Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines

Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines
The Laughing Cherub



THEY WERE TOO short, those few years that we knew one another. The saddest day of my life was the phone call I got telling me that Vergie had dropped dead of a heart attack in her milking barn. She was scarcely 50. Her poor, beautiful heart. She did not eat well. Bologna sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise are not good for the heart. So here I am now at her funeral, remembering how it all began.

I FIRST MET Vergie at the Miss Dairyland Beauty Pageant. The convention center where it was held was enormous, and I had been busy texting my boyfriend, so at first I didn’t notice it when Vergie wandered by mistake into our hall, the registration area for all of the beauty contestants. Including me.
This convention center and hotel hosted multiple venues, and a large brightly lit sign outside announced that the State Dairy Farmers’ Conference was going on at the same time as our pageant. That’s where Vergie was supposed to be. She was tired, though. She didn’t like cities. The long drive, followed by forging her way through rush-hour traffic, had been a struggle for her, and huge complexes like the conference center confused her.
“I was all discombobulated,” is the way she put it later. “By the time I got out of my truck, I didn’t know left from right.”
Or east from west. The State Dairy Farmer’s Conference was being held in Convention Center East, but Vergie had mistakenly wandered into Convention Center West, which was, of course, where our beauty pageant was being held.
When she tried to sign in, the people at the registration table rolled their eyes and hassled her. Vergie got flustered and started to argue with them, stubbornly pulling out her receipts for the farmer's conference and insisting that she was preregistered. Heads turned abruptly to look at her when she did that, because Vergie never spoke in normal tones. Instead, she hooted. Loudly. Maybe on her farm that was the only way she could make herself heard above the cows.
I stopped texting to see what the racket was all about. This was when I first laid eyes on Vergie. She stood only five feet tall, but she easily weighed over 200 pounds. It was hard to tell how old she was, but she was not young. Above her smile (because Vergie nearly always smiled), she had bushy eyebrows, a bulbous nose, and lots of down on her upper lip—so much, in fact, that she possessed a very distinct moustache. Her outfit consisted of jeans that were tight around her protruding tummy but baggy everyplace else, and a short-sleeved yellow and black print blouse that did not flatter the thickness of her upper arms. The print on the blouse was one of little cows.
It was just kids, really, running the registration table, and they were bored, so, giving each other smirking glances, they thought that they’d have a little fun. One of the beauty contestants had cancelled at the last minute, and her fee was nonrefundable, so after whispering together and giggling, they decided that they would put Vergie in that girl’s slot as a joke. A smart-aleck guy, who was trying hard to remain straight-faced, handed her a paper and, with a breaking voice, instructed her to fill it in and sign it. Vergie obviously thought that she was signing into the State Dairy Farmer's Conference, but what they actually gave her was the form for registering as a beauty contestant in the Miss Dairyland pageant. Vergie couldn’t read all that well, and she was exhausted, so she probably didn’t pay any attention to the small print.
The kids at the table were snickering under their breath the whole time, trying not to laugh. It was a mean thing for them to do, but at least they didn’t charge her anything. The guy managed to pull himself together by the time she looked up. Putting on a fake bored face, he gave Vergie her ID badge, along with a printed schedule of events. When she finally stepped into the elevator to go up to her hotel room, they exploded with laughter. I felt sorry for her. I never guessed that she would wind up being my best friend.

