Jamie Udell – November 2006
We live in a small town (emphasis on “small”) way up on top of a mountain in Southern Utah. The population of fulltime residents has just recently reached 100, as long as the count is taken on a good day when no one has left for another town to go grocery shopping. The people here are so caring and treat everyone like family. Our little area is something from an era long gone – we don’t have a gas station and we still have cows that freely walk our streets. Pine Valley….even the name speaks of beauty. I absolutely love living here and can’t imagine being anywhere else. That’s why when the folks of Pine Valley asked me to represent them in countywide events as their “Princess”, I was very honored. I was officially crowned “Miss Pine Valley” during our town’s Independence Day celebration last July.
My mother on the other hand was a wee bit skeptical about my reign. There hadn’t been another Pine Valley Princess for at least six years because there haven’t been any other girls of the right age that lived here. And while other towns in the county had pageants where their princesses had to try out to win the title, I instead was specifically asked to fill our spot – no tryouts necessary for me. Mom was afraid that I might get teased by the other Princesses, like the only reason I was the Pine Valley Princess was because there was no one else who could fill the position. But what made Mom even doubt more was when she had the first phone call with the lady who oversees all of the Princess Royalty for Washington County. On the evening that I was asked to be the Princess, she called our house. I hadn’t even said yes yet, but she thought it was already a done deal. She was in a hurry because the Princesses had to all get their pictures professionally taken in two days and she was scheduling those appointments. She told my mother when we had to be at the photographers along with my crown, sash and formal gown. When my mom said that I didn’t yet have a crown and that I was only actually asked an hour prior to be the princess, she told my mom that Pine Valley should have given me my crown when I won the pageant. When Mom said there hadn’t been a pageant, the response back was, “What? No Pageant?” And the rest of the conversation was pretty much the same “So she doesn’t have a crown? Well I guess you can go and buy Jamie a crown tomorrow. You can buy her a formal dress tomorrow too, right? And no sash? Hmmmm…She’ll just have to have her picture taken without the official sash. You’ll also have to ask your town mayor to introduce Jamie at the Fair. What do you mean you don’t have a town mayor? No mayor?? Really? I have never heard of a town that didn’t have a mayor. You’ll just have to find someone else to introduce Jamie then. And she’ll have to ride in the parade with all the rest of her royalty. What do you mean there isn’t any other royalty – what about the 1st runner up and 2nd runner up, or the Miss Congeniality? None???? Some of the other towns have five girls that make up their royalty team. There is ONLY Jamie?? Well I guess she will just have to ride on her float all by herself.”
Now I must say, my mom was hanging in there just fine until they got to that part of their conversation. Up until then, Mom said she felt this whole thing was going to be like a comedy of errors. But a float? How were we going to pull that off all by ourselves? Especially because in just a few days, I was leaving for a summer program and wouldn’t be back for six weeks – not until the week of the parade. We live on a mountain in the middle of nowhere, a 75 mile round trip to the closest store to even buy supplies for a float. And how would we get the float to the parade? And add to that is the fact that by nature I am extremely shy, so Mom figured I would never get on such a float all by myself to ride in front of thousands of people anyway. That just about sealed the “no” as far as my mother was concerned.
My Uncle Tom had a Corvette with a t-top and his offer was that I could sit on top of the t-top and he would drive me through the parade. But while most girls my age would kill to ride through a parade on the back of a Corvette, I felt that just wasn’t me. I was a country girl and loved being one. And besides, a Corvette certainly wasn’t Pine Valley either. If I was going to represent Pine Valley, then I felt I should ride through the parade in something that was indicative of Pine Valley. So I asked the million dollar question, “Mom, how about if one of the ponies pulls me through the parade?” Mom at first smiled and said, “Oh that would be so fun!”, and then she promptly turned white.
For the last five years, our family has run a small charity where we use miniature ponies to work with children with disabilities. Several of our ponies are trained to pull carts. We usually attract a lot of interest when we are out driving the ponies, so we would indeed gain attention using them in a parade. But so many things could happen to turn it into a disaster. Thousands of screaming kids, candy being thrown all over the streets, fire engine sirens, balloons popping, cars honking and a myriad of strange sights. A frightened runaway pony could be very dangerous. But Mom could see that this is what I had my heart set on, so she was at least willing to work with the ponies to try to get them ready in time.
One day while my mom was out driving one of our ponies, a couple who lives in Pine Valley stopped to marvel at the sight. Mom replied with, “I am getting our ponies ready for the parade, to pull the Pine Valley Princess.” The lady in the car laughed at her. She didn’t think a tiny pony pulling me in the Parade was such a good idea. She told mom that I would get drowned out by all the other big and fancy floats in the parade. She continued by saying that because I didn’t have a royalty “team”, I would need something that would make me stand out since I would be by myself. She felt that if I used the tiny ponies I would feel even smaller and more insignificant. She left by saying “Please don’t do that to Jamie, she will end up being so embarrassed.” Mom finished her drive and then came home. She was very upset about this and really second guessing how smart it was to try to use the ponies in the parade. She didn’t want me to get mocked in the parade. My mother didn’t say anything to me about her talk with this lady on the road. She didn’t need me to worry too. She knew I had my heart set on these ponies pulling me through the parade, and that was what we were going to do.
