When we went to the Pettis County Queen Contest, we certainly hoped that contestant #3, my granddaughter Whitney, would win. I was probably more nervous than Whitney when she walked out onto the stage, sat on the barstool, and began to play her ukulele and sing, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” Whitney had never performed in front of anyone other than immediate family.
After hearing the first few notes, I knew she was going to nail it. Tears blurred my eyes as I thought of how proud her Grandpa Jim would have been of her. I can only imagine the pride he would feel to have a granddaughter inherit his natural music ability.
After she was crowned Miss Pettis County, Whitney was interviewed for the local news. She told the Sedalia Democrat reporter that she felt Grandpa Jim’s presence throughout the competition, and especially during the talent.
I knew she was thinking of her grandpa when she answered her on- stage interview question: “If you could change or create a new law, what would it be?” Her response was “I would enact a law making access for funds for early onset dementia patients more easily accessible.” She went on to explain that dementia is an incredibly expensive disease.
Early onset dementia affects the entire family. From an early age, our grandkids knew their grandpa had a disease that affected his memory.
When Whitney was not quite two years old, she was old enough to know that grandpa couldn’t go outside by himself because he could get lost. One day when Whitney was staying with us, we went next door to visit Jim’s mom. Jim was restless and pacing, and casually worked his way toward the door. Whitney spotted him and jumped into the doorway spreading her arms and legs to barricade the door.
“No, Papa Jim!” she said with all the authority she could muster. Jim stopped in front of her, turned around, and sat down in the recliner.
Whitney has a passion to be a volunteer and advocate for Alzheimer’s. She has walked with Jim’s Team at the Memory Walk/Walk to End Alzheimer’s since she was a toddler. She has gone to the Alzheimer’s Forum in Washington, D.C., twice to advocate for Alzheimer’s research funding and legislation to help persons with Alzheimer’s and their families.
Whitney was only seven years old, when her grandpa died. If early onset dementia had not cut his life short, Grandpa Jim would have taught Whitney how to play the ukulele, and she wouldn’t have had to learn from a YouTube video. He would have loved to sing harmony with her and played along on his guitar.
We are all proud of Whitney! We know her beauty is not just skin deep. She is an accomplished young woman with a bright future. She just graduated high school and enters college in the fall as a junior.
In the meantime, she has queenly duties and appearances to make. Volunteering at Child Safe’s Color Run this weekend will be a breeze after her obligatory duties at the Smithton Fair, including wading into a mud pit to catch a pig and dress it.
Next month during the Missouri State Fair, Whitney will compete in the State Fair Queen Contest. We’ll all be there to cheer her on to victory. When Whitney walks onto the stage holding her ukulele, Grandpa Jim will be present in our hearts and minds—bursting with pride and grinning from ear to ear.
Copyright © July 2016 by L.S. Fisher