AN HOUR OR so later we were given a buffet dinner. Vergie showed up, along with everybody else, and while the other girls had changed their outfits, she wore the same clothes that she had worn during registration. She must have showered, though, because her dark hair was slicked back and still wet.
The meal was a joke. We were all upset. One of the more aggressive girls cornered the caterer and began whining, with a blank expression on her face, that there weren’t any gluten-free or vegan entrĂ©es. She only looked blank because her Botox wouldn’t let her frown.
In a way, having abundant healthy food would have been much harder on us. Beauty contestants, who are nearly all would-be models and hopeful actresses, lean toward anorexia and typically exist on starvation diets. In no way did any of us intend to eat a regular dinner on the night before the opening of the pageant. Thus, the inedible food wasn’t actually a problem since none of us meant to have more than a few teensy bites anyway.
Well, none of us except for Vergie. She enthusiastically piled her plate as high as she possibly could, and then sat down next to me with an extremely pleased expression on her face. Vergie clearly liked food, and it was evident by her choices that she was neither a picky eater nor a dieter.
“Hi there,” she said, her loud voice bellowing out cheerfully, despite having a mouthful of mashed potatoes. “My name’s Vergie. What’s yours?”
“Tina,” I said, stiffening. I will admit it; I acted deliberately chilly and remote because, quite honestly, I didn’t like her. It was embarrassing that she was even talking to me. The other girls were glancing my way with raised eyebrows, and I wanted to hide under the table.
At the same time, though, I felt sorry for her because of the way she was being tricked. Not that any of this seemed to matter to Vergie. She was focused more on shoveling food into her face than on being sensitive to the signals that I was broadcasting. Still, with a sigh, I lifted a corner of the deep freeze and let her talk to me. Of course, I didn’t really engage in any kind of meaningful dialogue with her. I just nodded my head a few times. It amazed me how she wolfed down everything on her plate, making strange, gutteral, happy noises as she ate. Most of her conversation was devoted to exclaiming about how how terrific the food was, and how it sure beat the bologna sandwiches she would be eating if she were home alone. My responses were polite, but curt. I finally managed, with relief, to escape from the table.
That night we had free time, and a bunch of us decided to go swimming in the hotel pool. Here is what our idea of swimming was: we clustered together poolside, showing off the skimpy swimsuits that we would be modeling the next day during the swimsuit part of the competition, with no intention of getting wet. There was a squealing medley of high-pitched chatter as we carefully began to get acquainted. At the same time, we were ever-so-cautiously sizing one another up. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was secretly hoping that my thigh gap was sufficient enough to avoid criticism from the other girls. I posed on the edge of the pool along with a few others, splashing my manicured feet in the water.
That was the extent of our swim—until Vergie arrived.
I heard her before I saw her. “Oh, hi there, Tina!” she bellowed. My shoulders sank. Her loud shout embarrassed me. I waved at her weakly, and then smiled at the others with an apologetic what-can-you-do shrug.
Vergie had changed her clothes. She was now wearing cut-offs and a big yellow t-shirt that said EAT BUTTER on it. Under the t-shirt, Vergie, who was obviously bra-less, had enormous sagging breasts. They were definitely not the rounded, perky, and mostly artifical breasts that the rest of us, including me, had under our tiny bikini halters. Vergie’s thighs and the massive backs of her arms jiggled when she moved, and I saw with alarm that she was heading toward the side of the pool where I was perching. Even more alarming, she was not doing so with the intention of sitting down. She began to trot, and then to run, picking up speed. She didn’t stop until she had splashed, cannon-ball style, into the pool. She half-emerged from the water with a laughing hoot and began splashing us. Like the other girls, I screeched and tried to get away, but in a short time I was soaked.
To this day, I don’t entirely get it. None of us were happy about getting wet. Normally we would have proceeded to snub someone like Vergie, and we would have done it cruelly until she ran away crying. That would have been our instinctive response to her behavior.
I still wonder what it was that won us over. Perhaps it was her childlike smile and complete lack of filters. Maybe she got to us because we were all wound up and nervous about the upcoming contest, and she was, in contrast, so completely, if awkwardly, unselfconscious, with such pure enthusiasm, that she somehow managed to poke through the defenses we had erected.
Then again, maybe it was because we were a little bit like a herd, and she was used to working with herds.
Whatever the reason, her spirit was surprisingly infectious, and little by little we began to unwind. Pretty soon we girls wound up in the water, playing this crazy follow-the-leader game that she instigated. It didn’t take long before we were genuinely laughing and joking and, thigh gap aside, truly getting to know one another. All because of Vergie.
I need to explain something here. I am now a professional model, and a famous one, known world-wide for my huge, luminous eyes and my long silky hair. You’ve seen me on magazine covers and in make-up commercials. Until I got my break, though, I did all the pageants. I’d started doing them when I was just a little kid. You can even see me as a six-year-old on an old TV show called Toddlers and Tiaras. So believe me when I tell you that the climate at beauty contests can get pretty bitchy.
Something miraculous happened at the Miss Dairyland pageant, though. It was unbelievable how well we all began to get along. Many of the girls from that weekend ended up becoming lifelong friends. And it all started at the pool.
I would have been horrified at the time to realize how well I was soon going to get to know—and like—that loud, round, mustachioed woman. Even now that it's over, the idea that someone like Vergie and someone like me wound up as best  friends is bewildering. Maybe it was because I could always be completely myself around her. She couldn’t care less about thigh gap and, unlike nearly everyone else, she didn’t even seem to notice my beauty. I was always able to tell her anything without ever being judged. And her undimmable smile lightened my spirit. Nobody else has ever made me feel that good, even including my various boyfriends. And for her part? I guess she was lonely. In a strange way, perhaps we both were.

