No one has ever mistaken Nelly Potsdam-Clark for a beauty pageant contestant. In point of fact she looks like a fire plug. And when provoked she can be pushy, grabby and coarse.
Verita, Nelly’s 17-year-old daughter, inherited her father Sidney’s genes. The Clarks are as tall and willowy as the Potsdams are squat and thick, and folks use such words as refined, gracious and polished when speaking about Sid and Verita.
The couple’s marriage has lasted because over the years pushy trumped refined, grabby trumped gracious, and coarse trumped polished whenever things got tense in the Potsdam-Clark household. People call Nelly’s husband “Silent Sid.” Verita had Sid’s quiescent personality, but she had looks that beat all.
When Verita was born, Nelly saw her chance to seize the personal recognition that nature had denied her. Verita was only three months old when Nelly entered her in her first beauty contest–a “pretty baby” competition at the local mall. Verita finished ninth. Verita was sixth in the “Tiny Toddler,” pageant, and won fourth place in a contest to choose the most photogenic three-year-old. For the next four years Verita was either sick or recuperating from a series of childhood maladies, so she wasn’t able to compete. But that time wasn’t wasted. Nelly hired coaches to come to their home and teach elocution, diction, posture, social skills, and body language.
When Verita turned seven Nelly sent her back on the child beauty circuit and she won first in the The Bill Magoony Used Car Good Girl Gala. Nelly reveled in all the attention. Verita barely tolerated it, and Sid shrank from it.
A decade passed with Verita winning or placing high in competition after competition. Verita continued to prep and compete effectively, though reluctantly, in contest after contest. Long before Veritas’s 17th birthday Nelly began planning for the regional round of the Miss Teen Nation competition.
After supper one night Sid and Verita were sitting on the front porch.
“Dad, I don’t want to compete anymore.”
“You’ve been competing all your life. What’s changed?”
“I did it for Mom. I love her, but now I want to quit and get on with my life.”
“I’ll do the Miss Teen Nation, but then I’m through. I won’t compete again.”
“How will you tell Mom?
“I’ll figure it out.”
“I hope you do, dear,” said Sid, quietly.
Verita found a way out when she read the rules of the Miss Teen Nation competition.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the master of ceremonies, “our judges have given me their scores for the five finalists in the evening gown competition. First place goes to Miss Letongaloosa, Verita Clark!” The applause died down.
“Now stand by for our final event, the swim suit competition.”
Back in the dressing room Verita shed her winning gown it was floor length with an embroidered top that covered her shoulders. The gown had scored points with the judges for elegance and modesty. Verita put on her swimsuit.
Standing off-stage with the other four contestants Verita waited calmly for what she knew was coming. Miss Dilltonville spotted it first.
“She has a tattoo! That’s against the rules.”
There was a pause in the proceedings while the officials consulted. Then the master of ceremonies came to the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my unhappy duty to announce that Miss Letongaloosa has withdrawn from competition.”
Nelly rushed back stage.
“What have you done?!”
“I broke the rules, Mom,” said Verita and turned round.
On her back, between her beautiful white shoulders, was a big red heart. Block letters inside the heart read: “I LUV U MOM.”
“Do you truly?” cried Nelly.
“Yes. Truly. But Mom, I don’t want to go to fashion school. I want to go to college and become a social worker. I want to help needy children.”
“And so you shall, my dear,” said Nelly.
Sid made it back stage just in time to join his wife and daughter in a long, heartfelt embrace