They brought her bands and bunting and a white Cadillac convertible, they gave her roses and a parade down Main Street, and all day long that bright cold Sunday, they gave Miss America their love and gleaned the glory from a rhinestone crown whose significance may have faded somewhat in the crowded constellation of America's cultural icons, but which shines as brightly as ever in the dark night of this mountain town, Kylene Barker's hometown.
They're proud of her all right, even if she did get right up there on national television the minute she was crowned and tell Bert Parks she came from Roanoke instead of from Galax, from Roanoke - 82 miles to the east, and worlds away from Danice Kylene Barker's long march out of an ordinary life.
Everyone was pretty torn about that. But what the heck, as Clyde Sharp put it, as he watched Kylene after waiting two hours at her old junior high school just to see her, " Kylene's being named Miss America is the biggest thing to happen around here since Stompin '76, " and, in fact, it was just the other day that he and Clint Taylor were saying what a coincidence it was that " the two biggest things in our lifetime should happen so close to each other. "
Dolores Barker, Miss America's mother, is not so sure she likes the comparison of her daughter's triumph to a rock and country music ruckus that brought a good deal more chaos to Galax than Galax was willing to deal with.
And after all, it is not notoriety that Galax hopes to gain from Miss America's roots in their community, but pride, that " someone like that could come from a place like this, " and prestige that she should hail from this factory town left behind by a railroad and looking to a highway for redemption.
Miss America, after all, is a very big thing to take pride in, in a place like Galax, where most everyone works for the Hanes knitting factory or, like Kylene's brother, in the Burlington textile mill, where the average family income is $8,000 a year and the big brick furniture factories at the edge of town are owned by just a few families who marry one another and keep the upward mobility confined to their own genalogies.
" Maybe Miss America doesn't mean what it used to to some people, " said Betty Patton, who taught Kylene in the fifth grade and who is Dolores Barker's best friend. " But it means a lot that Kylene got it. It proves that you don't have to be rich to get what you want, that if you work hard enough and you want something bad enough you can get it, even if you don't have a swimming pool or a big house on the hill. "
Kylene carried her roses and wore her crown and a dress that gleamed gold and silver and the gray old women clapped and clapped in the chill wind on Main Street and turned to each other and said, " She looks just like a princess. "
And Kyle Barker, all dressed up in a brand new three-piece suit and feeling far away from the supermarket where he butchers meat, turned to his wife and said, " Well, she's Miss America, Dee, my goodness gracious. It just doesn't seem real. "
Since her crowning in September Miss America has been to Utah to be a guest on the Donnie and Marie show, and to Minnesota for Kelloggs, and Los Angeles and Chicago and St. Louis for Gillette, and to the Campbell soup plant in Camden, N.J., and to New York City for the white mink jacket she wore in the motorcade and which still bore the creases from the store box as she sat in the back of the Cadillac riding down Main Street.
She will get at least $50,000 from her personal appearance, a great deal more than that if she's any good at it. And if, like Phyllis George and Bess Myerson and runner-up Anita Bryant before her, she is able to use her crwon as a key to other, bigger kingdoms, she will leave Galax even further behind than she had planned. The Goal Was 'Out'
"All I ever wanted was out, " she said of her hometown on Friday as she waited for the plane that was to take her back. "There's nothing for me there. Nothing. "
Sunday she beamed and told them how glad she was to be there, now that she was safely secured from staying, and sang them a song and advised everyone who came to see her to always have confidence in yourself, because if you don't, nobody else will. "
Actually, looking back on it all, say her friends and acquaintances, Kylene Barker never did seem headed for that hard scratch for life that passes for getting by in Galax.
Her neighbors in their neat brick homes and their 18-hour days say they knew it, and the good ol boys who pass the tiem caring for their cars or dumping their cycles in the trailer park say they knew it, and the sweet-faced, hardheaded ladies who watched her progress like hawks say they knew it, and the good ol' boys Barker would not amrry young or get a job that had her on her feet all day or watch the factory drain her husband.
No part of it came from her mother, a dark-eyed woman with determination etched in the lines of her face, who stood in the reception line with her daughter at a luncheon given by the Junior Women's Club of Pulaski, just over Draper Mountain from Galax, which had sponsored the local contest that had seen Kylene to the Miss Virginia pageant.
Dolores Barker had said more than once that her daughter would be everything that she was not and with that kind of thinking came a tide of devotion that brought her a horse named Blaze and a poster bed in a lavender room and a princess of their daughter that fill the Barkers' tiny living room. Kyle Barker moonlighted as a vacuum cleaner salesman to get his daughter the things they thought she should have.
"My Parents were not the kind to hold me back, but they didn't push me either," said Miss America while she waited for the plane home."I grew up with beauty pageants, I knew I wanted to enter one when I was seven."