VERGIE’S BODY IS lying in a casket on display in front of the church. When I came in a few minutes ago, I expected to start sobbing as soon as I caught a glimpse of her, but instead I found myself laughing out loud. People turned to stare at me. It’s because of the way she looks. They put pink lipstick, blush, and a frilly dress on Vergie. Not only that; they curled her hair, plucked those bushy eyebrows, somehow managed to flatten her tummy…and they shaved off her moustache!
The church choir is yawling all these mournful dirges, and I guess that the music is supposed to make us feel sad, but I want to giggle because it is so ridiculously inappropriate.
Vergie hated songs that weren’t happy. In her mind, the peppier the better. Her musical tastes were not normal, of course. I could never get her to listen to the bands that I like. No, she was stirred by a different kind of band—marching bands, for one. You’d hear Sousa marches all the time playing on the speakers in the barn. She also had a soft spot for the perkier tunes in Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, especially a corny old song called, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.” She used to sing that over and over when she and her hired hand, Jimmy, milked her cows.
“Jimmy says my singing is more like hollerin’,” she would say. “But it makes the girls feel great when I sing to ‘em.”
Making her girls feel great was Vergie’s prime objective. She was always good to her girls. Who were her dairy cows.

I REMEMBER THE first time she ever brought me into the barn. It was right after the pageant had ended. I’d never been on a farm before. Stupid me, I had on my high heels, and I was drenched in cologne.
“Those shoes work like spikes. Great idea,” she shouted as my $350 heels sank deeply into the muck of the hillside leading up to the barn. “You’re kind of crazy, though, for wearing all that expensive perfume here. Don’t you know nothin’? The only ones who are going to love you for it are the mosquitoes,” she teased. Then she threw open the barn doors.
“Now get a whiff of this! Best perfume in the world!” The smell of the manure was so overwhelming that I nearly gagged, which gave her a good chuckle.
Vergie told me that she had learned how to walk in that very dairy barn, toddling around on little chubby legs while her dad milked by hand, sitting on one of those three-legged stools, the kind you see in the old black-and-white movies. She said the cows used to stick out their tongues and lick the back of her head, giving her a true cowlick, and sometimes knocking her over in the process. Even later, as an adult, the back of her hair always had a weird ruffled look to it.
She told me that the cows also liked to try to swat her across the face with a tailful of manure. She claimed that they did it deliberately. I thought that she was exaggerating. I was wrong. I had hardly entered the barn on that first visit when a cow actually tried to do it to me…and succeeded. Maybe it was fun for the cow, but I screamed and raced out of the barn in my muddy high heels. Vergie followed me,  pointing at my face and laughing so hard that when we reached the grass, she collapsed, shaking, tears of sheer delight streaming down her cheeks. Me, I was disgusted, and I grabbed handfuls of grass to try to clean off my face. After a minute, though, I gave up. I kicked off my high heels and lay down next to her, and we both howled with laughter for a really long time. That, I think, is when our friendship truly solidified.

