A Blue Ribbon Event
Forget the Westminster Dog Show and other prestigious events. I’m not impressed. I have a blue ribbon for showing my pet.
When I was growing up in St. Ann, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, the neighborhood parks department had summer programs for kids. I learned to make lopsided popsicle-stick jewelry boxes, tea towels and other useless items.
The highlight of the summer was the big pet show. My friends had cuddly puppies and cute kittens. I had a little brother with severe allergies, so we couldn’t have cats, dogs or birds in our home.
My pet was a turtle. A big old box turtle with red-orange spots all over his scaly hide, like a bad rash. He showed up one day in our yard. I named him Spot.
Spot lived on bugs and lettuce and slept in the shade near the patio, except when he debuted at the pet show. I took him in a crepe-paper decorated cardboard box. I admit he was no match for a pedigreed dog or even a pound hound. But he had a certain style. In fact, Spot was the only red-orange pet at the show.
We all lined up with our pets by the picnic tables. The judges, four high school seniors known as "the big kids," listened to our spiel and rated our entries. Spot was pretty nervous (for a turtle) since Goldie the retriever kept sniffing and drooling on him. The turtle retreated into his shell and slammed the door.
Great. I was now exhibiting a legless, headless rock.
We were preceded by unprecedented kitten and canine cuteness. Dogs rolled over, sat up, begged, barked on command, and peed on the taxpayers’ tender young trees. Cats meowed and batted yarn balls.
Then it was my turn with good old Spot.
I faced the judges.
"This is my pet, Spot," I said. My voice quavered. I knew this was stupid. Spot wasn’t even a real pet. My heart was pounding. I was embarrassing myself before the whole neighborhood.
I held up the turtle, still locked in his shell. The judges looked unimpressed. The kids laughed derisively. I was losing my audience.
"He does tricks," I said.
I stood with my feet slightly apart. I put the turtle on the thin, summer-dry grass between my tennis shoes. "Go, Spot," I said.
The turtle poked out his prehistoric head and crawled slowly, ponderously, between my feet.
"See?" I said.
The judges saw. The judges laughed so hard, they could hardly sit up. Even at age nine, I knew they weren’t laughing with me. A few more dogs and cats later, and the judges retired to the concession stand for their deliberations.
Then they announced the winners in the various categories: Cutest pet (a dog). Most talented (another dog). Fluffiest pet (a cat).
"And we have a blue ribbon for a very special pet," said a female judge with perfect blond hair. "Spot wins first prize for the ugliest pet."
We didn’t win best in show. It was more like worst in show. But it was still a blue ribbon.
Spot didn’t wear a collar to display his ribbon, so it was taped to his shell.
"We won, Spot," I said to my officially ugly pet.
I wasn’t sure how a turtle would celebrate, but I gave him an extra lettuce leaf and a fresh-caught cricket.
I still have Spot’s blue ribbon in a scrapbook, along with the awful memory of the sniggering judges and smirking kids.
When I face a particularly tough audience, I’m back in St. Ann, holding up my turtle and saying, "This is my pet, Spot" and hoping for a miracle.
Sometimes, it happens.
By Elaine Viets