This incident was documented in my journal in 1990, when I traveled the length of The Great Wall of China. It also appears in my book, THE BEAUTY QUEEN. Please Read and ask yourself: “How much do I trust the American Government? Do they really care about those soldiers from WWII and the Vietnam War who were lost, never found, and continue to be: “Missing in Action” (MIA) MIAs are our husbands, brothers, sons, fathers, and we deserve to know their fate.
“Reaching Datong, a remote town in Northwest China, I made the decision to camp for the night. Darkness was hours away but I had been walking steadily—all day—and mostly uphill. The mileage meter around my neck indicated I had covered 30 miles since six o’clock that morning. I deserved a rest. Glancing around at the magnificent view and beautiful mountains, I noticed movement on a taller mountain next to me. Wanting a closer look, I removed my binoculars from their case. Adjusting their strength for the closest-possible look, I was shocked to see Chinese in military uniforms—their rifles pointed at three men.
The men were loading trucks with what appeared to be chunks of black rock, probably coal. Most disturbing, the men loading the trucks did not look—Oriental. Instead, the three men—broad shouldered, blondish and light brown hair, with whiter skin—looked Caucasian. The longer I stared, the more excited I became.
The men wore faded tank tops; camouflage pants, high-top military boots and all three had, what appeared to be, something around their necks....dog tags, maybe?!?!?
They struggled to walk and looking closer, I saw the three wore shackles around their ankles. I watched the guards prod the prisoners with rifles, like animals, as the weary-looking men slowly lifted rock after rock into waiting trucks.
Eventually darkness forced me to put the binoculars away, pick up my journal and document what I had seen. I referenced each and every detail, providing as much information as possible.
Trying to make sense of it all, I thought back to a conversation I had with a Chinese man who once worked in the American Embassy. He mentioned I should be very careful on my Great Wall Journey because there were work camps and prison installations in China’s Northwestern Provinces; he warned me to avoid the “closed” towns and villages. He’d heard rumors about American soldiers being held as prisoners in work camps and knew, from reliable sources, that American Soldiers were definitely captured during the Vietnam War and traded to China. If the men on that mountain were American MIAs from the Vietnam War, no one would look for them in China.
The war ended years ago, and by now, these men were considered dead and their files sealed. I felt frantic to alert the American government. I’d learned not to trust anyone at the American Embassy in China. I would have to wait until I finished my journey and returned to America.
In 1991, I traveled from Atlanta, Georgia to Washington DC to meet with the United States Director in charge of Asian Affairs.
Congratulating me on my successful journey of The Great Wall, the director listened as I related what I had seen outside Datong.
I presented the Director with pages copied from my journal, describing the men I had seen and, as I spoke, I held up the simple map I’d drawn, showing the particular mountain where I’d seen the men.
Excited to finally get my information in front of an important government figure who could pass it on to the proper authorities, I handed the map to the director. Without glancing at the papers in his hand, he began ripping the map and journal pages into tiny pieces and dropping them into the wastebasket beside his desk.
Looking at me with only a hint of a smile, he thanked me for visiting his office, then stated he was quite busy and asked me to leave. Confused and shocked, I began protesting his actions, to question his casual attitude over such a valuable discovery when he interrupted me by standing and stating emphatically, “You must leave now.”
Following me to the door, the Director cautioned me with these words: “Forget what you think you saw, destroy any written notes, any photos you took, and never share your thoughts or information with anyone.”
He dismissed me with a pretentious smile, a quick handshake, and these cautionary words: “Trust me, my dear, you saw nothing.”
From my book: THE BEAUTY QUEEN, Let No Deed Go Unpublished.
I KNOW FOR SURE: MASSAGING BREASTS WON'T MAKE THEM BIGGER.
In 1958, soon after I won the Miss Arkansas Title, the Pageant Director (a single man in the printing business) decided that larger breasts would increase my chances of being crowned…Miss America. Forget that I’d recently won both the talent and swimsuit divisions in the 1958 Miss Arkansas Pageant.
So…the Miss Arkansas Pageant Committee hired Hiawatha Daniels---a former Powers Model from North Little Rock, Arkansas, now serving as the Director of a Funeral Home--- to help me grow bigger breasts. For two weeks, I lived with Hi and faithfully-followed her special diet and exercise plan.
According to Hiawatha Daniels, this was her successful “recipe” for growing big breasts. First thing every morning, Hi weighed me, measured my chest, then instructed me in upper-body exercises using hand-weights. Our exercise session was followed by Hiawatha massaging both my breasts. (Just writing about this totally-bizarre experience makes me angry.)