I GREW TO love how kind Vergie was. For instance, she would let her cows out of the dairy barn into the pasture nearly every morning, which she said a lot of farmers didn’t do any more. But she was stubborn and refused to change her old-fashioned ways.
“My girls want sunshine and freedom. Why shouldn’t they be able to move around, just like us?” she said.
She also kept a bull on the farm named Harry. Hardly anybody else kept bulls any more, she said, because they can be dangerous. Most dairy farmers found that it was simpler just to have the cows artificially inseminated.
“Nowadays the closest thing the cows have to a love life is the veterinarian’s arm. That just ain’t fair.” She gave me a sly grin and blushed a little. “Harry is my gift to my cows. He’s got great genes, he’s gentle enough, everybody gets a little, and the girls thank me by giving good milk, the best milk in the world!”
Vergie told me that her father had always kept a bull around as well, which was the only choice they had back then, but his bulls were not as polite as Harry. When she was little, she wound up accidentally-on-purpose trapped in the bull’s field so often that it became the family joke. The bull would charge, and while she was never afraid, she would have to run away as fast as she could, chuckling, her little arms and legs churning like crazy. Her father would sometimes hop the fence to protect her. His way of keeping the bull from hurting his little girl was by picking up the nearest stick of wood and “thunking him a good one on the nose.”
The family found it all very amusing, Vergie said, until the day of her 16th birthday.
“I was out in the pasture,” she said quietly. It was one of the few times that I ever heard her speak quietly. “I didn’t know it, but the bull had broken through his fence. He began to run at me. Dad had been out hunting pheasants and saw it. He raced over between me and the bull, and did the usual, whacking the bull on the nose…except that the nearest stick of wood turned out to be the butt of his rifle.”
When her father hit the bull, the rifle discharged, and he was killed. Vergie dropped out of school when that happened. Her mom died a couple of years afterward, and then it was up to Vergie to run the farm all by herself.
I’m not sure leaving school created any major loss in her life. While Vergie had a thick skin, I always suspected that the other kids may have been hard on her. See, Vergie was…how can I put it? She was like blind people, or children with severe Down’s Syndrome, who don’t know how to hide their emotions; whatever they’re feeling shows on their faces. When they feel good, they beam, smiling too hard, because they don’t realize that it’s not considered cool to reveal your feelings. Vergie was exactly like that; when she was happy, which was most of the time, it showed, because she had no idea how to mask her face to look cool. On the rare occasions that she was sad, she showed that too. She wasn’t cool, and she wasn’t smart either, at least in a scholarly way. So I imagine that even though it had isolated her to drop out of school, it didn’t hurt much either.
All Vergie really knew about were her cows. She gave a name to every one of them. She let the calves stay with their mothers longer than most dairy farmers did. Usually when a cow’s milking days are over, it’s shipped to the slaughterhouse, but she told me that she refused to do that. She let all the old cows live out their lives grazing in the back pasture. She affectionately called them, “My grannies.”
When it became obvious that one of them was ready to die, she would first spend some time talking and singing to it, and then, if the cow seemed to be in pain, she would tearfully shoot it with her dad’s old rifle. Those that could become meat she butchered herself.
“The girls get real scared and shook up on the truck that takes them to the slaughterhouse, and some of the people in those places can be really mean to the cows before they kill them. I ain’t going to let that happen to none of my grannies,” she said determinedly. “They served me well, and when their time comes, it’s gonna be fast and they ain’t gonna suffer.”

