My husband’s loose lips (or more correctly his loose finger tips) when he recently got blog-tagged by Regina Wilshire and revealed not only unknown parts of his past, but of mine as well, have reaped his (undoubtedly) intended result: I, too have been blog-tagged by Alcinda Moore.
As I’m sure you’re aware, when someone visits this chain-letter equivalent upon you (a visitation, by the way, that is spreading throughout the blogosphere like the flu and for many of us is probably about as welcome) you are asked to accept the challenge of revealing 5 things about yourself that other people don’t generally know…and then pass the joy along to 5 other unsuspecting souls.
As my darling husband did, I will comply with the former requirement and skip the latter, since I don’t really know that many bloggers who won’t have already been tagged in the game. But, in my case, the buck really will stop with me, because I won’t sneak in a revelation about someone else that puts them on the hot seat. Thanks, dear!
Okay, here goes:
1. Yes, it’s true. I was crowned Miss Hot Springs (Arkansas) in 1972 and competed in the Miss Arkansas pageant that year; clearly, since he didn’t say I was Miss Arkansas or Miss America, I did not win the state pageant or compete beyond that point. It was my first and only pageant and it was the state winner’s 23rd pageant; as my parents put it: experience won out over beauty, talent, and brains!
For my talent presentation, I sang “Yes!” from the Broadway musical 70 Girls 70 , which you’ve likely never heard of, unless you’re a real Broadway trivia hound. The song was of my sister’s selection, a number that she really liked on Liza Minnelli’s Liza with a Z album that was popular at the time, and a really great show tune. (From the link, you can even scroll down to listen to Liza sing the song herself.) I felt I performed it well, but I would probably have been better off singing something more familiar. Streisand or Billie Holiday, for instance. But here I am, in the yellowed newsclipping from long ago, singing it for all I’m worth.
I served out my year of ribbon cuttings, performances, grand openings, parades, and assorted other ‘duties’ and eagerly turned over my tiara the following year to the new winner, a dear friend and high school classmate of mine, Rhonda Kaye Pope, who did go on to become Miss Arkansas 1973 and was Miss Congeniality in the Miss America pageant.
2. Dan is not my maiden name, although most people mistakenly assume so. My first name is not Mary; it is Mary Dan, a good old Southern double name. I am named Mary after my mother (Edith Mary) and Dan after my great aunt, Dan. Actually Dannie. She was my maternal grandmother’s sister and possibly the dearest person on Earth to me growing up. Like many foolish young ladies, I went through a phase of not liking my unusual name, partly because of being mercilessly teased by the boys about having a boy’s name. I even insisted, for about a year or two in junior high school, on being called just Mary; thus, my junior high school cheerleader megaphone sports only the first half of my name in yellow script across its CJHS Spartan blue surface. Soon, however, it dawned on me that being named after a person so fine, so smart, generous, stoic, loving, and hard-working, so dear to me and so beloved by all who knew her was a great honor that I should (and still do) treasure. By high school, the cheerleader megaphone was proudly emblazoned with my whole name once again…albeit in HSHS Trojan black and gold. (If any man doubts it, see photo from 1970 below). To this day, it is a serious pet peeve of mine to be referred to as just Mary. Those who know me never do.
3. I play the piano for pleasure, however I have a deep and abiding phobia of playing in front of other people (aside from close family) that tracks back to my 4th grade piano recital in which I went blank on the middle two pages of a song called “The Cotton Gin”. I sat, eyes locked to the keyboard, for what seemed like an hour to me, but was probably more like 20 or 30 seconds. I picked up somewhere later in the piece and finished it, stood up, took my seat with the other pupils and never ever played the piano in public again. I continued to take lessons for a number of years, but managed somehow to injure my hands in some way (playing kickball or tether ball or dodge ball or softball) and be unable to perform at the recital.
Actually that’s not entirely true to say that I never played in front of other people again. Once Mike and I hosted a party at our house in honor of Mozart’s birthday. There were probably about 12 or 14 people there–all friends of ours–and we’d had a lovely time with lots of good food and plenty of iced vodka. In my case, it was just enough vodka to get me to agree to play a few numbers on the piano and not so much that I couldn’t. I played a little Mozart, a little Chopin, and a little Bach and acquitted myself nicely. But momentary success didn’t cure me as momentary failure had scarred me; the phobia persists and getting that perfect titration of ethanol in the bloodstream isn’t as easy as it might appear. It’s far likelier to get just over the “enough” line and have all your fingers tangle in knots on the Minute Waltz. I’d sing in front of a million people, but play the piano…fuggedaboudit!
