Oh, yes, she's a lady
A picture of grace and elegance in a form-fitting green sequined gown, Bambi stands alongside the busy highway, hand on hip, one knee provocatively bent, her chin turned upward ever so coyly.
Horns honk. Men yell out. Some even stop to talk to the 5-foot-8-inch looker with the 34-25-34 figure.
"Oh, yeah, people notice her," says Autumn Romine, who takes delight in dressing Bambi in gorgeous gowns before placing her alongside northbound U.S. Highway 27/441 each morning.
The girl who spends her days standing in front of Kahrizma's Formal Boutique has become something of a local celebrity, which is quite remarkable because Bambi doesn't do anything except stand there and look good.
"We've had such an overwhelming response," Romine said. "She's like a town thing. People want to know what she's wearing today."
Bambi may be the most popular mannequin in Lake County.
"Some guy asked her today if she wanted a ride. He was standing there talking to her," swore Autumn's sister, Meghan Isom, who works at the boutique at the corner of Hermosa Street in Lady Lake.
One-in-a-million mannequin fixation perhaps? Nope, just one of many admirers.
"I had guys on a road trip from Georgia stop and get their picture taken with her," said Romine, who runs the boutique that sells prom gowns, wedding dresses, party gowns, mother-of-the-bride dresses, jewelry, pageant gowns for little girls and women, and bridesmaid dresses.
Even that wasn't Bambi's weirdest encounter.
"I had a guy who came in one day and wanted to know where he could get one to put in his house. I thought it was kind of strange, but he said he wanted to decorate with it," Romine said.
Romine never dreamed that Bambi — who was named by the UPS deliveryman — would generate so much excitement.
"She's a pitiful old thing. Her shoulder's chipped. And she has no hair, no tan. We need to paint her. She's kind of pale," Romine said. "But people are fascinated with her."
Laura Hammersley, a clerk at the Island Food Store across the highway from Kahrizma's, is one of those people.
"I think it's cute. It's cool," said Hammersley, whose favorite gown is a purple number that complements Bambi's painted hair. "When I come to work I like to see what she's wearing that day."
So Romine will continue to dress Bambi in $300 gowns — a different one each day — and keep pushing her out to the highway, even though there are times when the old girl seems to be more trouble than she's worth.
"She's six or seven pieces. She's difficult to move," said Romine, who watches Bambi — and the weather — from a window at the front of the store.
"I keep an eye on her. If there's even one cloud in the sky, I will bring her in," Romine said. "Sometimes I bring her in three or four times a day."
So far, Bambi has generated more business than any ad or sign.
"I've had girls come in and say, 'I want the gown she's wearing.' I've had to take the gown off her," Romine said.
Those kind of customers make it easier for Romine to put up with Bambi's male admirers.
"Tell them she's not real," Romine said with a laugh.
So now you know. If you still feel compelled to honk, wave or offer rides to the curvaceous mannequin with the eternal smile, well, that's between you and Bambi.
Alexa & Henrietta
LADY LAKE — Ever so gently, the bright-eyed girl wearing a "there's no place I'd rather be" smile raises the ball of brown, red and gold feathered beauty to within an inch of her sweet face.
"Pretty baby, pretty baby," 13-year-old Alexa DeCarlo coos to the old English black-breasted red, who is as calm and content as a just-fed baby in a loving mother's arms.
A bit reluctantly, Alexa returns the rooster to a pen of clucking, strutting, pecking brethren. There are so many others — chickens, cocks, ducks, pigeons, peacocks, and Crystal the cockatiel — to love.
Fortunately, Alexa has plenty of love to give.
"Yes, I find myself thinking of them when I'm in school," said the Lake Weir Middle School seventh-grader, her colorful rooster earrings swinging as she utters a playful laugh. "I find it so hard when we go on vacation. I'm always calling our friend who takes care of them, asking him how they are."
"I always thought it would be a passing fad, but it never passed," said Alexa's mother, Lynn, who wholeheartedly supports her daughter's devotion to animals, especially ones with feathers. "She's been like this since she was 2. She used to act like a bird and dress like a bird. We had to make a bird tail for her."