I WONDER WHO put this funeral together for her? I guess it must be the women at the church who organize the potlucks. Vergie used to go to all the Wednesday night church potlucks. She never missed them. In certain ways she was like her cows; they needed routine in their lives to feel safe, and I think Vergie needed some of that, too. The primary reason for going, though, was because she was an awful cook. All the rest of the week, she lived on bologna sandwiches. Vergie was a regular at the church basement potlucks the way some people go out to a eat at a restaurant once a week. Those casseroles made with hamburger and macaroni, and the jello with marshmallows in it, and the chocolate sheet cakes? She went nuts over that kind of food. Her contribution to the potluck was always a tub of store-bought potato salad. At the local Safeway deli counter, they knew her well; they actually packed up the potato salad for her in advance and had it waiting for her every Wednesday afternoon.
Even though she attended the potlucks faithfully, Vergie refused to go to church services.
“I used to go to church with Mom and Dad, but only because it made them feel good. After they were gone, there wasn’t no point,” she said to me. “Don’t get me wrong—and I know you’re Jewish, so no offense—but I really like Jesus. I just can’t see him fitting in with the stained glass and the fancy candlesticks. I think he’s more the outdoor type, like me. They mean well, but I ain’t gonna let him be locked inside a dark church with all that sad, serious music any more than I’m going to lock my girls in the barn.”
She was stubbornly convinced that, given his choice, Jesus would far prefer her kind of music to hymns: Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes and Sousa marches.
One day when I came out to the farm to visit her, we took a walk around the fields and she showed me some special spots. “A lot of times when I take a walk, I kind of feel like Jesus is walking beside me,” she confided. “Jesus and me, sometimes we sit under that big mulberry tree there at lunchtime, or we go climb the hill at night to look at the stars. And you know what?” she continued. “I feel like he is always there in the barn when it’s time to milk, because he loves the girls just as much as me. He pats them all on the head, every single one.” She gave me a sideways look. “You probably think I’m crazy, but I swear he does that. And him and me, we talk all the time. Funny. I like to talk, but you and Jesus, you’re the only two I ever really talk to so much.”
“What about Jimmy? Don’t you talk to Jimmy,” I asked.
 Jimmy lived in a ramshackle rusted trailer behind the house. He was shy and he always ducked away when I came to visit.
“Nope,” said Vergie. She flushed. Vergie almost never flushed, but bringing up the subject of Jimmy could do the job. “Me and Jimmy don’t hardly never talk like you and I do. Or like me and Jesus.”
Even though I’m Jewish, I still liked that, being put in the same category as Jesus.

UP FRONT, THEY are getting the communion ready before the service begins. That was the one thing that Vergie always said the church got right. She believed wholeheartedly in communion. Naturally, she did it in her own unique way. After we became closer, now and then, she’d invite me to do it with her.
I can hear her now: “Hey, let’s have communion,” she would cry. Sometimes it would be a sweet bowl of wild strawberries drenched in thick cream. Other times, communion consisted of sucking the nectar from the big purple clovers in the field, and then spitting out the drained flower parts. She always claimed Jesus was sitting with us when we did that. I didn’t mind.
Oh, look. There's Jimmy, huddled there by himself in a pew over in the corner, trying to make himself invisible. Poor guy. He looks miserable. I’m probably the only person here who even knows who he is.
Vergie told me that she’d hired him a year or so after her folks died, because she couldn’t handle the whole farm by herself. He must have been just a kid then, like she was, although he’s one of those people where it’s hard to know his real age. He could be anything from 20 to 60. He’s not smart. With Jimmy, what you see is what you get. He’s got crazy looking dirty-blonde hair that I think he cuts himself, and he has a serious overbite with yellowing teeth, and he doesn’t always smell so nice, but in spite of all of that, from the little I know, he is the sweetest, most helpful guy there is.
Once, early on, I asked Vergie if she’d ever had a boyfriend. She got very embarrassed and she actually blushed! When Vergie blushed, she turned dark red, almost maroon, from her forehead to her chest. She refused to say anything more about having a boyfriend that day, and it took the longest time before I could get her to talk about it.
Finally I got the story out of her. It seems that one late afternoon, after Jimmy had been living on the farm for a number of years, the final milking of the day was done and they were cleaning the barn together as usual. She was turning the valves on the machine that washes out the milking equipment, and Jimmy was trying to hang a pail up on a hook, and he had to reach across the front of her to do it. Except after he hung the pail up, he didn’t move his arm back. Not for a long time. It seems that they just stood there like that, not looking at each other, until, very slowly, his hand came down to cup her breast. That’s all she told me. When she stopped talking, she got a funny smile on her blushing face, and she didn’t need to say more.