Not only did Hi—an absolutely stranger--- massage each of my breasts for exactly ten minutes every day, I had to sit naked-- in the bathtub-- so she could massage my breasts with pure dairy cream. In fact, my daily diet required me to drink one glass of pure cream three times daily, eat one gallon of ice cream each day, and consume at least two milk shakes daily. By the end of two weeks, I’d gained four pounds…mostly in my waist and hips….and felt like “mooing”. It took another two weeks to lose those four pounds and for my breasts to "un-tweak", relax, and feel normal again.
Today, I panic at the word: MASSAGE. From day-one, I knew that “growing big breasts in two weeks” was a ridiculous waste of money and time but, remember: I was the property of the Miss Arkansas Committee. They were, supposedly, The Most- Professional-Pageant-Officials—the "very-ones" who could produce the next Miss America.
Today,I'm sure these so-called “professionals” would insist I submit my breasts to some back-alley Doctor who would pump-up my small-but-proud breasts with who-knows-what….to make them “pop” out of my chest.
Hiawatha Daniels was likeable but there was something unnatural about this stranger massaging my breasts for two weeks---and getting paid for it. Just imagine the “bomb” I could have dropped—back in the fifties--- if I’d disclosed my secret sexual encounter with breast massage. Couple that with the disclosure of my years of incest and sexual abuse at the hands of my mother and...It would have been a Full-Blown Shocker.
BUT—the year was 1958. Unlike today, the world at that time was unprepared for such a shocker. Quite frankly, neither was I.
Interesting to note: When the Director of the 1958 Miss America Pageant, Lenora Slaughter, met with me and the other contestants on the first day of competition, the first thing she said was, “Girls, pad your swimsuits, your evening gowns, whatever you think needs padding. I don’t care! I just want to wow the Audience, the Judges, and the Press--- with talent, sex appeal, good looks, and lots of glamour!”
I was forced to live with my many sexual secrets until 2016, when I finally published the story of my life. My book is called: The Beauty Queen.
Now, all my secrets are public. Today, I live my life based on the subtitle of my book: Let No Deed Go Unpublished. I no longer live with secrets nor do I allow secrets around me. I believe we should all be accountable for our actions.
I haven’t always enjoyed sharing my secrets but the longer I live and learn…the more I want to “go public” with all the “shortcuts” and “savings” I’ve applied to my life.
For more than fifty years, I’ve cut and colored my hair. Not only has it saved me thousands of dollars but it’s also allowed me to be stress-free from the horrors of my childhood.
I was not-quite-two years old when my mother took me to a beauty shop for my first permanent-wave. In those days, beauticians used a permanent wave machine and, trust me; it looked like a torture chamber from Hell.
I was permanently traumatized when the beautician sat me under a steel “tree with long, flexible limbs” and attached the steel rods at the end of each limb, to my thick, long hair. I was forced to seat under the “tree” for nearly one hour. I easily recall my fear as I smelled the heavy chemicals mixed with the smell of my burning hair.
Growing up, I experimented with my hair until I learned to cut it and style it to suit me. Later-- in my thirties-- when I was bombarded with gray-- I learned to color my hair. Gray is beautiful on some women but for someone like me… who has very white skin….gray hair only made me look like a washed-out clown wearing too much makeup so…I experimented until I found the recipe for blending a variety of colors to different strands on my hair to add depth. My hair is a now a mixture of “lowlights and “highlights” which blend with my gray.
One important fact: NEVER color your hair using only one color. One all-over color makes you look older, makes your complexion appear dull, and your hair looks fake… like you’re wearing a cheap wig. For me, the mirror is my best critic. When it’s satisfied--I’m satisfied.
I’ve learned to make frugality…fun. About the time I was divorced….when I had to work fulltime for a very small salary yet was still expected to have a professional “business wardrobe”--I chanced upon a world of beautiful clothes--by accident. In search of an inexpensive desk lamp, I decided to “checkout” a Goodwill store just one block from my new job. Not only did I find the perfect lamp for one dollar, I discovered Anne Klein cashmere sweaters with matching skirts; designer suits and coats for two dollars each; and leather dress shoes, by Andrew Geller, in exactly my size! I was shocked to see that most everything was marked—one or two dollars. From that moment…..where-ever I lived….I shopped Goodwill and other classy thrift stores….but I never shared my secret. I wasn’t ashamed…I just didn’t want other women mobbing my favorite shops and getting all the bargains!
Of course, each piece of clothing I purchased from a thrift store or consignment store was immediately dry cleaned or washed before it ever touched my body. It was surprising how many of my purchases were new and still had price tags. When stores go bankrupt, close their doors, or have overstock goods…they usually donate their items to popular thrift stores and take tax write-offs.
Regardless of where clothes are purchased or how much they cost, it’s smart to purchase a classic look in everything, including jewelry, shoes, and bags. Trendy fashions change like the wind but classic styles never go out-of-style.
For me, if there’s any doubt about what to wear…I’ll choose an all-black or all-white outfit then….add pearls. It’s amazing how a simple strand of pearls can add elegance to any outfit…at any age.
