Prince William and Prince Harry have nothing on me. I also have a touch of royalty flowing through my veins. I was the 1952 Pine Tree Festival Prince of Garfield Grammar School. Like they say, “Once a prince, always a prince.”
Now, I know you want to. So, go ahead and laugh, but if you have ever rode your school’s Pine Tree float through the crowded, energized streets of Swainsboro known as the Crossroads of the South, you never forget it.
On the night of my win, I stood on the lighted stage with a backdrop of a thick, red, velvet curtain. Four other finalists dressed to their nines stood proudly in a line beside me.
Our deep sun-burned tans didn’t come from a day at the beach, but rather helping our dads in the corn and cotton fields. We smiled extra big, trying to impress the three out of town judges.
My neighbor, Mrs. Clyde Lewis, made funny faces toward me, encouraging me to open up and show my personality and take the crown back to our neighborhood.
There was a huge group of dads, moms and siblings crossing their fingers in the audience hoping their little boy would win the crown. The lights seemed to grow brighter and a mysterious silence fell over the huge audience. The judges handed the master of ceremonies the last score card which included the name of the winner. As the fourth runner-up was named, my heart was in my throat; I didn’t expect to win but as fate would have it, I was crowned Prince of Garfield Grammar in 1952.
After my win, the public appearances began for all the schools in Emanuel County: Swainsboro, Twin City, Adrian, Summertown and Garfield. We were introduced to every club and it was hectic to keep up with your appearances for one week and a half, especially for a six-year-old. I remember one of those special events…
We were lined up across the old Tiger Field in Swainsboro when a thunderstorm struck the stadium with heavy wind and rain. The little princess from Swainsboro allowed me to nuzzle under her huge umbrella and avoid the unexpected downpour. I was only six at the time but the phrase, “Thank Heaven for little girls,” repeated itself in my young mind over and over. Sometime after that event, I wondered if one of the other finalists would have better represented our school because being a prince had not been all peaches and cream – it was also a duty and obligation with hard work. But, I will never tell my fellow competitors the actual truth and take away their sense of jealously toward me.
All the long week of hard work and special appearances melted away as I sat content atop Garfield’s beautiful float, ready to fall in line along the parade route. You could hear and feel the ear-piercing of sirens, bells and whistles as Swainsboro’s proud patrol cars and firetrucks slowly rolled and fell into position. Today was Emanuel County’s salute to our money maker – the pine tree.
Mr. Earl Varner, and like-minded citizens, had started the event years ago and it was only growing stronger and receiving attention nation-wide. Dignitaries sat in folding chairs in front of the stately, marble courthouse where Minny Pearl (the comedian from Grinder’s Switch of Nashville, Tennessee, by the way) had sat in previous years.
The steady rumble of Swainsboro’s Band of Gold was slowly marching toward the courthouse square with majorettes dressed completely in gold sequins and tossing slim batons high in the air and turning them as they almost fell toward the earth. Children sat atop their papas’ strong shoulders while braver children darted out toward the street to retrieve candy from the passing floats.
I could feel electricity run through my nervous system. It felt great to be a part of something so emotional and spectacular to see, hear and feel. The thunder of drums closed in behind our float and the brass section fired up all that they had to offer. The hot Georgia sun blazed down on the streets and the acrobats, clowns and beautiful, young ladies dressed in gowns of stylist, colorful, splendor waved to the crowd.
The little brunette princess who rode the float with me that day was Brenda Toole, and her cousin, Marcellene Toole, was the queen while Zac Johnson was the king. Our float was judged as one of the top three that special day.
I still have close connections to the Pine Tree Festival after all these years. Franklin Moore, my next door neighbor and son of Theron and Carolyn Moore, won the county prince years ago. And my nephew, Chad Smith, captured the Pine Tree essay contest twice as well as the slogan contest depicting his entry as: “Fill your pockets with Pine Tree.” Although he is no longer with us, his parents, David and Beth Smith, remain very pleased with his earthly accomplishment.
I will proudly proclaim: There is nothing as grand as a parade, especially The Pine Tree Festival.
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