The Cumberland Ag Expo is one of the 109 county and community fairs in Pennsylvania. I learned this factoid from my colleague on the judging panel, Michelle, who works in the county fair office (big shock, there is one) in the state government in Harrisburg. I didn’t ask her if she makes the state regulations regarding what people can or can’t deep fry at a fair, but my guess is that’s she’s probably in on the ground floor of that deal.
My default county fair is the Centre County Grange Fair and Encampment which takes place each year in late August. It’s a great honkin’ thing with a midway, farm animals, exhibits, commercial booths, big time entertainment, and of course, its trademark camping in tents and campers. It’s sort of like the all-white middle-class slightly-redneck version of Woodstock, only without the bad hair, bell bottoms, drugs, booze, mud, and Janis Joplin. I wasn’t expecting the Cumberland Ag Expo to be quite like that, but more like its fetching country cousin, the Perry County Fair, which has most of the things the Grange Fair has, only in the smaller, cuter, and less deep-fried version.
Our gig was on the opening day of the event, so the expo hadn’t really hit its stride in terms of audience numbers. There was a smattering of cars I the parking lot. And I do mean a smattering.When we pulled into the parking lot I thought all the cars must belong to people working there.
There wasn’t a midway, so I wouldn’t be able to do a star turn at a cotton candy stand—a skill I picked up at the Reedsville Fireman’s Carnival. There weren’t barns filled with freshly scrubbed farm animals, so there was no danger my of lapsing into a reverie about life as a gentleman farmer with a herd of polled Herefords grazing in the distance creating Tumblr-worthy photo ops. There were no commercial vendors, so I was spared the chance of walking by the booth of the local Rock of Ages dealer and seeing a Polaroid of a headstone belonging to a dead person who just happened to be my father.
After giant check business was over, the contestants came on stage in casual clothes and introduced themselves to the audience. Each young woman gave a little speech about what she liked about living in Cumberland County.
Mr. Emcee and his wife’s cover of I Will Survive was something I wasn’t sure I’d survive. I leaned over to Terra and said, “This song as practically the gay national anthem, and this version, well, the only way it could be worse would be if they were in blackface.”
We were finally down to the final two and the old Ask Each Contestant a Question While the Rest Wait in a Soundproof Booth portion of the evening. Only in this case, it was a soundproof concrete block room that passed for backstage. The pageant committee had decided to ask each woman about childhood memories, so I never did learn if they were actually in favor of world peace. I'm hoping so. After both speeches, my fellow judges put our heads together and came to consensus on our choices for the first runner up and the winner. I completed the official score sheet and handed it to the emcee.
Without too much fanfare, he announced “And the winner of the Miss Cumberland Ag Expo is….”
And then he read the wrong name.
The technical term for that in pageant land is EPIC FAIL.
After a few seconds, he did a one-eighty and announced that the real winner was really Hetty Lynch and not Paige Ezell. Yikes.
It was quite something indeed.
Paige, the first runner up, was incredibly gracious about the snafu. I’m not sure that I would have been, especially if I’d been wearing a high heels and evening gown in a beauty pageant all evening.
About two seconds after the end of the pageant, while the stage was still filled with photographers, the expo committee started the baked goods auction, something they didn’t do when I watched the Miss America Pageant on TV 30 years ago.
Terra didn’t think the contestant saw her and didn't find out why the contestant was upset. Perhaps her pineapple upside down cake didn’t fetch the price in the bake sale that it should have? Or perhaps she left her entry of canned lard at home? Or perhaps she was just a sore loser, or as Shakespeare might have said, that unhappy lies the head that doesn’t wear the crown.
P.S. Because of the emcee's goof in announcing the names of the prize winners, the pageant's organizers did their best to make amends by giving Paige the same scholarship that they awarded Hetty. She might not have won, but she'll have a story she can dine out on for the rest of her life.