4. My childhood ambition was to compete in the Olympics in track and field. I could sprint; I could high jump; I could broadjump with the best of them. I wasn’t ever much of a distance runner, more speed than stamina. Unfortunately for me, when I was in junior high and high school there were no Title IX regs that now make sure female athletes get a shot. My high school was large–about 1600 people–and our class graduated 413 kids. We were the state champs in football that year and 7 points from being the state champs in basketball. Our track team excelled, too; a guy I dated back then even set the state record for the shot put. But we didn’t have a girl’s track team or a girl’s tennis team or a girl’s basketball team. So now, with 50 receeding in my rearview mirror, the dream has transmographied: I’d just like to go to the Olympics.
5. I once crashed the Oval Office. As some readers may know, I grew up across the street from former President Bill Clinton, who back then was just Billy to us neighbor kids. In fact, one of the parades I rode in during my Miss Hot Springs tenure was the Bill Clinton Day parade during his first close-but-failed campaign for Congress. (He lost narrowly in that race to long-time incumbent John Paul Hammershmidt.)
Not long after Clinton had taken office in April 1993, Mike and I were in Washington for the launch party being held there for a book titled Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock(Knopf 1993) written by Jack Butler, a good friend of ours.
Our friend Jack was on NPR doing a publicity interview for the book and a former student of his (he was a dean at a small liberal arts college in Arkansas then) phoned in during the interview and told Jack he was working in the West Wing and asked if Jack and his wife would like a tour of the White House while they were in town. Jack mentioned that they had friends from Arkansas with them and thus we got invited along on the tour. Jack knew of my childhood association to Clinton and we laughed that it was a good thing that he had connections to get us in the door, since, unlike my siblings, I am totally a-political and didn’t have connection one anywhere along the way except at the very top.
We dutifully appeared at the guard house at the appointed time, got our badges, and were escorted in by Jack’s student and given the West Wing tour, which ultimately wound up in a good sized antechamber. He pointed to a closed door and said “Shoot. The door’s closed; that means the President is in there working. If it were open, I could show you the Oval Office.” And I piped up and said, half-jokingly, “Just knock on the door and tell him Mary Dan is here and I’m sure he’ll let us in to look around.” He chuckled, but I repeated that if Mr. Clinton wasn’t with somebody, I felt sure if he knew I was just on the other side of the door that he would open it and at least let us peek in. So the kid disappeared into an adjacent office and in a few minutes, here came Betty Currie to tell us that unfortunately the President had had a number of unexpected commitments added to his calendar and he wouldn’t be able to see us.
I, of course, was crushed, no less so because our friend Jack began to tease me: I thought you had connections at the top. Well I guess your connections just aren’t as good as you thought they were.
Rebuffed and with my feathers seriously ruffled, we moved on to the Press Room, complete with podium, blue curtained backdrop and oval White House Press Room sign. Everybody else was inside taking pictures standing at the podium and I was sulking in the hall with Jack’s student.
Suddenly, just outside the airlock doors at the end of the hallway where we stood, there he was, flanked by secret servicemen, walking in the breezeway between the Oval Office and the residential part of the White House. Between us were only the two doors of the airlock. Totally out of character, I pushed open both doors, stuck my head out and shouted “Hey, Bill!”
Okay, major protocol/ettiquette breach right there, calling the President by his first name, let alone bursting through the door unannounced and without permission. It’s a wonder I wasn’t ‘taken down” by the Secret Service right there.
Lucky for me, The Prez turned around, recognized me, waved and said “Stay there, I’ll be right back.”
The kid said, “What do you think we should do.”
I said, “I believe the leader of the free world just asked us to wait; we’ll wait.”
We all trailed back to the antechamber area and shortly, amid a flurry of activity, including a camera woman to record the momentous occasion, we got ushered into the Oval Office for an unscheduled visit with the President.
At that point, we became a hot comodity for this very enterprising young man. He lead us through every nook and crannie of the place, getting us admitted with “These are VIPs from Arkansas who have just been with the President in the Oval Office and they’d like to see (fill in the blank) and the doors magically opened. We were even treated to a personal tour of the residence by the Curator of the White House, Rex Scouten. It was fascinating.
That night, at the big book launch party (at the Washington home of other friends of ours) the talk of the party was of my crashing us into the Oval Office, which got reported in the Washington Post and then picked up back home in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, which carried a caution to other Arkies headed to the capital: please do no expect to get in to see the President without an appointment.
Oh, and here’s the photo.
We were dressed for sightseeing and museuming and had no clue that we were going to be able to get an audience with the President in the Oval Office, thus…Mike, jacketless, sleeves rolled up and looking more like the White House gardner than a visiting “VIP from Arkansas”.