This is our filler story to peruse while we are waiting on President Trump’s MAGA Rally in Michigan. We’ll put up another thread, just for the rally, at about noon. We’ll include links and maybe some Michigan info, and we can drop comments there. Marica had good idea to live blog the rally, but we know, she has a grandbaby she is taking care of tomorrow night. Great idea, Marica. I will live feed it, and HOPEFULLY have a whole lot of help from other treepers. Are we set for the party? I made 12lbs of BBQ and scratch sweet coleslaw today. I’m betting I have enough rolls for everyone here. MAGA in Michigan! OR —- should we say KAG in Michigan, cuz we might get a glimpse for 2020 and the campaign for our POTUS tomorrow night!
A friend of mine showed up today to borrow a few item for her daughter who is entering a beauty pageant. I started thinking about pageants…….
Let me start this story by making a broad and definitive claim: There is no woman in the state of Mississippi who would EVER want to be a man. While we worship, adore, and fuss over our men, our kings, we know, the power of being a southern woman is far too great, to ever willingly give it up. Oh no, no southern woman would ever give up her crown. And I dare say, not one woman on this forum, from north/west/ Germany/ Aussie/NZ/UK or our new girlfriend KSwiss in Switzerland would ever give up their crowns……..either. Special attribution to our ladies in Nebraska and Iowa, suffering through floodwaters and decimated communities.
My family was from the midwest. I didn’t understand beauty queens at all. My mother had been a model for local department stores and in Chicago, but I only knew her as a “mom”. Sure, she pulled my long hair, and Grandma made beautiful clothes for me, but fussing over appearance was seen as vainglorious. Knowledge of makeup and eyelash curlers escaped me. In my “land”, women chased the virtues of intelligence, pragmatism, and learned to be thrifty with money. When we moved to the south, my learning curve for “beauty queen” was steep. But when in Rome……
The first summer, going into 6th grade, my parents sent me to a camp at a local private school. My counselor was a former Miss Louisiana. She was nice, okay fine, but I was surprised at how other people reacted to her, especially the young boys in our group, AND the adults. They hung on her every word. True, her voice was like velvet and as comfortable as a grandma’s chicken casserole. Yes, she was a natural on a tennis court. It was my first glimpse at anything like “womanhood” other than family members. I thought, gee whiz, there might be something to the idea of a “pretty and genteel woman”. I was curious, but miles away from being a beauty queen. I was a tomboy, thus handicapped, an un-blond, and known as “the smart and quirky redhead”.
Throughout middle and high school, my parents focused on my education, which was most important. No beauty pageants for me. It wasn’t even on my radar and thought of as somewhat demeaning for a woman. Dad raised me to “think like a man” with “logic and rationale” and “numbers not emotion”. Still, highly polished southern women had a strange power which eluded me. Part of me desperately wanted to be a cheerleader, but I was definitely more of a Student Council President. Besides, my mirror was more than kind, and I never lacked for a boyfriend. I just took my pick from those who showed interest. Easy-peasy, right?
For the second half of college, I transferred to my grandparent’s home and the “land of Mississippi”, and Ole Miss, which is known for “red-shirting Miss Americas”. It’s true, the women at Ole Miss are spectacularly beautiful and their reputation is alive and well today. Yet, I was commuting and working full time, so the overwhelming quest for beauty, as an ultimate goal, didn’t really hit me. I was 19 and working at the biggest employer in our region. Grandpa was a VP of Operations, and I worked as a credit analyst, handling customers east of the Mississippi river. I liked my job, and I thrived. Money and negotiation came easily to me. Everything was fine, when beauty pageant season began…… and I was reluctantly….. drafted as a walk-on.
Beauty pageants have a season, I learned, and the competition is fierce. Little girls and their mothers plan for that one magical year, full of hope, to wear the sash of Miss Mississippi. The competitions start at the local level and then progress through state to nationals. At the last minute, the company/factory wanted “one of their own” to represent them, a directive issued from a new CEO. My grandmother, for decades, was on the sponsoring committee for our region, and she was in charge of counselling the chosen regional rep, on matters of grace, and how to walk, talk, and eat properly. It was a big deal in town. I had noooooooo clue. Yet, everyone around me agreed, I was supposed to be “the one”. I was cast into a pit of snakes and expected to return to work, the following Monday, with a crown. The office cheered; I was forlorn.