Now, you know a few of my best-kept secrets. I trust you are wise-enough to know that hair color, clothes, and accessories can only do so-much for your appearance.
What you carry in your heart and share with others….is most important.
It was the night before Christmas-- the year was1991-- and I was all- alone in Atlanta, Georgia. Two hours earlier, the florist had delivered a massive poinsettia plant dotted with more than twenty vibrant red blossoms. Lacking a signature, the card simply read “Have a Merry Christmas.” I stared at the magnificent gift and for a few minutes-- felt sorry for myself. I would be the only person on Christmas Day to enjoy the beautiful plant and------just before my sadness took root--- a voice inside said “pick up the telephone.”
I heard myself ask the operator about a nursing home I’d seen several blocks away but didn’t recall its name. The operator, kind and helpful, not only provided me with the name of the state-supported facility, but offered to connect my call. When the receptionist answered the phone at Sunset Assisted Living, I introduced myself and asked if any resident living there would be alone for Christmas. Almost immediately the receptionist answered with the name, “Miss Emma Stewart.”
I briefly described what I wanted to do for Christmas. The receptionist responded by telling me a little bit about Miss Emma. A former school teacher without family or relatives, Miss Emma had checked into Sunset eight years earlier when she could no longer climb the stairs in her home.
Miss Emma never had visitors. Proper, well-spoken, and always pleasant, Miss Emma was liked by everyone at the facility but nevertheless, on weekends, holidays, and special occasions, she was alone. Each year Miss Emma watched other residents display Christmas trees, enjoy visits from relatives and family members, and open Christmas presents.
I told the receptionist at Sunset Assisted Living to expect me the next day, Christmas Day, about ten o’clock in the morning. Before ending the call I said “Please don’t tell anyone; I want to surprise Miss Emma.” The next day, carefully packing the elegant—and slightly heavy--- Poinsettia in the back of my Jeep, I marveled at the plant’s beautiful blossoms and bright greenery. I felt excited--- like a child about to unwrap a great adventure.
The receptionist walked me down a long hallway crowded with empty wheelchairs, to a room marked 113. Stepping inside, I was surprised to see people crowded around two hospital beds on one side of the room, laughing, eating, opening presents, and enjoying a holiday celebration. On the opposite wall, in a single hospital bed sat Miss Emma, smiling sweetly, as she watched the activities across the room.
With help from the receptionist, I placed the Poinsettia on an empty table next to Miss Emma’s bed, pulled up a chair, and sat down. “Merry Christmas, Miss Emma! My name is Sally and I came to spend Christmas with you. God arranged for the two of us to be together today so we could celebrate his birthday.” After her initial surprise and a few tears, Miss Emma took my hand. She continued to hold my hand throughout the day as we talked, shared memories, and nibbled on the holiday cookies and candies I’d brought with me.
At some point in the day, visitors from the other side of the room wandered over, a few at a time, to admire the Poinsettia and make small talk. They seemed interested in learning about the relationship between Miss Emma and the stranger beside her. Like a rumor mill, word quickly spread among the facility’s other residents and staff members and they too came to visit Miss Emma. Everyone was curious about Miss Emma’s gorgeous Poinsettia and--- her visitor.
Evening came and it was time for me to leave room 113. Looking around, I was touched to see the large gathering of people sharing Christmas food and engaging Miss Emma in lively conversation. The look on Miss Emma’s face documented the happiness in her heart. I began saying my “goodbyes”--- when one of the gentlemen in the crowd suggested we join hands and honor the season with a Christmas Carol. Soon, everyone was singing, including Miss Emma. “Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, o come ye, o come ye….” Joyful, I sang too.
For the first time in eight years the former school teacher--- without family or visitors---was the center of attention. The Poinsettia had successfully delivered its message…”Have a Merry Christmas”….to Miss Emma, to those at Sunset Assisted Living and, most especially, to me.
Acts 20:35 says “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Thank you, God, for speaking to my heart.
For years, the framed picture of a steam engine hung on a prominent wall in my parents’ house. It featured an embroidered message: “Old Engineers Never Die, They Just Lose Their Steam.” I seldom looked at the picture; the phrase “lose their steam” was an insult to my father, R.B. (Roy) Miller. A Locomotive Engineer, my father had a perfect record with the Cotton Belt Railroad. In fact, most of my family had a personal connection with railroads. My great grandfather spent many years with the railroad as a carpenter and his daughter, my grandmother, worked as a secretary for forty years with the Cotton Belt. After leaving college, my brother proudly served as a roundhouse foreman at the Cotton Belt Shops until his death in 1994. The railroad put food on our table for many years. Our family had great respect for the railroad and no one was more committed to the railroad than my father. I watched him begin each day with a determined “Full Steam Ahead”.
