Possibilities do become realities

Published 11:15 pm Saturday, August 4, 2007

In 1970 a young beauty from Columbus was crowned Miss Mississippi. Her name was Christine McClamroch.

“A lot of times you wonder what thoughts are always there and which thoughts are new perspectives,” Christine McClamroch Spain said in a telephone interview Monday. “A lot of times those lines get blurred for me. But when a girl at school became Miss Columbus and then Miss Mississippi and went on to be runner-up for Miss America, I saw that as a possibility. Maybe it was because she was from Columbus that it seemed a possibility.”

Possibility is a word often tossed out when the excitement of something new needs exploring. Sometimes we get caught in the web of our own perceived limitations, and we only reach for the lowest rung on achievement’s ladder rather than the highest. This theme resonated throughout the interview with Spain. Her intent was to reflect positively on Palmer Children’s Home where she grew up, and her life.

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Spain’s sister made an early impact on her when she was only five or six years old. Their home was fragmented with a mother who had insurmountable problems that a five year old could never understand. Spain’s sister would go every day to a church school or kindergarten, and every day Jane McClamroch would bring home half of a cookie to her little sister. Spain said they didn’t have cookies much of the time, and isn’t sure they even had much food, either. That half cookie from the loving hand of her sister made such a lasting impression on Spain that she still remembers that treat today, 50 years later.

“I was five and she was six. I find that sort of unbelievable that she would bring home half of a cookie for me,” Spain said. “Over the years, I have been building up a message over that. The main one is that someone will always be thinking of you. You will be taken care of. That was a big message to get out of one little memory. As children, you just gobble up those cookies. It was like it was already mine. My presence was there with her. That just touched my heart so much over the years.

“When I take that story memory out, I can see the ideal that we were taken care of, we were taken to Palmer, different individuals came into our lives that nurtured us along,” she said.

There are many reasons children, through no fault of their own, must go to a children’s home to be cared for. The bottom-line reason is the parents, for whatever reason, cannot provide for and take care of their children. Spain’s sister and brothers went to Palmer Home for Children in Columbus which sits between Tupelo and Meridian.

“I remember when we got there, there was this looming dining room with this large table. We were holding hands rather tightly. This room was the biggest thing I’d ever seen besides the outside world. There were all these faces looking at us,” she explained.

At the home, the girls were put in a cottage for the little ones and the brothers went to a different dormitory.

“Did I miss my brothers? Yes. It wasn’t like… There is a difference because our family base was already fragmented before going into this situation, even before Palmer. I remember them, but there weren’t a lot of years bonding. The situation was fragmented. We didn’t have a family unit sitting around the table with brothers picking on you, at least not in my memories. In a sense that could be its own mercy. I didn’t have a sense of missing anything. I would see them in the dining hall and wave at them. I was 9 or 10 and they left Palmer and went into the service, then went overseas. I was proud of them, talked about them, but it was a different kind of bond.”

It took awhile for Spain to understand the gifts that were given to her at such a young age. There were house mothers and house fathers who were individuals like teachers. Some were attuned to exactly what a young girl needed and some had ideals that weren’t the most nurturing. Those held to the rules.

“It was because there was a group,” she illustrated her point. “They had rules that must be kept because what was for one was for all. Momma Jane Dean, got me at sort of a difficult time, at a time when being a teenager and getting into dating. It was also at a time when I finally realized that this is where I was going to be, and sort of settled in.” Jane Dean was her house mother when Spain was 13 years old. It was about that same time that her biological mother died.

“One would have to look back and say we had really good house parents. It was their gift to us. I began to see it. The rules needed to be enforced, but also individuality was their gift to us, too,” she said.

There were two things that Spain grew up desiring intensely.

“I really wanted a family. I don’t think that is uncommon, and the other thing was a home.”

When any of the other children would have parents or grandparents or a family member come to visit them, she and her sister would ease on into the visiting parlor because they wanted to be a part of it.

“We wanted it to be a possibility for us. When the others’ visits would come up, we’d want to be their best friend because we wanted to be a part of a family, to bask in their joy as if it were our own,” Spain expounded.

“My experience of a family just wasn’t there. As much as I wanted family, have a happy fulfilled marriage and family, I wasn’t equipped for it at all. My view was of wanting something, seeing different successes, or a perception of idealism. I’d see those families at church, friends at school, and anyone that had a family, I viewed as the ideal. I didn’t realize that not all families were perfect. Those children may have had more difficulty than I did at Palmer. I wanted that Ideal, the perfect husband, children, station wagon, and the dog. But, life is not that way.

Spain loves singing. She grew up singing in the choir at church and singing solos. She practiced, and it was only natural that she would rely on this talent when she agreed to enter the Miss Columbus pageant, and won.

“When I was asked to do it, for all the reasons they saw, I felt so honored. It was a feeling that this would never happen, and then I placed it in my subconscious that it could happen,” she said.

Because a girl at school became runner-up for Miss America, the possibilities became possible. Spain won the Miss Columbus and went on to become Miss Mississippi of 1970. She was third runner-up for Miss America.

“It was because this is what I could do, like the athletes get into a Zone by training and training. I just dropped all lack of self-confidence. God brought me to that place in my life. The work was already done and it was enough. I don’t want this to look like I’m spiritualizing this pageant. But, it had a meaning and God had a purpose for it. When they asked me a question on stage at the Miss Mississippi pageant, I wasn’t trying to spiritualize it, but this saying that a wonderful woman gave to me just flowed out.

“‘Lovingly in the hands of the Father I placed myself, and all my affairs and know that which is my highest good will come to pass.’ For whatever reason, I had a feeling that night that something was going to happen and it was for good. We all get on ego trips, but it just seemed so funny to put on a crown. It was a reality and not a possibility anymore.”

Spain over came the obstacle of maintaining perspective. This was before pageants had platforms and winners had mission statements. She had spoken of her faith before the crowds. Before the pageant she had been struggling with some personal issues. Then, that first year of college, a young woman came in to her college dorm room and asked to practice something from Crusade for Christ on her. It was a turning point for her. She had trusted Christ as a child, but this had more to do with the Holy Spirit which connected a lot of her life experiences into something profoundly purposeful. Traveling and speaking took a toll on her. It was all a challenge.

“The main thing is,” she expounded, “it was an experience connected to intent and purpose to show me the possibilities for my life. To show the possibilities for others who think they may not have similar possibilities. Oh, not a pageant, but other things in life. We all have our responsibilities to ourselves and to God. Some may not know what that means. But we are responsible when someone else is looking at us and our lives. We must take responsibility for where we are.”

Reaching for the higher possibilities can place us in a higher responsibility, such as inspiring others to attain their possibilities. Spain did that.