Queen of the Peaches

By Carol L. Bowman

woman biting a peach

 

The young contestants between the ages of 15 and 18 stood on the stage, rubbing their nervous hands back and forth and shuffling their restless feet. The eight girls, including my sister, Ann, awaited the decision as to who would be crowned Peach Queen of Pennsylvania for 1961. These novice bakers had won blue ribbons at their respective rural County Fairs for home-made peach desserts prepared independently. Now at the state level of competition, the local stars presented their luscious, prize-winning entries and the judges slurped, chewed, and savored each one. The winner would represent the Peach Growers’ Association of Pennsylvania at events throughout the Commonwealth.

‘Drum roll, please,’ the announcer commanded to elevate the tension. I sat in the first row with my mom, wondering what all the fuss was about. We’re talking peaches for god’s sake, and I was sure I had seen my mother helping Ann roll out the pie crust dough to perfection that very morning.

“Mom, really, what’s the big deal?” I said as I squirmed back and forth in my seat. “She didn’t even make that dessert all by herself.” I silently seethed inside, realizing how Ann’s fake smile complimented her fabricated, flawless character. I called her ‘Miss Goody Two Shoes.’

Mom’s penetrating stare distracted me from my young evil thoughts as I felt the assault from her most disapproving glare. “Carly, this could be your sister’s wonderful moment. You should at least be a little happy for her,” she growled.

The drum stopped as I heard the emcee say, “And, the 1961 Pennsylvania Peach Queen is...Ann Seifert.” I watched my mom’s face glow, beaming with a broad, proud smile, her hands clapping wildly, her feet doing a little routine from her bygone tap-dancing days. She portrayed an animation I never witnessed for my good deeds. As my sister stepped forward from the line of hopefuls, last year’s ‘peach of a girl’ struggled to place a sparkly tiara on Ann’s head, draped a peach colored robe around her shoulders and handed her a dozen peachy roses.

***

In addition to this Pennsylvania fruit title, from 1961 to 1967, the girl with too many tiaras had received crowns for Pennsylvania Honey Bee Queen, high school and college May Queens, college Homecoming Queen, even 4-H Posture Queen. Every year, the Seifert clan had to assemble along the town’s Thanksgiving Day parade route, to watch Two Shoes wave her white-gloved hands to her adoring fans from the back of a convertible.

During the era of the monarchy, the rise of Queen Ann and the fall of sister Carly, separated by only 22 months in age, took over the household, as night takes over day. An emotional crevice that couldn’t be traversed emerged as one teenager blossomed in the limelight while across the divide the other sibling faded into the shadows.

***  

Being first born, Ann achieved the most coveted title, ‘Mother’s favorite’. I couldn’t compete and never tried. She perfected that contrived smile, that sweeter than maple syrup one, with caring words dripping from her fake tongue. The instructors at our country high school of only 600 students lofted her to a ‘teacher’s pet’ status. When I came along one year behind her, despite the fact that I had achieved the ranking of a National Honor Society scholar, the teachers referred to me as Ann’s sister. I’m not sure anyone even knew my name.

The boys gushed over Ann, hoping to wrangle a date with her or dance with her at the Friday night hops. I sat in the bleachers, wishing for just one twirl. She even had the audacity to finagle two dates in one evening. Ann would tell the first schmuck to come at 7pm, but that she had to be home by 9pm. The second bozo in waiting would sit patiently in our living room, while the ‘ugly’ sister had to entertain date number two until Ann returned from date number one. I couldn’t believe these guys. Teenagers gossiped, blabbed, and bragged. Didn’t these idiots know Ann was taking them for a ride?

Something had to give. I needed to become the anti-queen. I needed to go rogue. As a junior with a perfect 4.0 grade point, I decided to ratchet expectations down a bit; How about ‘Teenage Rebel with a Cause.’ I started to challenge the 1963 school authorities and their archaic controlling directives. The outcome of my efforts resulted in weekly principal office visits for disciplinary talks.

The outrage spread when school personnel contacted my parents to ‘handle their child.’ Mother was aghast with embarrassment. “How could you do this to us,” she guilted. “Why can’t you be more like Ann,” became the daily lecture.  I beamed.

When Queenie went onto college, I had one final year to work on name recognition. The senior class trip to the 1964 New York World’s Fair proved to be the catalyst. The fact that several classmates had already attained New York’s legal drinking age of 18 triggered a ratio of one field trip chaperone to every six seniors. Wow, this was something meaty for the Rebel to sink her talons into. I organized assembly riots against this over protective attitude. Eager to engage in any protest movement of the 60’s, most seniors joined-in. I lost that battle and more.

My parents endured the humiliation of one last summons to Principal Lerch’s office to discuss their brilliant but rebellious daughter. Mom, with a sickening, satisfied smile and restrained hints of glee, relayed the conversation with Mr. Lerch to me: “Despite having a grade point equivalent to Salutatorian, Carly has been designated as the third-highest Senior Classman instead, because she has not demonstrated the leadership that defines an outstanding student.”

While Mom was relaying the news, my father wore frowns of disappointment that his daughter had destroyed a prestigious title which he could brag about. When he said that he didn’t know if he would attend my high school graduation, an arrow pierced through my fake armor.

Meanwhile, Mom was blooming in a mother’s glory, shopping with Ann to purchase a gown for her May Queen crowning at Kutztown University. I heard Daddy complain to Mom about the added expenses of dressing ‘Her Highness.’  With four daughters and an insufficient wage of a union steel worker in 1964, he knew that Ann’s fame meant that the other three girls would be short-changed. Mom ignored Daddy’s suggestion that she buy Ann’s gown at a second-hand shop. Only the best for Queenie. Meanwhile, I was wearing shoes that Ann had worn and formed to the shape of the Queen’s feet. I guess Mom thought Ann’s mold might rub off on me.

Graduation Day came and went. Daddy arrived late and stood in the back of the auditorium.  I had declined my acceptance to John Hopkin’s prestigious School of Nursing, knowing my parents could never support the high cost of tuition, my proud father refused to consider a student loan and the Queen was already attending a reduced cost, Pennsylvania state institution. “Why don’t you apply to the college where Ann goes? Mom harped. “It would be so convenient if both of you went to the same university.”

 

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