Roy Miller (R.B. to those who worked with him) followed a strict code of ethics. He refused to borrow anything, including money, vehicles, even tools. My father didn’t believe in charge accounts, credit cards, and never varied from a cash-only lifestyle. He was a handsome gentle-man who dressed well, displayed classic manners, and treated everyone with respect.
My father grew up in Missouri during the depression years. As the oldest of five siblings, he had no choice but leave high school in the ninth grade to help his father, Amon Burette Miller, support the family. I remember the summer I was job hunting and my father mentioned a few of his more distasteful summer jobs like painting barns, shoveling excrement from out-houses, and butchering hogs (his least favorite). All involved long hours but only a few dollars.
He smiled when he talked about the day he was hired by the railroad, calling it the most memorable day in his young life. Oh, how he loved his railroad job! Years later, when he retired, my father had a perfect attendance record. After more than forty-three years of railroad service, he had never missed one day of work.
Growing up in a railroad town, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, I knew the importance of limited phone conversations. Daddy received his train orders by telephone, an important call that could come anytime, day or night. The person calling my father, relayed orders for his next train run and was known as the “call boy”. Within thirty minutes of the call boy’s orders, my father, travel grip in hand, was en-route to the railroad yards.
During my father’s time with the railroad, Cotton Belt Locomotive Engineers were officially retired on their seventy-second birthday. For most engineers, after years of climbing off and on an engine; years of taking orders in the early morning hours; years of spending nights away from home…. mandatory retirement was almost a time of celebration.
But, my father had a different reaction. The idea of ending his love affair with the railroad-- made him sad. He had 43 years of perfect service as a Cotton Belt Locomotive Engineer and, if given a choice, would have remained an active, Cotton Belt Engineer until the day he died. In 1982, with his seventy-second birthday a few weeks away, Daddy spent most of his time outside, aimlessly walking around the yard he loved, looking at everything but--focusing on nothing.
A few weeks after daddy’s birthday, after his railroad retirement was officially documented, I invited him to join me for a car ride. Several blocks from home, approaching the railroad tracks, we heard the familiar bells clanging as lights began flashing, and the automatic safety barriers dropped, blocking the roadway. Within seconds, a long freight train roared by. I was talking, chatting about something, when I sensed my father’s silence. Turning to look at him, I felt overwhelmingly sad. My father’s head had dropped forward as tears dripped from his chin, designing wet circles on his favorite brown gabardine slacks. I leaned over, put my head on his shoulder, while my hand tried to catch the tears. Desperate to stop his hurt, I whispered, “Daddy, I promise, everything will get better soon.”
But, nothing got better. In a few quick years, dementia, the uninvited houseguest, became my daddy’s permanent companion. For me, the ultimate heartbreak came one night when the telephone rang. As if nudged by an electric prodder, Daddy struggled out of his chair, fighting to catch his balance while stumbling toward the ringing phone. I watched in silence as my wonderful father reached for the telephone, then announced to no one in particular: “Excuse me, please. I have to answer this phone. It’s the call boy with my orders.”
The last time we were together, Christmas, 1987, I had a nagging premonition. When it was time to leave for the airport and return to my job in Erie, Pennsylvania, I gave Daddy one last hug. Holding him close, I told him over and over how much I loved him and promised to call as soon as my plane landed. He cried, quietly, as he held on to me like a lifeline, tears marking my coat collar. Whispering, afraid my mother would hear, he begged me not to leave him. It was as if he, too, sensed this would be our last time together. As my car backed out of the family driveway… I lowered the window to say “I love you, Daddy”. Watching his unsteadiness as he struggled to return my wave, I knew for certain…..this would be our last shared moment.
Today, approaching a railroad crossing, bells began clacking….red lights started flashing…. and safety barriers dropped. Sitting in my car, I stared down the track at the approaching train. Decked out with flags, streamers, and banners, a restored locomotive came steaming, parading down the track--clickety-clack-clickety clack--moving toward some unnamed celebration. Out of respect for the historic engine, I opened the car door to stand at attention. The massive steam engine roared past, its train wheels clicking out its familiar sound, its steady, staccato rhythm. My heart pounded with childhood excitement as the antiquated train whistle blew a loud, continuous refrain.
All my life I’ve loved trains, but this train was no ordinary train; this train was special. Watching the steam engine, hearing the whistle, I remembered my father. For the first time since losing him, I felt a deep-down peace. I straightened my shoulders and stood tall, proud to remember my father’s life rather than his death. Smiling, I pictured the embroidered message “old engineers lose their steam.” Those words didn’t apply to my daddy--- the world’s greatest locomotive engineer and greatest father.
Listening to the final strains of the steam engine’s whistle as it faded into the distance, I noted the remarkable similarities between this steam locomotive and my father, Roy (R.B.) Miller. Both were classic and both would be forever-remembered as “powerful, on-track, and full of steam!”