In the “minor league” pageants there are normally 4 categories on the judges’ ballots: poise, smile, projection, and overall appearance. It does not take a genius to figure out that poise is smile, projection and overall appearance. In fact, poise is everything. I learn how to perfect my beauty queen walk and talk at Billy’s Funeral Home. Billy helped me walk all the way to the major league of pageantry, the Miss America Pageant.
I heard that Billy’s technique was the best in the South and to perfect took years of practice and discipline. I heard that he had so many winners he lost count. His accolades included the likes of “Miss Universe” to “Little Miss Saturday Afternoon at The Mall”.
One would think his place of business would be located in one of those bridal/pageant shops that dot across our Southern landscape. You would think that the owner wore a shade of bruised blue eye shadow and had really high ceiling fans in case of big hair accidents. No, to receive a Ph.D. in poise the queens went in droves to Billy’s Funeral Home.
To say Billy was the master of the human body is an understatement. Dead or alive he was good at his trade. Billy used his funeral home tricks to remedy pageant girl atrocities. He would boast about the big plug of wax he used to fill a hole in Ann Marie Smith’s leg – an injury sustained from a childhood accident. And for a finishing touch, Billy pressed a paper towel over the area to give the wax a “porous look.” He pioneered the fine and delicate art of wearing medical tape instead of underwear or “drawers” as they are more commonly known in the South
Twice a week I would faithfully travel 180 miles to Sumter, SC. dressed only in a leotard, high heels and a smile. All day I would do one thing: WALK. “Ankles together, drop-back, half turn to the right, half turn to the left, full turn, quarter turns, right stance, left stand, hesitation, line up…….,” Billy would command as we negotiated our “living” bodies between caskets and urns. Billy had two huge mirrors set up: one in the casket room and the other in the “grievin’ family room”. Of all the hours I spent walking I ‘m sure I could have traveled to New York City and back. There were only two rules: 1. When the doorbell rang, run and hide. 2. Always call before you come in case there was a dead body.
I would never eat before I went to see Billy because the first thing he would do is get out his trusty tape measure. He kept very strict records about your size. For lunch I would gnaw on Hamster food while he ate a Big Jim Double Chili Cheeseburger and a large order of cheese fries. I think he would eat that stuff just to test my will power.
Some of y’all may think that more than likely Billy was on the “prissy” side. In touch with his feminine side he was but Billy was all man. He eventually opened a beauty queen boutique in the funeral home stocked with swimsuits, acrylic pumps, and beaded gowns. Yes, Billy was the master. He taught me volumes about how good bodies can look dead or alive. God love him.
My memories of my pageant days are priceless. My journey to the Miss America Pageant began at Billy’s Funeral Home. God Bless you, my friend. One way we will meet again on an even bigger stage with a heavenly head judge; it’s the biggest prize of all.