Paula Deen‚Äôs husband looks a lot like Ernest Hemingway. I know this because the exuberant ‚ÄúFood Network‚ÄĚ star was at Sloppy Joe‚Äôs Bar in Key West to cheer for her white-bearded spouse when he competed in the 2012 ‚ÄúPapa‚ÄĚ Hemingway Look-Alike Contest.
His name is Michael Groover, and Paula said he‚Äôd been telling her about the contest for a long time.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve been together probably 12 years and married almost nine, and the only thing that he has consistently said to me over the years is ‚ÄėI want to go win the Ernest Hemingway look-alike‚Äô,‚ÄĚ she related.
He didn‚Äôt win this year, but he did make the final round ‚ÄĒ which Paula felt was fitting for several reasons.
‚ÄúHe has got the Hemingway soul,‚ÄĚ she said in her rich Southern voice as she watched the final round at Sloppy Joe‚Äôs, surrounded by the wives of former winners and longtime competitors. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs all man, honey ‚ÄĒ he‚Äôs truthful and honest and (has) really got the spirit.‚ÄĚ
He also has a striking, dark-browed look of Ernest Hemingway in his later years. And if his and Paula‚Äôs schedules permit, with luck Michael will return next year to continue his quest for the title of Papa.
If he does, he‚Äôll be judged by a panel that includes 64-year-old North Carolina investment banker Greg Fawcett, who won the 2012 contest on his 10th attempt.
‚ÄúThank you, Ernest!‚ÄĚ Greg hollered as his name was announced and the judges ‚ÄĒ all past winners ‚ÄĒ swarmed to congratulate him, slap him enthusiastically on the back and welcome him to their exclusive fraternity.
Greg credited his win mostly to establishing a camaraderie with the judges and being willing to help with their activities and support their scholarship fund.
Paying attention to the Hemingway look, Greg said, was another big part of the winning equation.
‚ÄúI started timing my haircuts and making sure my beard was the right length so that I fit the profile,‚ÄĚ he admitted.
Obviously, he got it right. But like many other Papas, Greg shares more than just a physical resemblance with the literary legend who lived in Key West throughout the 1930s.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm an avid hunter, and I live on a lake so I literally fish every day,‚ÄĚ he explained after his victory. ‚ÄúUnfortunately I‚Äôm not a very good writer, but I can drink ‚ÄĒ so three out of four is pretty good.‚ÄĚ
The look-alike contest is an undisputed highlight of Key West’s annual salute to its most famous literary resident. For Greg, however, as for most repeat competitors, the camaraderie is as important as the contest itself.
Aspiring Papas return year after year with wives or girlfriends (known, of course, as the Mamas), and often many other friends and family members, to be part of the bearded brotherhood whose closeness runs deep.
‚ÄúComing down here is the highlight of my year,‚ÄĚ Greg said as he stood surrounded by his look-alike compadres. ‚ÄúI know these guys, I love these guys, and I‚Äôve been friends with them for a long time.‚ÄĚ
Despite being a ‚Äúnewbie‚ÄĚ contest attendee, Paula Deen clearly felt the indefinable magic. Sitting at Sloppy Joe‚Äôs among the other Mamas, chatting happily with them and watching her husband compete, she wore the satisfied smile of a woman who was exactly where she wanted to be.
‚ÄúThis has been such a treat. I‚Äôve eaten too much, I‚Äôve slept too much, I‚Äôve laughed too much ‚ÄĒ it‚Äôs been great and I‚Äôve made some wonderful new friends,‚ÄĚ she confided. ‚ÄúYeah, I‚Äôm married to a Papa.‚ÄĚ