Other girls in the competition had moms who were well prepared. A few of them even had teams, for hair and makeup. Not me. Girls planned their wardrobes for years, some even made their costumes. I wore a couple of old prom dresses, a business suit, and last year’s bikini. I wasn’t going to spend additional funds on a lark. Other girls had cue cards, and they were practicing their answers, I had no answer planned nor anything rehearsed. Other girls traveled to Florida the week prior – to work on their tans – while I was dunning clients and pale as a ghost. And yes, the other girls were spectacularly beautiful. Yep, they were the cheerleaders. I didn’t stand a chance and was feeling rather dejected….. until the interviews started.
The judges were locals, Pres of a small college, Pres of Rotary, an older woman who was head of a local garden club and a fine southern woman who sounded like “Glenda the Good Witch”, plus the new CEO of our big company. He had just moved to town, still living in a hotel, and no one had seen him. He was from “land” of upstate New York. The girls were terrified of the interview process and unduly nervous. One girl threw up and no one moved to help her. She never came back – Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection? Normally, I wasn’t scared to talk to anyone, but admittedly their nervousness was rubbing off on me.
The interviews were conducted off-site, in a private home, posh formal living room, at the Country Club. I remember it being warm and happy my old prom dress was off one shoulder. I was the last girl to be interviewed. Girls came out of that room, visibly shaking and wide-eyed. Under my breath, I cursed my office mates for getting me into such a predicament.
When I walked into the room, it looked like an inquisition. Four people sitting opposite and one chair in the middle of the room, for me. I took my seat, after shaking hands with the judges. I knew all of them, they had all been in our home before – except the new CEO, who was obviously in charge of the room.
Beginning questions were primarily background. “Are you a student in college, what are you studying and why? or “Are you working and why did you chose such a field?”, was fairly normal stuff. Then, I got the stupid questions, like, “What’s your favorite color and how does that color reflect your personality?” Huh? What the heck does that mean? I got another question about sports, where I did well – after all, I was raised by men who loved sports. Each judge asked a series of questions and we were obviously working our way up to the CEO’s questions. Finally, it was the CEO’s turn, and you could feel the room pivot towards him. His questions were very different from the other judges.
He asked me why I chose to live in this state, why my state was better than others, what my state offered that others did not. He asked me about agriculture, business, education, weather, and flowers. It was an onslaught of questions in rapid fire. He reminded me of my Dad and the way Dad would cross examine me at a dinner table when debating a hotly contested issue. I responded back, firing to match his tempo. He had my full attention. We were dancing, almost, back and forth, like a tango, and I was following along with no problems. I was enjoying our conversation. I liked him.
Finally, the new CEO dropped a bomb, “How would you recruit new business to the state of Mississippi?” My eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. My wheelhouse. Grandpa was one of the original three who moved the factory to this state. Economic development ran through my blood and was the subject of many dinner table conversations. I started a long-winded diatribe of how to recruit companies. The CEO challenged me, and interrupted me MANY times, on how I would handle particular objections. I seem to recall, at one point I stood up, for emphasis, making my pitch. And yes, when stumped, I said, “Well, if the statute does not work, then you have to lobby the legislature, in person, at the Capitol, to get it changed!” I thought I was convincing and made my case. I gave a couple of examples of how to push legislation. I had seen Grandpa do it, so it was not foreign to me… just part of doing business…..
I came in second place and lost to the well-tanned daughter of a prominent judge. I never expected to win, anything, and was glad it was over. Yes, I returned to work on Monday, with a miniature version of a crown, as “Runner up”. One woman in the office commented, “Well, maybe ‘she’ will break her leg…. and then you could go to state competition…..”, which was astonishing…. but they were serious! I survived throughout the morning with my pic in the local paper. People dropped by my office for congratulations and/or condolences. Was I dead? Should I have taken the week off to go to Florida for a perfect tan? Really? I went to lunch, annoyed. That afternoon everything changed……..