She had an aunt who had been Miss Teen-age Roanoke and she never missed the Miss America pageant. She saw a gymnastic routine performed by a contestant in one pageant, she started tumbling the next day and entered a talent contest that year.
"I like competition," she said, "in everything I've ever been into." She has a meticulous attractiveness, high, hard Applachian cheekbones, a soft Southern beauty with iron in her eyes.
"The pageants were a way to display my talent and to try for scholarship money. They really give girls an opportunity to explore what they can do." Winning Streak
She worked her way up and won everything in sight, Miss Carroll County High School, Most Valuable Cheerleader, 1974, Miss Tarheel Twirling Camp East, Miss New River Valley Fair, Miss Virginia State Fair. She was the feature baton twirler at the football games, she was on the gymnastics team, she went to Virginia Girl's State, she worked 12-hour days in school at her activities, and there was a lot of envy.
"I'd try to smile and be friendly with everyone," she said and shrugged. "But some people just didn't respond. The better job I did, the more people seemed to rescent it."
By the time she was ready for Miss America, there was no longer a pageant in Galax, there weren't enough contestants entering to make it worthwhile. The one sponsored by the Junior Women's Club is Pulaski was the closest alternative and she entered there and won in a field of eight. Her chaperone brought a bottle of champagne with them to Roanoke for the state competition, so sure was the victory.
And when Kylene took Miss America, her neighbors took up a collection to buy the Barkers a congratulatory gift, another picture of their daughter - a full-length, full-color portrait that was displayed in the window of the Ken Kay Discount Store on Main Street when Kylene came home.
She is cautious in the way she answers questions in her new position, forthrightly avoiding controversy. "That's not what I'm here to do," she said. "This whole thing is just one big P.R. job and that's all it is. They want you to promote their product at a public appearance, not going around expressing opinions." Cinderalla and Cornball
Watching the first citizens of Pulaski pay their respects to Miss America was Carl Flore, the president of the pageant, who together with his wife, had flown down with Kylene for the homecoming. "I think the pageant is on its way back up again, what with the country sliding toward normalcy," he said. "It's a big Cinderalla story - sure it's a cornball, but that's why it's successful.It's in the small towns that people really get behind this thing."
The new Miss Virginia was there and the new Miss Pulaski County, and a junior Miss or two, but nothing was as exotic as the appearance of Tina Payne, age 9, and her entourage, which consisted of a Texas millionaire father, his wife, a personal manager and a photographer.
Payne claimed the title of 1979 World's Our Little Miss, and said that she had been in over 200 beauty pageants, beginnig when she was 3."Naturally," she said behind a dense thicket of hairspray, mascara, rouge and eyeshadow, "I tap-dance."
Meanwhile, on the other side of Draper Mountain, the citizens of Hillsville were getting ready for the big Barker and, it seemed at times, half the town, around the Carroll County High School football field where Miss America received a key to the city and a Revere Bowl with her name on it.
"Now you be sure an d smile whne you give Kylene that key," said one welcoming committee member to Mayor Tim Clary as they tried to get the cars lined up.
Mayor Clary was so proud of Kylene but it was not, he said, as if this were the first beauty queen the community had ever ahd. "Course you've heard about the Early sisters," he siad. "Each and every one of them was a homecoming queen - Susan at William and Mary, Deborah at University of Richmond, and India at Wake Forest. And Miss Daytona Beach this year is a gifl from around here."
In the late afternoon sun, the motorcade would down the highway, stopping briefly at Carroll County High School and then to Woodlawn Intermediate School, where the bands played and the crowds cheered and Kylene Barker giggled nervously. 'There She Is'
In Galax, they went down Main Street, to Felts Park where old friends and teachers had put together an amateur "This Is Your Life." even bringing back Blaze, whom she had said last year to the girl she crowned Homecoming Queen on Saturday at her old college, Virginia Tech.
Ron Wittemore, who was identified as the vocalist for the 1978 Miss North Carolina pageant, sang "There She Is," and the crowd rose and cheered.
There too was Miss Virginia 1948, Bobby Wilson Jennings, now a teacher in nearby Wythe County who came to greet Kylene Barker and Paige Brown, her successor as Miss Virginia. Although, the significance of the title had faded somewhat in the crowded constellation of America's cultural icons, "she's still the ideal girl," Jennings said. "The essence of its coming back, even if people's view of it has changed some."
Kylene sat in her big red chair on the stage with her parents, and laughed and cried andtried to be modest about the pinnacle she spent so much of her life working toward. She sang a song, touching off-key, with lines about how, "if there's a wrong way to say it, a wrong way to play it, nobody does it like me . . ."
"I'm still Kylene Barker," she told them. "I always had a definition of Miss America as the typical American girl who's genuine. I may hold a title now, but I'm still Kylene Barker from Galax, Va."