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That beaver feeling 

Mid-May, beautiful weather, and it's my second week back in Durham, home from college. It's amazing how much you change—and forget—in four years.

Before a shift of waiting tables, which I swore I wouldn't do after graduation, I read up on beauty pageants.

Dad clicked away in his office, editing pictures of June Cleaver Beaver, the 2006 Beaver Queen, posing among the likes of George W. Bush and Britney Spears.

Flapper LaTail, a contestant this year and my father's girlfriend, practiced her ukulele just rooms away, for her classic performance of "That's My Beaver."

While the format is similar to beauty pageants, the Beaver Queen Pageant is non-discriminatory, with men and women as contestants and a "wetland-ready wear" competition instead of swimsuits. There were six contestants this year: Belvis, "Little Bluesy" Beaver, Flapper LaTail, World Wide Beaver and Be Vell (La Bouche) Bevon, winner of the People's Choice Award.

Members of the Duke Park Neighborhood Association and lodges of Old North Durham and Northgate neighborhoods put the Beaver Queen pageant together. It started a couple of years ago when a family of beavers was almost run out of the wetlands of Duke Park, the creek between Green and Markham streets.

Beavers are still there, thanks to the organizers of the pageant, who began the production in support and memory of the original family of beavers.

As I drove my 16-year-old sister to the pageant, I remembered the dark, lonely curves of the park, how it used to be. But seven years later, Duke Park no longer has sketchy cars parked by the swings, or people asleep by the slide.

Kids were tumbling over the patchy, rain-deprived grass. Judges, performers and contestants bursting colors and bushy beaver tails were everywhere.

Emcee John Parton called on the crowd to "huddle together, so you can get that beaver feeling." Everyone was pretty dam(n) close.

While Yogi Beaver struggled, slapping her bright yellow flippers on the concrete during the wetland competition, my sister pointed out a tall young man I used to babysit. Now he's taller than me.

Yogi Beaver, our new Beaver Queen, reiterated her plea for world peace. The show wound down.

The Beaver Queen Pageant was great, for two reasons: The organizers are laid back, care about beavers, and have a great sense of humor.

The other is that no matter how far away you go or for how long, the people you love are still back home, together, doing something weird.

More on the pageant (and photos) at beaverlodgelocal1504.org.

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