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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Meeting Debbie Shelton




Meeting Debbie Shelton

She was like a lovely monarch, floating from flower to flower. That's how she remains in my memory to this day. My first and only meeting with her was when I was seven years old. My neighbor, Whitney Webb's family was having a barbecue in her honor -- Debbie Shelton. Her banner read Miss Virginia USA, while she sweetly talked about patriotism, the Vietnam war, and women's rights, as she nibbled on some peach cobbler, while wearing a bubblegum pink halter and bell bottomed jeans. This memory, this faded memory, is somewhat foggy, but her face is stuck indelibly in my memory bank.

I was quite shy as I watched her dazzle her guests. Of course, it wasn't technically her party, but she was the hostess for sure, and besides, no one minded while being in the presence of royalty. She had raven black hair down to her waist, and sky blue eyes, almost like marble, and a long, regal neck, and on a table set up in her honor was the tiara she was presented with when she won her title. I know I was young, but I still wondered what a rhinestone crown had to do with the war. But she was graceful and gracious, impeccably mannered, and her smile was warm and inviting., not like Cynthia Shoemaker at school who pinched my arm at every opportunity.

Whitney finally introduced me to Debbie, and I was literally starstruck. I felt faint. If I had known what smelling salts were, I would have asked for them. I seriously needed to splash my face with icy, cold water. After Whitney officially introduced us -- "and this is my cousin, Debbie Shelton, Miss Virginia" -- Debbie turned to me and said:

"Why aren;t you the cutest and sweetest little boy". My face flushed scarlet.

And then she picked me up and sat me on her lap. I remember feeling embarrassed, I mean, I was seven years old, but I was also the shortest boy in my class next to Arnold Plymale, who somehow looked and sounded like he was destined to be a dentist -- thick black glasses, shiny big teeth, and shocking red hair. I was small enough to be confused with a kindergartener.

"How old are you?" Debbie cooed.

"Seven...um...er...your majesty."

Debbie laughed really hard at that remark, and my face went from scarlet to plum.

"What's your favorite subject in school?"

"Geography,"I replied, "and I can name all the states and state capitals in alphabetical order," I said suddenly feeling humiliated at my awkward remark, and lack of social skills, even for a seven year old.

"How adorable," Debbie said. "Can you name them for me right now?" Oh crap, I thought after being placed on the spot. I looked over at Whitney who smirked at me. "Show off," she mouthed at me. My face took on an odd blue hue as I felt like a trapped rat backed into a corner by dozens of cats.

"Montgomery, Alabama. Juneau, Alaska..." I began, and as I continued, Debbie would clap, and pretty soon, the rest of the guests were clapping too. Whitney looked like a pent up prisoner with a shiv in her hand. My face turned an atrocious green.

Afterward, Debbie kissed me on the cheek, and after being coaxed by her relatives and guests, she put on that tiara and looked every bit like a beauty queen at a car show. She waved for her guests. It's a day I will never forget, and no one has ever remained so beautiful in my mind's eyes

Debbie went on to win Miss USA that year, the second time in succession for the state of Virginia, and she seemed destined to win Miss Universe, until she was robbed of the title by Miss Puerto Rico, who looked like a sheep herder's daughter with a poodle's haircut. The winner would go on to oblivion as far as the public knew, while Debbie ended up securing a role as Mandy in the television series "Dallas".

I will always wonder if she remembers that shy awkward boy who was so memorized by her warmth and beauty. Certainly many men over the course of her years were as mesmerized as I had been. But, the barbecue caused me to watch her on television at Miss Universe that year, where tears streamed down my cheeks as she was announced first runner-up. I rubbed mt eyes and looked at my mother. "It isn't fair," I said. "It just isn't fair."

"Oh hush honeybun," my mother replied. "Yes, she was the fairest of them all, by FAR, but she is going to do just fine, She be just fine. Wait. You'll see I'm right."

And while people ,ay not know she played the body double in the film "Body Double", or that she was working on the highest rated television show of its era, one thing my mother was right about. Debbie had done just fine. Just fine. And she had only herself to credit.

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