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Homecoming queens fade as years pass
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The subject of homecoming queens started in the odd way that some topics enter into a conversation. It really had nothing to do with what we were discussing but then, in a very real way, it did.

Over a late lunch of salad and pizza - the salad a tribute to our diets and the pizza an ode to our cravings - my dear friend, Karen, and I were talking about No. 1 records. Hers to be precise. Her record label had just announced that her latest release had hit the top spot on the Southern gospel charts, making it her second straight No. 1 record.

We were jubilant, clinking glasses of ice tea and giggling like the young girls we were when we met. Something led to a discussion about an upcoming reunion of our high school that planned to celebrate 50 years of graduates. Then one of us, though I don't remember which, mentioned the night that Karen, considered by most to be the odds-on favorite to win homecoming queen, had lost.

"I was so disappointed," she said, smiling over what seemed so important then but mattered not at all now.

"I'll never forget the look on your face," I commented, shaking my head. I was a grade younger and though I don't remember who the homecoming queen was in my senior class, I have never forgotten the night that Karen lost. We talked about it for a few minutes and she professed, "I promised myself after that night that I'd never get my hopes up like that again. And I haven't."

Grinning, I leaned across the table closer to my friend. "Yeah, but if God had given you the choice between homecoming queen or two No. 1 singles in a row, which would you have chosen?"

She threw back her head and laughed. "You're right."

"Some people peak in high school," claims Penelope Ann, herself a former homecoming queen. "At 18, that's the best life's ever going to be for them."

You might not want to take Penelope Ann as an authority on that subject. After all, she spends her time shopping, highlighting and manicuring.

Jeannie, who is one of the most beautiful women I know, tells the story of how dorky she was in high school. I didn't know her then and can't imagine it except I have seen photos. She wore big, owlish glasses, no makeup, unflattering clothes and her hair was dishwater blonde and frizzy. It's hard to believe that the glamorous blonde I know is the same person. She looked brainy, though, and she was. She took her smarts all the way through medical school so now she's beautiful, smart and very successful.

One night a few years ago, she was eating a quick burger at the Dairy Queen, in between hospital shifts, when she noticed an employee of considerable girth who was cleaning tables. Both kept eyeing each other, knowing they knew the other from some place. But where?

"Do I know you?" asked the Dairy Queen employee.

Jeannie saw her name tag and realized who she was. "We went to high school together. You were the most popular girl in school and homecoming queen. I remember you well."

DQ shook her head. "Who are you?" And when Jeannie told her, DQ's face fell. "But in high school, you were so ..."

"Ugly," Jeannie replied in the straight forward manner of doctors. "That's what you always said. You were so mean to me." She paused for a second. "I'm a doctor now." She smiled. "I guess it's better than being homecoming queen."

Yeah, I guess from dork to doctor is a better career path than going from homecoming queen to the Dairy Queen.

Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Sign up for her newsletter.