AFTER WE HAD our swim on that first night of the Miss Dairyland Pageant, a bunch of the girls came to my room to socialize, and Vergie showed up too. By then she was welcome. When there was a lull in the conversation, she spoke up in her loud, hooting voice and asked, “So, any of you ladies ever milk a cow?”
One of the girls tried to be funny and said, “What’s a cow?” The rest of us laughed.
 Vergie grunted. “Okay, that’s what I thought,” she said good-naturedly. Then she added, “You all should understand something. I figured out that they put me in this contest for a joke. But guess what? I’m not gonna leave. And I’ll tell you how come. It’s because there ain’t no woman in the world who deserves the title of Miss Dairyland more than me.”
Then she turned to the door, said a cheerful goodnight over her shoulder, and left. We were pretty stunned.
For most of the next two days, we saw no sign of Vergie. Even though I had begun to like her, I was hoping that she’d either found the farmer's convention in the other wing of the hotel, or had simply decided to head back home. We were all relieved that she didn’t appear when we modeled our swimsuits or our evening gowns. She didn’t emerge during the talent portion of the pageant, either.
But, as it turned out, she hadn’t gone anywhere. No, Vergie had a plan. She was waiting until the final event to come out of her hotel room.

THE FUNERAL IS ready to start. Poor Jimmy. He has to be heartbroken. At least Vergie left everything to him so he won’t have to move or start over. The cows will be well taken care of.
A minute or so ago, I went over to his pew in the corner.
“Hi, Jimmy,” I said.
He looked up at me with a tearstained face, and then shyly back down again, staring at his folded, roughened hands. I sat down next to him. I could see that he was working up his nerve to say something to me.
“I sang to her,” he finally said in a choked voice, still looking down. “When I found her that morning, I held her and I sang ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.’”
There was nothing else to say. I just placed my hand on his for a moment, and then came back here to my pew.

