July 4th was the big day. The whole town was out at the Fairgrounds.
There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Little drops of sweat made the sea of foreheads glisten in the sunshine. You could tell it was going to be hotter than a skillet on the front burner.
About 11:30 that morning, people began to gather around the long wooden table that was loaded with pies. Some of the old ladies got out their Fair Programs and began to fan themselves in the hot, July stillness. At 12:00 straight up, the three judges marched to the table.
Judge Carver was in the lead. I call him “Judge” because he really is one—and not just the pie tasting kind. He even had his official black judging robe on. Following Judge Carver was Sheriff Adams. I've never seen his shirt so neatly creased.
Normally, the Sheriff looks more like he keeps his clothes rolled up in a sleeping bag. I wanted to ask him if he owned a hanger, but Henry just gave me one of his looks.
Just then, Henry poked me in the ribs and whispered, “I'll bet he even has on clean underwear!” We both snickered.
Mrs. Langdon said, “Hush!”
The third judge was Principal Haynes from the school. His tie looked so tight that it was puckering up his head something fierce, but he kept smiling. I guess he figured that if the Judge could wear his hot, black robe, he could keep his tie on until the contest was over. Anyway, you never did see three more dignified, serious, honest pie judges anywhere.
Six pies had been cut and small pieces of each one had been eaten by the judges before they got to Beulah's first pie. Everybody knew it was hers because she swelled up and just about burst with pride when the knife poised over the top crust of her peachy perfection.
Henry poked me again and wiggled his eyebrows. I nodded and smiled. Henry grinned so big I thought his cheeks were going to split.
Principal Haynes brought that knife down in a professional pie-cutting fashion. We weren't real close, so we couldn't hear the sound the knife made as it hit the crust. But, Hannah Gillis was heard to say later that she thought that Principal Haynes had missed the pie and hit the table with the knife.
Whatever the sound the knife made, it couldn't have been any funnier than the look on the Principal's face as he kept on trying to force that knife through the part-plaster crust.
There was a gasp from the crowd to our left. Mrs. Potts had fainted dead away.
Never before in the entire history of the Tastiest Pie Contest had there been a delay in the proceedings. Even rain just speeded up the judging. But Beulah lay there on the ground in a heap moaning and breathing real shallow. Well, there wasn't much for the judges to do but hold on while Doc Quinsly ministered to the poor thing.
Having never seen a real person faint before, I was intrigued by the spectacle. For his part, Henry was holding his face in his hands. At first, I was sure he was praying for Mrs. Potts's recovery. But, when he looked at me and rolled his eyes up into his head like he can, that's when I knew he was holding his face so he wouldn't laugh out loud.
“Beulah must be coming down with something,” Mrs. Langdon commented. “Or else the heat just got to the poor dear.”
Henry turned his face respectfully in the other direction while his shoulders shook with what looked like sobs.
“I don’t know if you should be laughing at Mrs. Potts,” I whispered.
“I’m not laughing at her,” Henry said. “But did you see the look on Principal Haynes’ face?”
I had to smile at that. It was a very humorous expression.
In a couple of minutes, they had a wobbly Mrs. Potts back on her feet. It's tough to keep a champion down. I went back by my mom.
The very next pie to be tasted was Beulah's famous Cherry Supreme. The whole crowd leaned forward with interest to see how Judge Carver would react to a piece of heaven.
The good Judge had no sooner popped that piece into his mouth than out it came again lickety-split right onto the ground. The look on the Judge's face was priceless as the salt we had put into the sugar hit his taste buds.
Beulah fainted again.
Several people started fanning Beulah with whatever was handy. Mrs. Langdon had a funny look on her face. She wasn't even interested in Mrs. Potts this time. She turned her eyes right to Henry.
He looked like he had eaten too many hotdogs the way he was holding onto his sides and snorting through his nose.
Mrs. Langdon shook her head. It wasn't the first time Henry had gotten himself a painful stomach by eating too much of a good thing at a picnic.