Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell


middle age

A Touch of Royalty

West Davidson High School Class of 1980: Susie Swicegood, Tracy Bauernfeind and Lisa Jacobs
West Davidson High School Class of 1980:
Susie Swicegood, Tracy Bauernfeind and Lisa Jacobs

Along with soft sweaters, pumpkins and the red tinged leaves of the dogwoods, I am certain that fall is in the air when my husband mentions going to the the county fair. When I was young, my family attended the Davidson County Fair but these days, it’s the larger Dixie Classic in Winston- Salem. At the fair, my husband, Perry’s goal is to eat his way around the midway in search of the perfect cheese steak sandwich, hamburger and bowl of chicken and dumplings while I look forward to the fried apple fritter that comes at the end in “Old Time Village”. In between, we pass the carnies hawking their games, listen to kids screaming above rock music on the Himalaya, stroll through the wilted flower, art and photography exhibits and of course visit the livestock barn. This is when the goading starts. Perry says, “Honey, don’t you want to get on stage? Doesn’t it bring back memories?” We are walking close together and he elbows me. He laughs and makes a sound like Dr. Evil.

Now, there’s no need for you to curtsy, No, no, save your knees. But lest you forget let me remind you from the comfort of my Birkenstocks and mom jeans that once I was a Beauty Queen.

For those of you who know me, you know I am not Beauty Queen material. I am not sure  how I earned this honor, but thirty-five years ago, I was somehow elected to be my high school’s representative in the Miss Davidson County Fair Pageant. I certainly felt inferior to the other queens. Our school’s “Miss West Davidson” was the beautiful Lisa Dawn Jacobs. Even Lisa’s name was pretty. Twenty years after we had said goodbye to our Candies and shoulder pads, she still had the same Farrah Fawcett hairstyle yet appeared ageless and completely in vogue. As part of her duties, Lisa rode atop a convertible wearing a beautiful dress and fur wrap for our town’s Christmas parade. She had long since mastered the queen’s wave. Lisa was stunning.

The next queen was our school’s Homecoming Queen. My best friend, Tracy Bauernfeind won this esteemed honor. As I recall, this queen was voted on by the football players; therefore this queen had to be a lot like Sandra Bullock: beautiful, well- liked by the guys and not a skank. Tracy was and is beautiful. Clean as a whistle. Because it was 1980, Tracy also wore her hair in the same Farrah Fawcett hairstyle as Lisa Dawn Jacobs.

The third Beauty Queen, Miss West Davidson County Fair was arguably not a beauty queen at all. As I recall, she simply had to be liked enough by her class-mates to be voted in, which of course means she could not be hated by most of them. This eliminated many of the beautiful and truly popular girls because many of them were not well- liked. I was too non-confrontational to have a beef with anyone and besides, I got bonus points since I grew up handling livestock and driving a tractor.

On the day I heard my name announced over the intercom, I could not believe my good fortune. What an honor! Yet, my thoughts quickly turned to dread when I began to wonder what I would wear. I was a tomboy and had not actually worn a dress since the fourth grade. My sister generously stepped in to assist in my transformation.

The single duty of our high school’s representative would be to compete against girls from the other area high schools at our county fair. The judging was held on a Thursday evening at the fair grounds in the same barn and on the same night as the semi-final judging of the cattle and other livestock. Every year my husband points out this was no coincidence.  “You know the fair organizers used the same judges for the Queens that they used for the Holsteins”, he says and I’ve no doubt he’s telling the truth. In the afternoon, Elsie the cow was led in wearing her new stiff black halter and in the evening, I wore the equivalent ensemble, courtesy of my sister and The Dress Barn. When nerves almost caused me to have an accident in my underpanties, I only needed to look offstage to the right and feel comforted that Elsie had already broken that ground for me!

