Her photograph hangs upon my bathroom mirror. Everyday, for the past ten years, she is the first person I see as I prepare for my day.
She reminds me to be kind to others. She is a symbol of grace and charm. She is a beautiful woman who inspires me to show the world what is wonderful about yourself both inside and outside.
She is Imogene Erickson in a pose from her 1957 Miss Mississippi title. She wrote, “Thanks for everything, Jamie.”
And I looked at the photograph a little longer than usual when I heard of her passing earlier this week.
When I first moved to Yazoo City ten years ago after I married my Pea Ridge country boy, Jason, I didn’t know a soul. I still considered myself a Natchez resident, even though I was creating my home and building my career in Yazoo City. Yazoo City was a place I visited during a second-grade field trip, and I had never returned.
Unsure about my new town, I was afraid I would say the wrong thing or not fit in. I was somewhat “different.” And it was a difference that my hometown folks had gotten used to and more or less expected.
Although I was born in 1982, I was obsessed with any and all things vintage. I preferred black and white classic films. My stockings had seams on the back of them. I wore vintage hats and dresses.
But being the way I was, I decided to stay true to my roots. I wouldn’t change, and I would remain “Jamie” in the hopes that Yazoo would accept me for who I was, and more importantly, as Jason’s new wife.
I can remember attending my first public function with a vintage hat that had a veil and a super-extended feather sticking off the side of it. It garnered some looks from many. And just when I thought I made a mistake, a soft voice came up from behind me.
“I just wanted to tell you that I love your hat.”
Those kind words made me feel so much better. Those words came from Mrs. Imogene Erickson.
“I used to wear hats like that when I was younger,” she said, grabbing my hand. Not just for a shake, but for an embrace.
“Thank you,” I said, blushing. “I have about 50 of them at the house. I wish people still dressed the way they did back then. I guess I’m trying to bring it back.”
We both shared a laugh before heading over to the punch bowl for much-needed (and wanted) conversation. Over the next hour, I didn’t feel like the oddball, the new girl.
Mrs. Imogene made me feel so welcome to my new home as we talked about old movies, vintage fashion and more.
I went home that night and told Jason about the most wonderful and charming lady I had ever met in my life.
A few days later, learned more about that kind soul who instantly made me feel at home. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that she was 1957 Miss Mississippi.
I was floored. I had never met a Miss Mississippi before. And yet she was the humblest person I had met in a long time.
It wasn’t long after that when I received a letter in the mail. It was from Mrs. Imogene, in her 1957 Miss Mississippi pose. With her personal note underneath, it made my day.
I stuck it in the corner of my bathroom mirror, and it has remained there ever since. It has served as a reminder that true beauty is a gift, but it is often what is inside that outshines everything. Treat others with kindness. Be humble. Have respect and grace. And put on your best smile.
I will miss her more than she probably would have ever known. But she taught me some pretty valuable lessons in the time I knew her.
I often think of her now when I enter a room with a gigantic (and perhaps too large) hat.
Be kind, be confident yet humble, and show them how it’s done.