It’s just like clockwork. It begins about 2 p.m. on Christmas Day after the presents have been opened, the house has tissue and empty boxes strewn about and the family is kicking back and relaxing. My nose starts to itch. Not the kind of itch that you can scratch. This itch begins somewhere high up in the nostrils, and by now I should know the signal. My annual post-Christmas cold is about to begin.
This year I was prepared. I dashed madly up the stairs to find the new super-duper nasal spray that has been advertised on TV. According to the ad, just one sniff in each nostril and I’ll barely even know that I have a cold.
On the second day of the Miss Missouri USA pageant, Miss Columbia 2003 Kelley Rohlfing eased into the competition but still felt slightly confounded by its unfamiliar rhythm. The format departed radically from her usual pageant routine. For one thing, the swimsuit and evening gown competitions preceded the interview, and meeting the judges after they had sized her up onstage struck Kelley as odd. Instead of the in-depth group interview, she got four-minute stints with each judge. Still, she was getting the hang of it, and the vague anxiety she felt gradually melted.
The weeks before the pageant had been punctuated by bouts of insecurity. Did her body look good enough? Were her legs toned enough? She had been bracing for an on-stage standoff with a few pageant friends and fellow contestants who crossed over from the Miss Missouri America pageant who she knew would be tough competition.
‘Do you want to read the story with me?” Traci Stiles asks her 3-year-old daughter, Gillian, while brushing the bangs back from the child’s eyes.
Within seconds, the story of Madeline comes to life in a mother-daughter chorus. Traci and Gillian say the words at the same time, their voices rising and falling like music. Traci holds the book while Gillian snuggles next to her, arms wrapped around her teddy bear. Gillian’s 4-month-old sister, Libby, gurgles happily on the floor.
For the uninitiated into national pageant lore, the distinctions between the two U.S. competitions, Miss America and Miss USA, are usually fuzzy. Despite the similar basic format and the relatively frequent crossovers by veteran contestants, those involved in the two pageants are acutely aware of the differences.
Starting out in 1920 as a bathing beauty contest and a marketing ploy of Atlantic City entrepreneurs hoping to spur traffic to the resort, the Miss America pageant has changed with the times. As the century progressed, the concept of the “ideal woman” swelled to accommodate more than someone fit, vigorous and “able to shoulder the responsibilities of home-making and