FOR THE LAST portion of the pageant, we were all supposed to come out on stage as a group. Then each of us, in turn, was expected to totter over to the microphone in high heels, wearing a tight, sexy, glittery outfit, where we would give a short but inspiring talk. We’d rehearsed our speeches with our coaches many times.
On that final night as we were lining up backstage, ready to walk out, toothy smiles plastered on our faces, Vergie snuck in at the last minute and joined the tail end of the line. They wanted to stop her, but she had her papers. She was a registered contestant. I mean, legally there was nothing they could do about it, and they knew that. You could hear the crowd gasp as she walked out onto the stage with the rest of us.
Each girl proceeded to take her turn at the microphone. I was super happy both with how I looked and how my speech came out. I gave a very good and sincere talk. In fact, all the girls did really well, and the whole event went smoothly until the very end…until Vergie walked up to the mic. She was wearing what I now know were her best clothes, which consisted of an enormous denim skirt and the blue-plaid blouse she usually wore to the Wednesday church potlucks. Even though she was acting bold, I could see she was scared. I could tell that because she wasn’t smiling as hard as usual.
To my surprise, Vergie started her speech by turning around and pointing directly at me. Then she turned back to the audience and judges, and said in her hooty voice, “I guess whoever you vote to win the Miss Dairyland pageant, she’ll be someone like Tina here. Someone pretty. Because whenever I see a billboard or a commercial telling about milk and cheese and stuff, it’s always got someone like her on it. Someone pretty, but real skinny, with lots of hair.”
You have to remember that Vergie and I hadn’t become close friends yet. While I didn’t mind one bit being singled out for being pretty, I admit that I was a little bit taken aback by having her describe me as skinny. People had always idolized and envied me for my Barbie-doll figure. And, I hoped, my thigh gap. Nobody had called me skinny since the third grade.
“There’s nothin’ wrong with looking like Tina,” she continued, giving me an apologetic glance and turning back to the audience. Once again, I was somewhat stunned. “I mean, that’s God’s choice, what a person looks like, isn’t it? But that ain’t got nothin’ to do with what you folks here are calling Dairyland.
“Now to me, Dairyland is the farms all around me, and the cheese factory, and the milk plant near where I live. When I look at the women on the farms, or when I go into town and see the gals who work in the cheese factory, or the ones down at the milk plant, they don’t have no high cheekbones or fancy hairdos or expensive clothes. The women I see look more like me. Maybe real tired after a hard day’s work, maybe sorta chunky, maybe not so young any more. Lots of ‘em wear glasses.
“A few of them are pretty, I guess. But that don’t mean nothing. Nobody’s outsides matter nearly so much as what’s inside. And lots of ‘em have terrific insides. They’re good people. They’re hard workers. They’re simple, and honest, and strong. And that’s what Dairyland is really about.
“I know I ain’t pretty, and I’m not skinny neither. But I sure as heck understand cows better than anybody here. If you want a genuine Miss Dairyland on your billboard, then I think you should put MY picture on it!”
After she said that, at first there was an awkward silence. Nobody knew what to do. But then? The audience went absolutely crazy! They began screaming and applauding and stomping their feet on the floor, and they kept it up for a long time.
And what did Vergie do? She high-tailed it off the stage, ran to the ladies’ room, and threw up.

DESPITE THE WAY the audience reacted to her speech, the judges did not vote for Vergie to become Miss Dairyland. As a matter of fact, they voted for me! It was wonderful!
After the excitement died down, I went to find Vergie and dragged her out of the restroom. The photographers and TV people were still hanging around, so you know what I did? I put the crown on her head, placed my cape over her shoulders, and gave her my bouquet to hold. All the girls went along with it and began clustering around her feet like the royal court would at a beauty pageant. And suddenly the cameras got turned back on and the wild picture-taking began!
Those photos, and the video of her speech—all of that got picked up by the TV news stations, and then the internet. The YouTube of her speech went viral. It got over two million hits in the first week it aired.
The long and short of it was that for an entire year, every place you turned, guess who you saw on the Dairyland billboards and in the commercials? That’s right. Vergie, moustache and all, standing there proudly with her cows and her barn in the background. They gave her a lot of money for that.
I didn’t mind a bit. I got a lot of money too, along with all the prizes, and of course, I held the actual title. I still have the crown at home in a special place on my display shelf.

DARN. I WISH I had brought that crown along with me to the church. I’d sneak over to the casket and put it on her. I know she would laugh.
The service should be over soon. Then we’ll all go downstairs for the funeral dinner. Some of the church women are already bustling around down below, getting the food ready. Up here in the sanctuary, I can smell the baked beans and scalloped potatoes and the white rolls heating in the oven. I’m planning on breaking my diet and eating a lot at that church supper today. It’s going to be my tribute to Vergie. She’d be happy about that.

Miss Dairyland
Copyright © 2020 by Mary Elizabeth Raines
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, recorded or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, scanning, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of a few brief quotations in connection with a review.

Cover design by Mary Elizabeth Raines

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