A Lesson Remembered

Published 9:52 am Monday, June 13, 2016

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

Sobering lessons sometimes occur when we are caught between the unforgiving jaws of reality. The “clamped down and locked position” is preferable, though, to jaws grinding away for the next bite of life.

In such situations, our prayers may hit the ceiling with a thud. At the thought of the next step–big time chewing–we are apt to seize the moment, ready to make a deposit into our memory bank of bitter experiences.

Though I hold three university degrees–as well as a smattering of “book-learning” in post-doctoral work–most important lessons have been learned in life’s laboratories, often unexpectedly. Yep, blind-sided.

Popping quickly to mind is an invitation extended some 50 years ago to serve as a judge for “Miss Fort Stockton” at the community’s annual water carnival. I was dumbstruck with giddiness, the kind with cotton candy sweetness.

“Hey, it’s an honor,” the inviter explained. “All you have to do is judge the queen contest. There’ll be two other judges, so you won’t take the heat for the decision.”

Feeling buttons straining and hatband shrinking, I accepted. Surely my “judgeship” appointment would be chronicled–albeit with small headlines–in area publications like Fort Stockton and Alpine. Maybe even the regional newspaper in Odessa.

Only half listening, I paid scant attention to the names of the other two judges. One was a longtime, deeply respected area ranch woman and the other, a “professional” from a distant place.

Maybe she was “professional” because she got a free plane ticket to Midland Air Field, albeit a coach fare. Also, a “high muckety-muck” from Fort Stockton chauffeured her in a brand new car provided by a local dealership. (The rancher and I got handshakes of thanks.)

During our instructions, we were told to rank each contestant, 1-10, in several categories, including personality, poise, evening gowns, and…

We two area judges took the assignment seriously. Neither of us ranked any candidates below “4’s” in any category, with most of ‘em getting “8’s” and “9’s”. The out-of -town “ringer,” however, took a different approach.

Word had it–and I can’t prove this–that she gave ALL candidates zeros in all categories, save one entry. Awarding 10s in all columns to ONE candidate meant this “Minnie Pearl look-alike” essentially named “Miss Fort Stockton.” Except for the winner and members of her family, others at the water carnival might have voted to tar and feather all three of us.

The visiting judge zoomed back to the airport in that same new car, considerably faster than on the inbound trip. I meandered, driving the hour back to Alpine, where I was a junior member of the Sul Ross faculty.

The lesson was well-learned. It was an experience I could have avoided. Failing to do so, I charged up to youth, arrogance and basic ignorance. Never again have I accepted invitations to judge queens of any event, including peach and melon festivals and feather duster folderols. (Brownwood, the nearest town during my growing up years, once was the “feather duster capital of the world.” De Leon still hosts the peach and melon thing.)

When invited, I always had previous commitments.

So far, I’m a survivor.

There are far more serious votes cast in closed door sessions, few ever mistaken for carnivals or festivals. (Some of them have three rings, however.)

One such meeting more than 30 years ago involved the Board of Trustees of Howard Payne University. It was called to name a president in an era when such deliberations usually resulted in declarations of “unanimous votes.”

I was hired on a publicly-announced 16-13 vote, took the job and served a dozen years, receiving annual contract renewals.

Detailed discussions and prayers notwithstanding, the “American way”–and often the “Baptist way”–occur before unanimity is reached. Historically, unanimous votes are the result of follow-up votes cast after clear majorities are known.

For the third-weekend-in-July event, Fort Stockton has plenty of water this year. Comanche Springs runs strong. May all go well at the water carnival.

Just in case, I’ll whisper a prayer for the judges, trusting they are all local, handy for “tarring and feathering” if need be.


   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com. Columns archived at venturegalleries.com, newbury blog.