BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. — “It’s not about beauty,” explains Chantelle Garzone, 1997’s Miss Chrysanthemum.
“So they have a talent competition?” we ask.
“No,” she says, a bit flustered. “It’s not about beauty and it’s not about talent … it’s about…”
“Nothing!” we think simultaneously.
It’s Bristol’s Miss Mum pageant, and, like a lot of things in Bristol, it seems to be largely without substance.
We’re in the balcony of the Memorial Boulevard auditorium Friday, looking down at 15 beaming, slightly twitchy Miss Mum hopefuls. We’re
marking our cards. It’s like a horse race.
“Twenty bucks says a blonde wins it,” one of us says to the other. “With large breasts,” the other adds. “Has to be a blonde with large
We’ve come to observe the ritual, the premiere event in Bristol’s annual Chrysanthemum Festival. And boy are we excited.
We’re going over the program for the evening and noting that the theme is “There’s No Place Like Home”. Oz references are clumsily woven into the
festivities. A tune from the ’70s adaptation The Wiz is featured. We note silently that there are no black contestants. We guess the rights to The
Wizard of Oz are perhaps a bit pricey for the Mum budget. On with the show….
It opens with Garzone singing. It’s obvious they put this at the top of the evening so that people wouldn’t immediately flee the hall. The
singing, however, was eclipsed by 15 girls, at least 5 completely without rhythm, bounding about on stage behind her, smiling as though
it’s their last night with teeth.
The introductions begin. Someone got out of Bristol. Someone went somewhere and did something. Her name is Amy Vanderoef, they say,
and she’s the voice of Ms. Frizzle on PBS’s “The Magic School Bus.” She’s young and blonde. She’s saying something. No one’s listening. We sit
like Linus Van Pelt and Sally Brown, hearing nothing more than strange, warped trumpets.
In order not to damage the reputation of our fine mayor, we’ll refer to him as Groucho Marx. Groucho likes Bristol. Groucho likes Bristol a
lot. He yells a lot about it into the microphone. Groucho says that these contestants represent “the finest city in the country.” Nuff
Remember giving an oral report in the fifth grade, the one about Treasure Island? Then you’ll understand how easy it is to forget the
little things … like your name, your age, and where you go to school. Bristol’s finest, the girls you hated for having straight teeth and
bouncy hair, bumbled over the simple details of their own identities.
And yet somehow one really can’t enjoy it. There’s a sense of embarrassment. Not for the fact that you’re there on a Friday night and
paying attention, but embarrassment for them, displaced anxiety floating about, infecting you, an inner cringing for them.
They ask the girls some questions. It’s impromptu. “Why do you like to be a girl?” Ms. Frizzle asks Amanda Warzocha.
“Because we get to dress up and shop a lot,” Warzocha answers.
Groucho smiles, we’re sure. We want to laugh because we think we’ll cry.
Fast forward. More music. More smiling. Dancing. Fumbling. A lineup is made of young beauty queens: Ms. and Little Ms. Soap Box Derby, Ms.,
Junior Ms. and Little Ms. Bristol, Ms. and Little Ms. Twirl, and Ms. Junior Sweetheart. Just in case you’d like to expose your daughter
to this kind of thing.
A blonde won. We knew she would. Really, they were all excellent candidates. They have to be because they represent the Mum.
“You just have to be a good person,” says Garzone. It’s not about beauty or about talent. It’s not about anything. Remember?
Also see this counterpart piece by Hila Yosafi.
Joe Wilbur and Amanda Lehmert are reporters for Youth Journalism International.