Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Festival

I was always amused that the Fall Festival at the local Catholic church featured a fortune teller. Of course it was just Mrs. Lamont in a gypsy wig and scarf with an empty snowglobe as her "crystal ball" and a semi-memorized book of palm reading. No Tarot Cards, of course. I imagine Father O'Connoll put his foot down about that. Too pagan, no doubt.

But for 50 cents you could pretend Mrs. Lamont wasn't the girl's softball coach and hand over your palm to find out that you'd have a happy marriage or good luck on the lottery. There was never anything bad written in anyone's hand. No impending deaths. No loss of limb. Nothing serious. Although she once (seeing as how she was also the science teacher) warned me that students who don't study for the science test will not likely pass. I think it was a hint to me. I ignored it. After all, I was apparently going to marry a rich and handsome man, so he could do all the science for me. And I seriously doubted Mr. Right would be attracted by my memorization of the periodic table of the elements.

The Festival also featured booths where you could bet your ticket on a spinning wheel and win everything from ham to homemade cakes, bottles of wine to surprise packages, stuffed animals to handmade arts and crafts. And everything was coated with the scent of carnival popcorn wafting fake butter benediction upon the crowd.

Kids with grape snowcone-smeared faces rushed to the few actual carnival rides, run and constricted by people our parents always warned us to stay away from. But once they were up and running, we'd line up for the ferris wheel and the merry-go-round. The bright neon the brightest thing ever seen in this town. The ferris wheel was the best, when it was your turn at top you could look down and see everyone. Watch your folks at the liquor booth with the other adults, trying their luck on a bottle of Wild Turkey. Your older siblings, roped into volunteering, were making popcorn and snowcones. You could see Sister Assumpta trying to make a basket on the playground to win a ham. And all 7 of the Lamgorgini kids running the surprise package booth after saving every bit of wrapping paper from every party they'd gone to since the last time they ran the booth. RIght now their top shelf prizes were wrapped in a mixture of leftover Christmas wrap, a few sheets of birthday paper, and oddly enough, something with stars of David all over it.

Over the playground intercom came appropriately non-offensive music. That means music that nobody likes, but nobody will really object to. Lots of Beach Boys and innocent 60s pop, Neil Diamond, Paul Anka, some Motown, lots of groups whose band name's begin with "the." "The Vandellas" "The Four Tops" "The Miracles." I always thought Smokey & the Miracles would be appropriate to serenade a church built on miracles, but he never got any more airplay than, say, The Supremes. I was just glad it wasn't church music. It's impossible to believe you can win a surprise package while listening to "Hail Holy Queen enthroned above." It does tend to take way that spirit of "the next turn of the wheel will be my lucky one" when the music is telling you that while you're hoping the big package wrapped in yellow birthday paper on the top shelf will be a CD player that, in fact, you should be honoring Mary and hoping she'll put in a good word for you with the angels. Makes that greed for a new CD player seem positively sinful now, doesn't it?

Later in the day the parents would begin to disappear into the kitchen for the big dinner. Fathers had stoked up the massive bar-b-ques earlier in the day and, starting at about 4, the smoke would start followed by the scent of chicken cooking. Pre-vegetarian entrees, they served only chicken. And only blackened bbq chicken at that. In the kitchen the mothers took care of the rest. Salad made in garbage bags (clean, of course) gallons of homemade dressing. Lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, cut by an army of sullen pre-teen girls who resented the unfair sexism that let their brothers out there playing while they had to come in and made dinner for 200 people. Plus we had to serve. Inxperienced arms laded with cafeteria trays full of black chicken, green salad, rolls with individual pats of butter. Later there would be ice cream in little plastic cups. But the first trick was serving in a loud cafeteria, a bunch of lost 13 year old girls terrified of spilling something on an adult. Or worse, a nun. I actually volunteered for the nun's table because I would have loved to "spill" something on one certain nun. But I didn't. Mostly because I never got a chance. It was my luck that she sat at the table next to my mother so that when I was serving her, my mother could see everything I was doing. Screwed over my plan to dump salad all over Sister Assumpta. And you know, you never get those kinds of opportunities twice.

When it was over the families who had worked would gather in the hallway of the school. Adults sipping hiballs in strefoam cups. Kids with cokes and all the leftover candy corn. We'd run up and down the steps, racing around the hallway while our parents sat in groups talking over the day, sharing parish gossip. We'd wait for the final count. My dad was on the accounting committee so we couldn't leave until he was done anyway, but it was always a big announcement. They'd come out of the office and tell us the grand total and everyone would cheer and clap and have one more drink before heading home. Because we'd have to get up early and do it all over the next day.

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