My heart thumps with anticipation at the mere thought. The stage. The lights. The band. The crowd. And the crown.
For a Minnesota farm girl, there's no event quite as thrilling as the crowning of Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Over the years, some 660 Minnesota farm girls have stood on stage, breath held, hearts pounding, waiting to hear their name. Only 59 have left the stage with a crown and a sash. But the consolation prize for all the rest is almost as grand - a butterhead.
My journey to the stage started shortly after my 13th birthday. Our county had a junior dairy princess program and one of the ADA board members called our house to ask if I would like to run.
I didn't know what to expect and neither did my parents. I dressed up in one of my nicest outfits for the judging. The judges asked a handful of questions, one of which was my opinion about the FDA's recent approval of the use of rBST in dairy cattle. (How sad, that nearly 20 years later, we're still answering questions about rBST.)
After the judging, the other candidates changed into formal gowns. I changed into a maroon jumper with about 40 buttons up the front. I was seriously underdressed, but apparently that didn't matter to the judges.
After the coronation and the pictures, one of the judges pulled me aside and told me I'd probably want to find a formal gown for the regional junior dairy princess contest.
I prepared for the regional contest like nothing I'd prepared for prior to that. I wrote a speech, memorized it, and recited it to my sisters and cousins on our daily bike rides down to the river.
My mother took me shopping one afternoon to buy a formal gown. Most of the clothes in my closet up to that point had been hand-me-downs. Walking into a dress boutique was overwhelming, to say the least.
I look back at the pictures now and realize I couldn't have been thinking clearly. We went home with a bubble-gum pink satin dress, complete with puffy sleeves, a mullet hemline and dyed-to-match satin shoes. (I still have the dress. Someday I'll pull it out and embarrass my children.)
But, thankfully, the judges cared more about my speech than they did my lack of fashion sense. I went home that night with a crown and a sash and a picture of me in my hideous pink dress standing next to Princess Kay of the Milky Way, Ann Erickson, in her gorgeous white gown.
My year as a junior region princess was the first of many unforgettable years promoting the dairy industry. Since our county didn't have many dairy princess candidates, I was allowed to be a dairy ambassador each year until I was old enough to run for the senior princess crown.
Finally, the opportunity was in front of me. A chance to compete for the regional senior princess crown, a butterhead and - the dream of a lifetime - the Princess Kay competition. It really did all play out like a dream.
My interviews went well. My speeches were perfect. And, this time, my dresses were beautiful.
And, then, there I was. On the stage. Holding hands with ten other nervous young women. My heart about to pound its way out of my chest. Listening. The first name of the final three was called, the crowd erupted and she stepped forward. Two chances left. The second name was called. For those of us still standing behind, the silent plea went up, "Oh, please let this last name be mine." The third name was called and Princess Kay was crowned.
Just like that, the dream came to an end. And, like a dream, the moments following the coronation were surreal. In the nights that followed, I learned that the death of a dream can sometimes be as difficult to cope with as the death of a loved one. Especially when that dream was believed in for so many years and so much of oneself was poured into achieving it.
For years, everyone I knew told me I would make a great Princess Kay someday. Thankfully, one wise friend was candid enough to remind me that only one girl would go home with a crown on the night of the coronation; and that decision would be made by only three human judges.
"It's all about what the judges see that day," Sherry said.
She went on to remind me that all dairy princesses, regardless of which crown they wear, play an important role in promoting the dairy industry. Every dairy princess has a chance to make a difference.
After the chaos of the state fair settled down, I took those words to heart and made the most of my last year as a dairy princess. The hundreds of children I visited in classrooms paid more attention to the stories I shared with them about dairy farming than they did my crown and sash.
My Princess Kay dream didn't end with a crown, but I did get a butterhead and too many amazing memories to count. And there's a selection of pretty dresses in my closet, should I ever again have the need to dress up in something that won't embarrass my kids.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have two children - Dan, 5, and Monika, 3. Sadie also writes a blog for the Dairy Star at http://dairystar.blogspot.com. She can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.