There were four girls and three boys in the Vernon Family. Clevus was the eldest and usually the most obnoxious. The eldest girl, Tully, would be the first Vernon to leave Contentment in over a century. Then there was Julie Ann who caused family scandal by marrying a Yankee soldier she’d met over at ‘Camp Rucker’,
Next was Bessie Sue, who was somewhat dramatic and ended up being married three times, the last to a man who became known as ‘Uncle Rat.” Georgia Grace was the last girl and mostly who we’re going to talk about in this story.
The next to the youngest boy was Johnny Paul whose marital struggles, and skill with both drinking and guitar playing made him a legend in Mulberry County. Lastly, there was the baby, Billy Ray, who became famous for something he swore he saw in Hogwalla lake.
Georgia Grace, out of four sisters, had been born with a non-functioning thyroid. This meant that if she smelled chocolate cake, she would instantly put on ten pounds. The fact that she, like all the Vernon girls were fantastic cooks (who liked what they cooked) made it a sure thing that Georgia Grace would be tipping the scales at just over 500 pounds by the time she was sixteen.
The county’s doctor, Woodrow Smart (who also owned a cattle farm) would put Georgia Grace on one of the farm scales because they were the only ones she wouldn’t break. He checked her for everything from diabetes to hypertension, figuring that that amount of weight couldn’t be good for anyone.
Georgia Grace was, however, both healthy and agile. She wasn’t what anyone would call ‘flabby.’ She was a solid young woman, able to walk, run, cuss, fuss and hold her own in a bar fight if she needed to. Not to mention that, she, like all the Vernon girls was blindingly beautiful.
Georgia Grace had lovely dark auburn hair that she kept in a bouffant. Her green eyes were slanted slightly to give her feline look. She had dimples in both cheeks and two under her full, lush lips.
Georgia Grace never lacked for male attention. Clevus had to threaten the boys away with his shotgun sometimes. Georgia Grace was content with her popularity, and never seemed to have higher ambitions for herself.
Until the Rattlesnake Round-Up of 1967.
Each year, there was a celebration of all things rattler in nearby Bucksnort. It was a great chance to see the varmints up close without stepping on one. Citizens watched in wonder as the rattlesnake wranglers captured, milked, and occasionally got bitten by these reptiles. Vendors sold rattlesnake boots, belt buckles and shirts that had the event name plastered all over the front and back.
You could even, if you had the hankering, buy yourself food that had at least some rattlesnake in it.
But that year, the Bucksnort town fathers added something different: A beauty contest.
Through some politicking, they even fixed it so that the winner of this beauty/swimsuit/talent competition would qualify to enter the Peanut Festival Pageant in Dothan. From there, the winner could compete in Miss Alabama.
Georgia Grace found out about the contest, and put in to be a part. Her family all tried to talk her out of it. They tenderly tried to explain the kind of girls that would be in the contest. They were experienced pageant contestants, probably first competing while they were still in utero. They walked, talked and dreamed beauty pageants. It was what they lived for.
And not one of them was over 120 pounds.
‘The Vernons tried to explain that the judges at the contest were out of town folks, some of them all the way from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As beautiful as Georgia Grace was, they would not likely see or agree with her view that ‘ bigger was better.’ Her family loved her, and didn’t want Georgia Grace to get her feelings hurt.
Turns out, they shouldn’t have worried. Georgia Grace was strong about what she believed in, and after the Good Lord, what Georgia Grace believed in was herself. If she wanted to do or be something, by heavens it was going to happen, even if she had to shake the earth trying.
The night of the contest, Georgia Grace showed up in her red Buick, right on time. When she stepped out in her robin’s egg blue and sequinned evening gown, a collective gasp came from the crowd. Some wit compared her to the Statue of Liberty. Another person, who’d gone to school at Auburn, disagreed–no–she was like Hera, the queen of Greek goddesses.
Georgia Grace, aka ‘Hera’ took her place amongst all the other contestants. These girls weren’t mean to her because they’d all been hanging out together their whole lives, and they were friends. They also knew that Georgia Grace could pummel them into the pavement if she wanted to, and they all respected that.
The Vernon siblings all showed up and sat on the bleachers that had been built for the event. The M.C, Paul Heckford, who moonlighted as an Elvis impersonator over in Muddy Gully, started announcing the girls.
Beauty after beauty sashayed around, beautifully made gowns showing off all their assets. Clevus hooted at the ones he liked until Eleanor Grace near about knocked him out with her purse.
After she did that, he’d look at the girls, start to open his mouth, look over at his bride, frown and shake his head. Eleanor Grace only had to lift her purse in threat another four or five times.
Georgia Grace took her walk, the stage creaking a bit underneath her. Billy Marler, best friend of Johnny Paul hollered out, “Man, that gal is healthy!”
Next, came the swimsuit competition. The girls all walked in front of the judges, in lovely, sexy creations of virtually every color imaginable. Then, here came Georgia Grace in a Tweety-bird yellow one-piece. It was decorated with lace and buttons and let me tell you, she was stunning.
“Wow, that gal is healthy!” Sam Crittenden, Clevus’s best friend exclaimed. His wife, Fern Ellen followed Eleanor Grace’s lead and raised her purse threateningly.
There was a mixture of shock and delight when Georgia Grace placed in the top five.
The women came back out in their evening gowns to be questioned for the ‘intellectual’ portion of the contest. Paul Heckford faced the excited young women with a gentlemanly, somber gaze.
“Okay, ladies, this is it. Using as much educated language as you can, I’d like you to describe your life’s ambition.”
Sally Fursby, a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like, answered first. “I’d like to create some muffins that we could send everywhere, and if you ate them, you wouldn’t want to have war no more.”
Linda Sue Johnson, who looked something like Jill St. John was also concise in her ambitions. “I want to travel all around the world and teach girls how not to clump up their mascara. Be a beauty consultant to stars and royalty.”
Pollybeth Snooker, sister in law of Suebeth Snooker kept it simple too. “I’d like to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that lasts for ten years and doesn’t need to be stored. No one would ever go hungry again.”
Rochelle Parrish who looked a bit like Minnie Pearl, but had a great body smiled tenderly when her turn came. “I’d like to gestate.” She said.
The Judges (all men) turned bright red, and seemed to choke for a moment. “Can you repeat that ma’m?” M.C. Heckford asked, “Tell us a little bit more about it?”
Rochelle nodded firmly causing her bosoms to rise up and slap her chin. “Gestate. I wanna have lots of babies. I want to gestate.”
M.C. Heckford, looking more flustered nodded. “Well, God bless you Ma’m. I’m sure that is a mighty fine ambition.” He turned to Georgia Grace, who had been patiently waiting for her turn. “Last, but not least, what is your ambition, Miss Vernon?”
Georgia Grace stepped forward, and as she did, Billy Samples started to encourage her by hollering out how healthy she was, but Clevus stomped his foot just in time to make him stop.
“I want to start a restaurant for skinny people,” Georgia Grace stated. “I think it would be a great success.”
“Explain, Miss Vernon,” one of the judges pressed.
Georgia Grace stepped forward and took the microphone out of Paul Heckford’s trembling hands. “Well you see, I wouldn’t have to have hardly any supplies at all. Whenever you’re out with a thin person and you eat somewhere, they have half a bowl of mashed potatoes and they are ‘totally stuffed.’ Or, they eat a bite of fried chicken and say ‘they just can’t eat another bite.” I could probably feed a hundred of ’em on three cans of beans and a can of English peas.”
Georgia Grace won the pageant hands down.