Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Things are pretty sad at our house at the moment...unstable, ugly, hard. Not referring to the recent Hurricane Irene, but a personal storm, also of epic proportions. Justin and I wrote a blog post explaining all this separation business months ago, but then I was shamed into not posting it because it was "too private"...I still feel like I want to tell you the whole story because it is so unlike me to NOT, only it'll have to be much later, after some more of the rawness wears off, I guess. I'm sorry. And I'm sorry for hiding it for so long. What seemed like a good idea once does not seem terribly smart now. Everyone is freshly shocked even though it's old news to us. People are offering sympathy, lectures, advice... which makes it feel like it just happened all over again. Reopens the sore spots that might have healed. But then, hindsight is 20/20 and all. Yeah, I'll say.

Tunbridge has also been battered severely by the actual hurricane, giving me even more of a sense of disbelief and a surreal outlook on everything today. I have a hard time wrapping my head around change. Yet change has happened so drastically since early winter that I feel nearly autistic in my emotional blankness some days. Almost like stone inside, and immune to it all. Defense mechanism, I guess. But other times, I can barely breathe. I cry about the stupidest things. For now, I'll push that down deep again, because that's how I cope. I can't walk around being a basket case in front of my kids. Smile and dance, that's what I'll keep doing. It feels fake plenty of the time, but it has to happen. Fake it 'til you make it, baby. Yes, I know it's not healthy to repress, and I need to talk. I am. But I can't do that every minute or I'll go insane. Sometimes I have to pretend it's all normal. Writing helps the most, and I've done plenty of that. Don't worry, I'm OK. Seriously. I'm not the first person this has happened to. I'll live. For now, let me write of something lighter, something happy. My home life weighs in at 'Fair'...... not 'Good', certainly not 'Excellent' but also not 'Poor', so have no fear. We'll weather this storm, and be better people for it someday. Well, here you go...on the topic of 'Fair', my thoughts on the upcoming annual event I enjoy so much:

When Fall rolls around, I do what I've done every year for the last 16? 17? years, (I need to figure that out at some point)...I work in the antique museum featured at the Tunbridge Fair. Our Fair is really quite famous actually, known as "The World's Fair" after a well-known politician likened it to the one in Chicago, probably as a joke? But anyhow, the name stuck. It's a delightful mix of modern day carnival and traditional county fair. Award winning cattle, needle point, pies, giant, creepy, misshapen veggies on display after you walk through the brightly lit midway hawking Justin Bieber posters. Sometimes I find the contrast sort of jarring, mostly I like it. It's unique, that's for sure. Maple milkshakes and electric blue sno-cones go hand in hand.

Some years though, I never even leave Antique Hill, because to me, that IS the fair. What I think of as the best part anyway. A whole, tiny village perched on the knoll above the grandstand and the tilt-a-whirl. A turn-of-the-century one-room schoolhouse, blacksmith's shop, printing press, post office, general store, colonial kitchen, Civil War encampment, cider mill. Weavers, rug hookers, old-time fiddlers spread across the yards between buildings and barns. The smells up there evoke primitive pictures...black powder, roast chicken, apples, musty books, woodsmoke... HISTORY, man, that's what it's all about. And History is my drug of choice. I'd snort it if I could.

I've held all sorts of positions over the years, sometimes changing costumes several times a day, moving from one time period to another. Dipping candles for hours on end in a sack dress and mob cap until I could see bubbling wax in my sleep for nights afterwards. Basting a chicken over an open fire while I kneel, bare foot on the warm, cinder-spotted, stone hearth. Wrestling myself into a corset and huge, feathered hat to tend the Post Office, counting change and stamping cards, (occasionally whacking my head on the antique telephone because my hat creates so many blind spots) All prim, and proper, and dainty, speaking of the three R's as the 1900's schoolmarm. Encased in a large white apron, stabbing at pickles floating in a giant, murky jar in the general store.

Can't decide which is my favorite. The school or store. Both feel right. Not only do I love dressing up and smiling at slightly frightened small children for 12 hours a day, but I've learned so much after all this time, not only about history, but about human nature in general. I've learned how to read people, body language, all of that. I'm not a terribly talented person in a lot of ways, but I've got this going for me. I can size up a person (MOST of the time...I've certainly been surprised a time or two) in an instant, owning, I believe to this particular job.

People are ultimately the same. There are several categories in this "sameness" but still, same they are. I can predict, often word for word, what certain types of folks will ask or comment about. And this skill has slowly grown to expand my awareness of people year round, not just during the Fair. It's handy. Handeeeeeee.

When I work in the kitchen, the questions and comments are the most predictable. You're middle aged men in loud Hawaiian shirts like to learn over the railing and say either "What's for dinner?" (To which I like to reply, "Whatever you kill and bring back to me.") or "When's dinner?" Other questions include: "Is that a real chicken/baby/potato?" "How long does it take that chicken/potato/baby (kidding on the baby part) to cook?" "Bet you girls are hot in here." "Bet you girls wish you had a microwave." (And I like to answer that one with, "What's a microwave?")

In the Schoolhouse every person over the age of say, forty, likes to remark, in a smug tone tone, "My grandmother went to a one-room schoolhouse." As I grin and affect an attitude of amazement, I wonder if it has ever occurred to them that nearly EVERYBODY'S grandmother went to a one room schoolhouse. Sweet elderly gentlemen will sit down at the scarred desks and look around for a moment before saying "If my teacher had been as gosh-durn purty as you, I'd never a graduated!" And I, of course, always feel flattered by this adorable geriatric flirting, and coyly threaten to get the paddle out of my desk if they don't behave. They usually shuffle out, still chuckling, while I pray the next batch of visitors didn't overhear our banter, so I can do it all over again in five minutes. "Where's the dunce cap?" they'll ask. "Bet you girls are cold in here."

These repetitious questions are both exhausting and comforting. Tiresome when I'm cranky because nobody has any idea that they aren't the only ones to ask them and you literally have to act like it's the wittiest, most original thing you've ever heard...a million times in a row. But also nice that all you need are a dozen stock answers and there's no need to really think, you can just lose yourself in the time period. And I do.

Why do I do it? Because I feel at home. In those places, in those clothes. Sometimes I feel a bit like the tourists are intruding into my world. My time. Of course I'm glad they are interested, and I'm quite willing to tell them anything they'd like to know, I WANT them to love history! But really, I mostly do it because it's where I belong. I'm homesick for 1900 all year long until that September week when I don my real clothes and lift my skirts clear of puddles while soldiers tip their caps to me.

Having my kids similarly able to ease into a bygone era, as if they were meant to be there, is wonderful too. Seeing other children in the historical setting really makes it seem REAL to the busloads of 2nd graders on field trips to the fair. History is no longer dry and uninteresting when real, live, little boys are gathering firewood for the evening meal and helping the blacksmith. Real, live, little girls are peeling potatoes and practicing sums on the chalkboard. Just as real as any today. All fighting or laughing, simply being kids. Having my family go back in time means more to me than I can say. To understand, appreciate and transition between centuries is an amazing gift. Switching gears and stepping into long ago comes as easy as a trip across the hall for us. History repeats itself, they say. So, we should be all set, whenever. And people are all the same, now, then, here, there.

September approaches, Fair time growing closer, (which really rates up there in the Excellent category) and we look forward to the past.