Alexa's fascination blossomed when a neighbor in Lady Lake gave her a peacock egg. By age 7, Alexa was showing chickens and roosters in competitions.
"We didn't win for a while," Lynn said. "She didn't get discouraged, though."
Alexa wasn't winning because the chicken she was showing, Henrietta, had no business being in contests. "She wasn't a show-quality bird," Alexa said. "She had too many faults."
But Alexa loved Henrietta. So she kept trying. Henrietta was the coolest chicken the girl ever loved.
"They have unique personalities. Each one of them is different," said Alexa. "Henrietta was very special."
Some kids, the ones with seemingly perfect birds, laughed at Alexa and Henrietta. Most children would have been crushed. Not Alexa DeCarlo. She figured there had to be a contest judge somewhere who could overlook the faults and see how unique Henrietta was.
She was wrong. "I showed her a couple of times and she always came in last," recalled Alexa.
Henrietta never won a thing — except a little girl's affection — but at least she lived the life of a champion. Alexa pampered and fussed over Henrietta right up until the beloved chicken died of an enlarged heart.
Six years later, Alexa is a seasoned veteran of the show circuit, competing against adults who have been showing longer than Alexa has been alive. And the black-breasted red Alexa was holding up to her face is the blue-ribbon champion Henrietta couldn't become.
And Alexa is older and wiser.
"She's learning good life lessons," said Lynn. "She's learned that you can work your way to the top and you still might not win."
Alexa also has learned that sometimes you do win when you work hard. She has almost as many trophies, plaques and ribbons as she does chickens.
As she should. There can't be too many people showing chickens who work as diligently at it as Alexa does.
"She's learning so much," Lynn said. "She's breeding, she's studying genetics. She works long hours."
Alexa's study of genetics and breeding produced the black-breasted red. Now, she's concentrating on another rare breed, Belgian d'uccle porcelains.
"She has her pundit square, she has her charts. She knows the statistics, and she understands genetics," said Lynn. "She talks to them, and she's always studying them."
Three years away from being able to drive to poultry shows, Alexa's already found her calling.
"It started as a little hobby, and now that I've learned how to breed, I've been able to raise some good quality chickens," she said. "I'm planning to be a veterinarian, and I'm planning to continue breeding championship chickens and creating new breeds and becoming a known breeder."
Lynn stands behind her daughter 100 percent. She's not the least bit concerned that Alexa would rather study genetic inheritance patterns than Justin Timberlake lyrics.
"Sure, it's different than what most girls are doing, but it's better than boys and drugs. I let her have her chickens," said Lynn. "A lot of her friends are involved with iPods and playing their video games. She really gets quite an education. She's done injections, done sutures on birds, and treated them for various diseases."
Having her mom's understanding, and wholehearted support, means the world to Alexa.
"It's really important to have her support. Really important. Sometimes I can't understand how some kids can hate their mothers. We're a team," she said.
The team becomes stronger each time it overcomes an obstacle. And in a world where disease and four-legged predators are constant, hindrances are aplenty.
Money — or rather a lack of it — may be the biggest hurdle to Alexa realizing her dreams of breeding award-winning show fowl. Like most single parents, Lynn is pressed to provide necessities for her children, let alone set aside money for her child's hobby. So the DeCarlo girls improvise.
"We spent $120 on one of her chickens at the veterinarian, and I said, 'We can't afford to do that again.' So we diagnose and do the treatments ourselves," said Lynn. "We're right about 95 percent of the time."
Lynn hopes things will be better financially when she receives her nursing degree. Until then, they'll scrape by somehow. Alexa will do her part with the chickens and roosters she breeds.
"She sells them. She's quite the little business girl," said Lynn with admiration in her voice. "She's a good kid. She's very mature. I've learned a lot from my daughter."
Apparently the lessons have gone both ways. Alexa and younger brother Chase are two of the happiest, healthiest kids you'll find anywhere.
One of the greatest lessons Lynn has taught her children is that it's OK to stand apart from the crowd: There's nothing wrong with being the only vegetarian in your school. And there's nothing wrong with raising chickens.
To be sure, there are kids who don't understand, but Alexa doesn't give them much thought.
"I like being different, actually," she says.
No wonder she was so fond of Henrietta.ype your paragraph here.
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