Any bit of false confidence I might have felt vanished as I walked onto that stage. Hundreds of pairs of eyes in the audience and the distant mooing of Elsie and her friends made me feel as conspicuous as a cow headed for the slaughter house. I made it down the runway on my 4″ heels without falling on my face or tackling the other contestants, but whatever occurred at the end of the ramp I cannot recall. Anything could have happened. Were there questions about starving children in third world countries or feeding the homeless? Was there a swim suit competition? Did I yodel or play chopsticks on the piano for the talent competition?

This, I do not know for sure.

I do believe, however there is an inner mechanism that prevents us from processing too much trauma. Mine kicked in whenever I reached center stage that night. I froze. I am certain Elsie the Cow, chewing on a cud, looked more intelligent than I did that night. My husband still teases me that when I was asked a question by the emcee, I simply stomped my hoof two times for “yes”, and three times for “no”.

He’s merciless, really… 

Needless to say, I did not win. I apologize to my classmates with whom I most surely let down. I feel bad my sister worked so hard in giving me a beauty overhaul. Personally, I confess, any regret I have over my failure to bring home the blue ribbon sash stems  more from a personality flaw of competitiveness rather than vanity. Admittedly, I am a little sad I will never again be a Beauty Queen, but then again, a tiara just wouldn’t be appropriate for the rest of my wardrobe.



Reduction Cooking

ImageIf you’ve ever watched “The Cooking Channel”, you’ve probably heard the term “reduction cooking”. This culinary process involves heating a liquid such as a stock or a sauce on the stove, uncovered. As the mixture simmers, various ingredients will evaporate at different rates allowing the remaining flavors and ingredients to become more concentrated.

In life, this process is not unlike “trial by fire.”

All of us experience trials of some sort, some of us certainly more than others. Many of us have lost partners and seen the break-up of marriages. We’ve lost homes and incomes and insurance. We’ve had health scares. We’ve lost parents and children.

We’ve lost much of ourselves, too, but were usually too busy to notice…

I don’t have to tell you this is a scary place, but what I do want to assure you is that there is no need to be afraid. This process of “trial by fire” has a secret and often overlooked component. In the midst of having to give up so many false forms of security, we’ve found surprising strength in places we didn’t even know we had. We have discovered an inner resilience, the ability to learn and excell at new skills, the ability to take a situation at face value. We have found that even stripped of much that we hold precious, we are still standing, only a little worse for wear. We’ve found support from all four corners of our lives because during those years we were serving on committees, dropping by food when someone was sick, babysitting a friend’s kid- we were really building relationships that have nothing to do with the business of life but everything to do with our own foundation.

Still, I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t enter this new phase of my life greatly humbled and a little disappointed. I thought by now I’d have it all together. Surely, my 401-K would have another digit. Couldn’t I at have at least maintained my lifetime membership in Weight Watchers? Shouldn’t I have learned to wash the dishes as I go rather than letting them pile up in the sink? As a respectable adult, wouldn’t I floss my teeth every single night? Somehow, I thought I would have acomplished so much more by now. I thought I would be so much “better”.

I was talking with a friend the other day and she questioned the wisdom of our desire to grow up into those stereotypical versions of older age, you know- the “old and wise”-  that we thought we were supposed to. I mean, sure, we need our 401-K’s and our teeth but does some of the stuff in between really matter?

What if the secret to growing old is really growing ourselves young? Remaining vital is willing ourselves to stay vulnerable, to stay silly, to continue to love and have faith in the hard parts and to not take life too seriously? I mean it is “life” and when it’s not, it just isn’t anymore. Maybe in our ideas about growing older, we have it all wrong. 

How do we grow young?

I can tell you by what I’ve seen. We endure. We discover we can adapt. We go on. 

I’ve seen a new beauty emerge in my friends. It’s not the same type of beauty as when we were young and had unblemished skin, flat tummies and breasts that didn’t sag.  This is a reduction cooking type of beauty. An essential and deeper beauty that leaves behind the extraneous and radiates outward like a tall strong tree in the forest, a weathered rock, the scent of fresh cucumber and grated ginger, and a sunrise. It’s a glow that comes from within.

It has nothing- and everything- to do with the temperature.

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