My family has had some really tough times the last two years. After all we had been through, Mom didn’t want the parade to be a bad experience for me and take the chance on me being emotionally traumatized again. One thing she decided might help was to make our so called “float” a little bigger. Since I was the only one in Pine Valley’s royalty team, mom suggested that maybe my six year old little sister could be my ‘Lady in Waiting’. We went to the woman in Pine Valley who originally asked me to be the Princess and ran this latest thought past her. She agreed that it would be a great idea. We then took my sister and got her a little dress and a crown made of silk flowers. She was just thrilled beyond explanation.
My little sister is actually adopted by my family. She had a horrific first couple years of her life before she came to us, so it was a real boost for her self esteem. For the parade we now decided that mom would drive me in one cart with a pony and then my dad would drive the ‘Lady in Waiting’, my sister, in another cart with a second of our ponies. This gave Mom a little bit of ease knowing there would be two of our carts with royalty in the parade, so I wouldn’t be alone and would not seem so tiny of an entry. She was still not totally convinced, but this would have to do. For the next couple of weeks mom prayed and prayed out to the Lord many times a day, asking that He would make everything be just fine. Her request was simple, “Lord, please don’t let Jamie be embarrassed in the parade. After all that we have been through in the last couple of years, she doesn’t need anything else to go wrong. Please keep the ponies calm. And please just allow Jamie to have a fun time.”
The day of the parade came at last. We went to the starting booth to pick up the number for our spot in line. We were number sixty-one. We found our place and got the ponies ready to go. The parade started at 9:00 in the morning, but we had to be ready and in line by 8:15. By the time the parade started, we were excited and nervous. If I stood real tall I could just barely see some of the other floats ahead of us starting to go. Since we were way back at number 61, we waited an awfully long time for our turn, and by the time we actually got to start it had been 1 ½ hours of sitting. I do have to say that because of all the waiting, we were getting pretty grumpy by this point. The ponies were getting a little testy too. And then finally it is our turn to start going. As we were just about to turn on to Main Street where the parade actually started, we were stopped. I noticed that a man was signaling for two kids who were carrying a ten foot banner to come and walk in front of us. I wondered why they could cut in front of us in the parade line after all that waiting we had done. While I was paying attention to these kids coming in front of us, Mom was being handed a huge trophy. One of the men heading the parade asked if we could carry the trophy through the parade and Mom just assumed he wanted her to carry it to someone like a ‘Master of Ceremonies’ at the end of the parade – kind of like a passing of the baton in the Olympics. Mom gave him a funny look because there really wasn’t anyplace in our cart to place something that size. The man just smiled and said “No, you don’t understand, you won! Now where can I set the trophy?” Mom said, “We won? How did we do that?” The gentleman laughed and replied back, “Your entry was voted to be given the ‘Sunshine Award’.” Even though Mom didn’t have any clue what the ‘Sunshine Award’ was, by the size of the trophy, she knew it had to be pretty important. Finally my mom understood and was filled with joy. God had answered her prayers. All Mom had prayed for was that I wouldn’t be embarrassed and that I could have a good time in the parade. And this was as if God were saying, “Embarrassing? Oh no, no, no! Jamie is fine. Plus, you and your ponies are doing exactly the service I ordained you to do. Keep up the good work!”
While the parade man was telling us to hurry and get moving again, he just placed the trophy in my lap. I had still been paying attention the kids cutting in front of us and not hearing the conversation between my mother and the man. I was still appalled that these kids had gotten to go ahead of us. Mom turned to me and explained the trophy. She was so thrilled. Our trophy was about two feet tall and maybe ten inches wide. It was breathtaking. I was speechless until I noticed that the trophy was engraved with the words “Winners of the Sunshine Award”. Oh my goodness, that is what the banner said that the kids were carrying in front of us!! I pointed to the banner and just laughed. Those kids weren’t cutting in line. They were instead put ahead of us to announce to everyone watching the parade that we were the winners of the prestigious Sunshine Award. Of course then I felt a little guilty over being irritated with them for jumping ahead of us, so God used that as an immediate lesson for me too.
Once we were back at home, mom looked on the Internet to see what the meaning of our award was. The Sunshine Award is given to a parade entry that best represented children. At first I thought this to be odd because I was serving Pine Valley as royalty. Then I thought about what we do with our ponies. We use our ponies to help children with disabilities. So really the award did fit us perfectly. And of course when the Lord answers prayer, such as He did with my mom, He gives with abundance.