Judge Dread

                              Judge me by my size, do you?

     Judging others.  We all know we’re not supposed to do it.  I try, with varying degrees of success, not to judge other people; but have you ever gone a week without passing a judgement?  It’s tricky!  So, imagine my delight when twice in the past year I have been asked to judge other people, on purpose, and in public!  Woo-hoo, I thought – this is going to be FUN!
     My first foray into the world of judging was delicious, literally.  I was at a church-sponsored blueberry festival in Blue Hill, ME.  This setting was as quaint as you are picturing.  Kids frolicking in a bounce house, blueberry crafts, blueberry smoothies, blueberry muffins, music, sunshine…and of course, a contest for “Best Blueberry Pie.”  But there was a big problem.  The committee was short a person to judge the pies.  They had already asked several people, all of whom had politely declined. This is a very small town.  People are serious about their alliances, and about their blueberry pie.  No one wanted to get caught up in that kind of trouble.  However, being “from away,” I was targeted and eagerly agreed to participate.
     I sat down with my co-judge and winked conspiratorially.  This was just for fun, right?  How hard could it be?  We eat some pie, and pick the one we like the best. Not quite. My co-judge leaned in and said, “this is how I do it,” and he pulled out a spreadsheet of sorts.  It was a small scrap of paper with a numeric rubric, and I got a quick lesson in how to dissect and judge the proper pie:  Crust – dense or flaky?  Filling – runny or firm?  Taste – nutmeg or citrus?  I started to shift in my seat.  Oh, we’re taking this seriously?  You betcha.  A small crowd formed as we took careful, small bites of several pieces of pie.  We ate, we rated, we revised, we re-tasted.  Since each one was delicious, how could I ever choose?  But slowly, with the rubric to guide us, a winner rose to the top.  I took several more bites, (you know, just to be fair. I wanted to be completely sure of my vote, after all).
      I came away unscathed from that experience, and was even thanked for taking my time and  judging so thoroughly. To that, I flashed a blue smile and piped, “anytime!”
     The winner of that pie contest walked away with bragging rights and a small ribbon, I recall.  But what about when there is money involved?  My second experience with being a judge is happening right now.  In the small(ish) town of Windsor, CT, there is a long-standing tradition called the Shad Derby.  What started as a fishing derby has grown into a months-long celebration, culminating in a parade and festival, and a coronation ball, where the “Shad Derby Queen” is named.  (I’m not making this up).
    Girls age 18-21 can compete for the coveted title, and accompanying scholarship money.  When a good friend asked if I would participate as a judge, I willingly agreed.  I knew there wouldn’t be pie, but I’m always up for something new.  Why not? I thought.
     The first event was a very nice gala, with a cocktail hour followed by a program where each young woman competing gave a one minute introductory speech.  The other three judges and myself sat at a panel-style table facing them. “Like American Idol?” asked my daughter the next morning.  Yes, like that, but without the singing.  I was in awe of the poise of these young women as they took turns at the microphone, and realized with dread that judging people is nothing like judging pie.  This was going to be really hard.
     Things only got worse for me during the “interview night” where the young women again faced the panel of four judges, one at a time, to answer questions.  The more I got to know each person, the harder it was for me to judge them.  They are all darling, all active in their community, all stars in their respective school sports and activities.  All have good hearts and big, bright smiles.  I’m sure to some of them, the accompanying scholarship money would make a big impact on their plans for college.  Judge them?  How??
     Luckily, as with the blueberry pie, there is a scoring rubric.  As judges, at each event, we’ve entered numbers relating to various aspects of the candidate’s performances as diligently as we could.  I’m told that somehow, when all the scores are tallied, it will all work out.  The right person will be named Shad Derby Queen, and her court of Princess Royale, First Princess, and Second Princess will be rightly named in turn.  I do not know who will “rise to the top”, but two things I do know for sure:

1) She will be deserving, because in my mind, I think all of these bright young women are.
2) I am so glad my 18-year-old self isn’t competing against them!

     What is amazing to me is how hard it has been to be an official judge, when it is equally difficult for me to not judge people in my everyday life.  This experience has taught me a valuable lesson:  even when you look down under the bottom crust, most pies, and people, are good and deserving of love.


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