I have never taken so many photos in my life.
While I would have been thrilled with the girls’ efforts regardless, it made the day all the sweeter with all three girls sporting tiaras. Charlotte took third place, and the twins were first and second for the boys’ category.
There’s something magical in the air when fall hits. It just makes me smile and realize all the blessings around me. Blessings like good friends, firecracker daughters, and making memories.