It was the CEO’s first day at work and we heard the gossip/rumble in our office, but he had not addressed the ‘troops’ as yet. Understand, the company was so big, employing thousands, and the new CEO would affect not only the workplace of many people in the town but also the social and cultural hierarchy of the town…. who was “in” and who was “out”. We were all a little apprehensive, including my own grandfather.
Out of the blue, mid-afternoon, the phone rang in my boss’ office. A phone call was unusual for him, he was the pent-up-in-an-office-guy-who-reads-charts-all-day kind of a boss. He nodded, got up, came to my desk, and told me, LOUDLY, the CEO requested to see me about a possible promotion. Could have heard a pin drop…. 14 women in my office section went silent.
No big deal, I assumed. The job I was doing in the credit dept was replacing a woman who was on an extended maternity leave. We knew she was having a problem with her infant daughter, and we were all worried about her baby. I thought, probably, it might be a call to replace her permanently. Sad for her but happy for me. I was torn and did not want to be seen as the winner, or benefitting from another’s misfortune.
I stood up and straightened myself to go and see the big boss. I was wearing a navy blue skirt, crisp white shirt, and a madras printed blazer which was too expensive for my budget. Remember it like yesterday. One of the older women was already on her feet and straightened my collar. She patted me on the back. Was it an “atta girl” or a “goodbye – nice to know you”, like I was going into the lion’s den for a sacrifice?
At the CEO’s office suite, I saw Lois. She was the Secretary to the President and a well known friend of my family. Grandma made Christmas stockings for her grandchildren. She got up, hugged me hard, and said, “They’re asking for YOU! Are you ready?” Her hug was weird and her emphasis was odd. Suddenly it occurred to me, replacing a woman on maternity leave would be a simple task done by Human Resources secretary, and definitely did not rise to the level of a CEO decision. Lois knocked lightly, opened the door, and I walked in……. to my future.
There were four men in the room and my grandfather was one of them, although he NEVER spoke, the entire time I was there. The others were the VP of Sales, who always looked at me in a lecherous way, even in church, and the VP of Human Resources, whom I did NOT like but could not put my finger on a specific reason as to why. Plus, the new CEO, from the beauty contest.
Only a single step into the room and the CEO got up to greet me and shake my hand, vigorously, like he had known me for years. He smiled and his eyes lit up when he saw me. He surprised me with his welcome and familiarity. In retrospect, I guess I was one of the first people he met in our town and he latched onto me. It was strange, he was older and savvy, and I was one so young but we got along beautifully…. for the next 35+years. I surveyed the room and it was WAY different from the last CEO, the man who was my godfather. The “new” guy had definitely moved in. In one corner was a whore-red-velvet upholstered antique barber chair. Where the couches were, a new sleek couch had been moved in, along with a custom pool table (which is in my home now, a gift when he retired). I swear, his office looked like the movie set from the series Madmen. It was swank.
There was only one seat left in the room and before I took a breath, the CEO blurted out they wanted to offer me a territory sales position…. Bombshell! Crossing the room to sit, I was running numbers in my head. I knew the position averaged about $60K a year with commission and came with a company car. Apparently, our state territory rep was retiring and the slot was open. Poe was retiring? News to me….. I looked at my grandfather, who was sitting in the corner. He nodded at me but did not speak. I grabbed the arm of the chair to take my seat. I was fumbling and almost bracing myself with the news of the job offer to replace Poe, who was a legend in the company. Our state territory was smaller than other salesmen, but I would be making, perhaps, more money than my grandfather. How would that work in our family? By the time I crossed my legs, I had a full blown hurricane whirling through my mind.
“So, what do you think?”, asked the CEO, now ensconced behind his desk, “You’re perfect for the job!” He was answering his own questions, “And from what I understand, in the past several months, you already know the customers, right?” He had decided. I was his new project.
Understand, there was never any question in my mind. Of course, I wanted the job. I was already down the road, again in my mind, of working out family ‘feelings’ and other details of training, dropping out of college, packing and traveling.
Before I could say a word, the VP of HR spoke up. He pilloried the idea, “She’s not ready. She will never be taken seriously. She can’t do it. How will she travel. She’ll get lost. She will embarrass us as a company” He went on and on, talking about me in third person like I wasn’t in the room. I glared back at my grandfather, who nodded again but never said a word. Finally, Grandpa motioned toward me and gave me permission to fight and go after the VP of HR, which I did.
