Chapter 14: And the Winner Is . . .
NOTE: This chapter details the costume contest at the annual church fall festival. Even Sarge is dressed up!

“Now, folks,” Mr. Macon Gentry directed those to be judged, “we want y’all to walk slowly in front of the judges, single file, and if one of ‘em asks you a question about your costume, well, just answer it. All right, start walkin’ NOW.” Mama and Daddy were in line, and Daddy held my leash. Oh no! You mean I’m going to walk by the judges, too, Daddy? I was not prepared for this, but since I wasn’t the only one who looked ridiculous, I supposed I would live through the humiliation. I looked around at the other costumes: I saw the cowboy from before, the butterfly, the pair of dice, a Southern belle, two other dogs dressed as clowns—and I’m sure they feel like clowns, too.

I also saw Moses carrying two stone tablets, someone dressed like a deck of cards, and a ballerina. I really didn’t have time to look further, because Mr. Brandt, one of the judges, had just bent down and spoke to me: “Hey, little hot dawg, you sure are all dressed up today! And you look like you know exactly what to do, too! Where did you find such a humorous costume?” You talking to me? I didn’t exactly buy it myself, you know, but I do realize I am supposed to be a hot dog—I’m a dachshund, and I am smart, I barked to him. He just laughed as we continued on by.

The judges said something to many of the participants, and I noticed that the lady judge seemed to really like Mama and Alexa’s costumes. Both Mr. Brandt and Mr. Van Camp said something to Daddy, and just kept laughing, even after Daddy had gone past them. Both of them wrote something down on their clipboards as well.

As everyone had filed by once, Mr. Gentry spoke once again: “The judges have requested that you make one more quick pass in front of them—they’ve about decided on the three winners for first, second, and third place. They also have a special prize for the most unusual costume, and they will announce that one before the other three.” So, we walked by the judges again, feeling all eyes on us as those in the crowd who didn’t participate looked us all over and discussed who they thought the winners should be. I could hear the murmuring and commenting as we paraded by.

We stood together in the prescribed area as the judges conferred and came to their decisions. Mr. Brandt, one of the judges, motioned for the microphone. Someone handed it to him, and with much enthusiasm, announced to the eagerly waiting crowd:
“Folks, it was a tough decision, but we’ve made our choices for first, second, and third place. The hardest choice today was for the most unusual costume, because there were several which fit into that category. In fact, we could not come to a consensus on just one, so we have THREE costumes we’d like to declare as ‘most unusual.’ As I call you, please come up front so we can all congratulate you. Each winner gets a gift certificate to Miz Roundtree’s store, Fine’s Apparel.” There was much more excited murmuring as Mrs. Roundtree handed Mr. Brandt a slip of paper. “The first costume to win in the category of ‘most unusual’ is the pair of dice! Come on up, Brother James and Miz Lily!” That older couple came up, red-faced, but looked thrilled to have won. Mrs. Roundtree gave them an envelope as everyone clapped and cheered.

“Next, after much discussion, we decided that a costume ain’t just for humans. If anybody is in costume, why, they oughta have just as good a chance to win as anybody else! With that said, we have chosen Sarge the Hot Dog as the next ‘most unusual’ costume!” Mama screamed and clapped. WHAT? My costume won a prize? Wow! Mama led me up front to much applause. She picked me up as carefully as she could so she wouldn’t crush my hot dog bun halves. Mr. Brandt handed Mama an envelope while several people patted me on the head. I was thrilled, since I had never won anything before. Mr. Brandt cleared his throat, taking the microphone once again. “I ask: have y’all ever seen a nicer hot dog than Sarge?” Applause erupted once again, and I reveled in the attention. This makes up for all those times I’ve felt ignored, even though I probably won’t find anything to wear at that store. I don’t care—I’ll let Mama have itI wagged my tail and barked, and everyone laughed.

“Moving right along, our final ‘most unusual’ costume took the most discussion. In fact, it is so understated that it far outshines anything else we’ve seen here today, folks. Preacher Philip, come on up here! You are our third winner!” I could see the sisters’ mouths falling open in sheer shock. I don’t get it, either, sisters. These people must know something that we don’t.

I heard Miss Savannah exclaim, “Way to go, Pastor Philip! You stole the show today for sure!” Sheepishly, Daddy made his way to the front. Mr. Brandt handed him the microphone. Daddy cleared his throat and looked out at the crowd of smiling faces.

