The allure was too much.
A crown. The title. Primo spot on a hay bale waving happily in the annual Fourth of July parade that crawled down the town’s only main street. Yeah, I wanted it. I wanted to be Miss Shell Knob.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
And the thing about being queen of a small town is there’s no talent competition, no swimsuit to squeeze into. It’s just about plastic jugs strategically placed about town where folks can vote for you with a few coins, dollars or, if you’re really lucky and enough people know you and your family, a $20 bill.
The girl who collects the most money wins. So much easier than actually having a talent and performing it. And, as I recall, you still get to be queen of the town for a whole year yet the only responsibility, perk or appearance was that center spot on the hay bale hours before the crazy big fireworks display over Table Rock Lake, paid for of course with the pageant proceeds.
Summer before my sophomore year I decorated my buckets. I remember there was a lot of glitter, but that’s about all I can recall.
For me, strategy was the key. And with only a dozen or so businesses in the southwest Missouri community, or at least businesses that people actually went into, you had to pick your counters wisely.
Living in a tiny tourist town, so small the closest high school was a 30-minute curvy drive away, it pays to have a mom who’s a popular waitress at the most popular restaurant where a room size aquarium would lure tourists in by the hundreds each weekend night. As I cleared tables of dirty dishes each night that June, I could hear money being tossed into the buckets, or I’d smile shyly as customers said they planned to vote for me. Oh yeah, I could feel it.
The night the money — votes — was counted many in town gathered to sift through the buckets. My mom and sister came home smiling. They were sure I’d soon be crowned Miss Shell Knob.
Well, I wasn't. My chance at queen had been shattered. The title went to another girl who was spending the summer with the town doctor and his family.
Another thing to know about a small town? Doctors rule.
I settled for Miss Shell Knob First Runner-Up. Only difference between me and her? I sat one hay bale over from the center.