“Embarrass the company?”, I was livid, “Like you do?” The man had gorilla eyebrows, and arms so long it looked like they touched the floor. He was so big, he was awkward. “You’re a horrible dancer, a bad dresser, and a sloppy eater. LOOK at you, you have crap on your tie right NOW!”, I was pointing, and, sure enough, he was wearing his lunch. The idea that I would ever embarrass the company was absurd. I would rather die. He fought back and pushed me hard. The CEO and the VP of Sales watched us trade insults like they were watching a tennis match. It was tense.
The VP of HR, unknown to me at the time, really does hate women in business. I’ve only known about 2-3 people like that in my entire life, and he was one of them, but again, I didn’t know it at the time. I was young and naive. Finally, the VP of HR was exasperated and said, “She doesn’t even know the product line!” It was the final straw, and I blew up. The company displayed at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. For years, I was there, with Grandpa, talking about “Autumn Fog” my favorite color of company upholstery, when this idiot VP was still in college! I played with company upholstery samples in my dollhouses! I remembered the process of chrome plating and how it changed the entire industry – it was my grandfather’s prize baby, he developed it. I knew our products. Oh yeah, I knew our product, stone cold. And my final salvo, “Who the HELL are YOU to tell me about our products?!?”
I had cursed at him. It was 1981, and I was about 19-20 years old and in my last year of college. I was a baby. I was in a CEO’s office, with people who ran a large regional employer, and had my grandfather in the room. I had cursed, which was way out of line and might have cost me my job. He could have fired me on the spot. It got quiet in a hurry. Of course, those guys cursed when they were among themselves, but I was a girl. Cursing was a cardinal sin for a woman – but I was rightfully insulted and pi$$$$$$ed. My red hair was on fire.
From the heretofore silent VP of Sales, “Yep, that’s our girl. She’s ready”
I got the job, the car, and was their first female territory rep, the first female executive in the company, the only girl in the big meetings, and the youngest one by far. Through my re-education as a “southern woman”, I learned how to reorient the room in my favor. Gone was Momma’s Avon and Estee Lauder became my new friend. I actually studied old movie icons and how they moved their eyes, then their heads. What incredible presence and power. What woman would ever give THAT up? So much easier to be a rose amongst the thorns.
It was a major turning point for me and for other women in the same office, all led by our new CEO. Before that day, I hoped to be one of the women in the office, working among friends, other women, raising our kids, growing old together. In a flash, I was different. Getting the job gave me a springboard to the boardrooms of Manhattan and Miami. I was comfortable in the role and frankly, ignorant of my “skirt”. It changed everything for me……, the world was new, big, and a little scary, but I liked it.
Yeah, a person, who happened to be an “older white male” (in today’s divisive identity politics jargon), gave me an enormous opportunity, and I ran with it. Yes, others in the company had doubts about me. Yet, I knew what kind of pressure I was under and quickly out-performed other salesmen. I worked my ass off – to prove them wrong.
Thinking back on those few magical moments in the CEO’s office, my entire life would have been dramatically different if he had not plucked me from obscurity in the credit department….., if he had not given me the opportunity and shown me what my life could be. He opened the doors and made me want more, or more precisely, showed me that I was capable of doing more. That’s true inspiration and real mentorship. He assumed I could do it before I ever had an inkling. Yes, he changed everything about who I became. What an enormous gift he gave me….. forever grateful.
All from what I thought was a silly beauty contest. “A lark”, I thought it was. Wow, was I ever wrong and completely misjudged that battlefield. Guess we will never know when opportunity comes knocking, will we? Maybe we should listen more carefully, look more keenly, not prejudge, to see the hidden chances which come our way…., and maybe I should follow my own advice.
Years later, someone asked me to run for Mrs. Mississippi, which is equally as complicated. I passed. My girlfriend Gail, won, which is another fabulous story.
Never did buy an eyelash curler, but I won my own crown, and I’m still exploring that big, scary world.
So, here’s my question to you all. Who inspired YOU? Who gave you your firest real break? What was YOUR major turning point? Did you take the chance or not? Any regrets? Any missed opportunity? What did you learn?
And finally, what do YOU want to do……. NEXT?