“I must admit that my wife, Holly, thought up my costume. I wasn’t even going to wear a costume—in fact, our daughters declared that it was the worst costume they had ever seen, and I’d be sure to not win anything today just wearing an ol’ sign. Of course, they just don’t get the subtle humor because they’re children, but our judges here are very discerning individuals with great intelligence!” The crowd roared in appreciation of his statement. Once the laughter settled down, he continued: “And, since my dear wife thought up AND created my illustrious costume, I suppose it would only be fair to hand over the gift certificate to her. So—Holly, this one’s for you!” Daddy handed the envelope over to Mama, who smilingly took it and held it up, as in triumph. The crowd loved it, clapping and cheering.

Daddy handed the microphone back to Mr. Brandt. “Folks, we’d better get a move on and announce our other winners. Each of these will receive a gift card to one of our fine restaurants in nearby Commerce. Now that is a good deal, because all of ‘em are good places to eat—I know, because I’ve tried ‘em all! Okay, the third place costume goes to Moses and his stone tablets. Come on up, Jethro, and git your certificate!” The man dressed as Moses came bounding up to the front of the crowd, wearing a big smile on his face. He accepted the gift certificate and thanked the judges. I noticed that his beard was a bit lopsided now, but nobody seemed to mind that at all.

Mr. Brandt continued: “And now, our second place winner won because his costume was not only a good one, but because it ain’t store bought! Yep, he made his costume himself, and we judges got a kick outa seein’ it today. Jimmy Ray Jones, who came dressed as a truck, come on up here right now!” I was interested in seeing that one, because I had somehow missed seeing it before. A truck? How can somebody dress up as a truck? But there he was: Jimmy Ray had a huge cardboard box painted red to resemble a pickup truck complete with “lights” and “tires.” It was on his body like he was in the driver’s seat, and as he came forward, he “drove” the real steering wheel that he had somehow attached to the body of his truck. As he reached the judges, he even blew the horn on his truck! The crowd loved it, and accompanied by applause and catcalls, Jimmy Ray accepted his gift certificate by saluting to the crowd. Mr. Brandt asked, “Jimmy Ray, how long did it take you to create this fine masterpiece of a costume?”

Beaming, the young man replied, “Y’all know I work as a mechanic at my uncle Waylon’s shop. We have all kinds of car parts just layin’ around over there, so when I saw that big empty box in his storeroom in the back, the idea hit me to make me a truck. I found the steerin’ wheel, headlights, and horn back there, too. I got me some red paint, black paint, an’ silver paint—and the next thing you know, I had me a red truck!” I personally think he did great. In fact, I bet Asher would love to play with it, too!

“You sure did a fine job on it, my boy. Congratulations,” smiled Mr. Brant. As Jimmy Ray moved away, I knew it was time to announce the first place winner for best costume of the day. Anticipation building, it seemed to run through the crowd as people were murmuring and smiling, looking around as if to see if they could pick the winner themselves. Mr. Brant waited a moment to build the suspense, then speaking into the microphone, jubilantly proclaimed: “Without further ado, our first place winner for best costume at our fall festival goes to . . .” It was suddenly completely silent. The only sound was traffic on the highway beside our churchyard. Well, man, get on with it! I barked. The crowd erupted in laughter and clapping.

I overheard someone in the crowd yell out, “That dawg is right! We been waitin’ long enough, Mr. Brandt! Tell us who the winner is!” Mama, red-faced, picked me up and shushed me, but I didn’t know why. I merely said what everyone else had been thinking. I saw several humans smiling at me and nodding their heads. Maybe I won’t get into trouble with Mama later since so many here seemed to think what I said was appropriate.

Mr. Brandt, chuckling, commented, “I know Charlie, and I agree. Dawgs know what’s goin’ on more n’ we give ‘em credit for sometimes, ain’t that right! All right, then. The first place winner for best costume today is . . . Miss Savannah Butler—she’s wearin’ an authentic formal gown from about a century ago, and it shore is purty! Come on up, Miss Savannah.”

Mama put me down so she could clap for Miss Savannah. Rats! It’s hard for me to see her down here, Mama! But I couldn’t exactly jump up on Mama, so I stayed put and stretched my neck. Before long, Miss Savannah regally glided forward, and as she reached Mr. Brandt, she snapped opened her decorative fan and covered her face, except for her eyes. She blinked at the crowd several times. They loved it. “Miss Savannah is a fine example of a Southern belle, and we are happy to declare her our winner for the day,” exclaimed Mr. Brandt. He handed her the gift certificate, as a young man ran up with a camera, asking if all the winners would stand together so he could take a picture for the town newspaper. Of course, that meant that Daddy and I would also be in the picture, so Daddy picked me up and carried me up front. We were quite a sight: a Philips head, a hot dog, a pair of dice, a truck, Moses, and a Southern belle. I felt certain that our unusual picture would land on the front page of the little weekly. I found out I was right when Daddy brought home the newspaper several days later to show me.
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