“Momma, I want to be in a beauty pageant.” Now, my mother was an honest soul and she never could tell a lie.
“You have fat thighs. If you were a chicken, Colonel Sanders would make lots of money.”
Ouch, but how true. I was a senior in college and that Freshman 15 had taken on a bigger presence in my life, particularly on my legs.
That one comment of honesty made me jump, run and aerobic exercise myself into shape.
Not only did I get my body in shape, I exercised my knowledge, talent and I learned how to glide across a stage…at the funeral home.
In our state, only one man could help queens achieve perfect poise. Pageant gurus claim his technique was the best in the South, and perfecting it took years of practice and discipline. Folks said he had so many winners he lost count. His accolades included the likes of Little Miss Saturday Afternoon at the Mall to Miss Universe.
One would think Billy’s place of business would be located in one of those bridal/pageant shops that dot our Southern landscape. You would think the owner wore a shade of bruised blue eye shadow and had high ceiling fans in case of big hair accidents. No, to receive a PhD in poise, the queens lined up in procession 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 boasted about the big plug of wax he used to fill a hole in Ann Marie Smith’s leg—an injury she sustained in 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 faithfully traveled 180 miles to Sumter, South Carolina, dressed only in a leotard, high heels, and a smile. All day I did one thing: walk.
“Ankles together, drop back, half turn to the right, half turn to the left, full turn, quarter turn, right stance, left stand, hesitation, line up,” Billy commanded as we negotiated our living bodies between caskets, urns, and “Jesus Called” telephone-shaped wreaths. Billy had set up two huge mirrors: one in the casket room and the other in the “grievin’ family room.”
With all the hours I spent walking, I’m sure I could have traveled to Atlantic City and back. Billy had two rules at the funeral home: 1) When the doorbell rings, run and hide. 2) Always call before you come in case there’s a dead body.
I never ate before I went to see Billy because the first thing he did was get out his trusty tape measure. He kept strict records about each girl’s size. For lunch, I gnawed on hamster food while he ate a Big Jim Double Chili Cheeseburger and a large order of cheese fries. He probably ate that stuff just to test my willpower.
Yes, Billy was the master. He taught me volumes about how good bodies can look—dead or alive. God love him; Billy Harris led me and my thighs to the runway of the Miss America Pageant.
So can you listen to honest advice? Trust those who love you enough to tell the truth; it will be winning moment. Pass this on to those who need a reminder.