Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mrs. Smucker Goes To The Fair

Thursday was my annual Day At The Lane County Fair Oregon Authors' Table.

It was a grand mix of sheer boredom and being interviewed on KVAL, of watching overweight people shuffle by eating ice cream and of seeing the fascinating Frog again, of doing poorly on sales but richly on connecting with readers.

Always before, I parked in the field beside the fairgrounds, and old men on horses waved orange flags to tell me where to go.

This time, that lot was blocked off and I followed the traffic down meandering one-way streets, getting loster by the second, until I found a parking spot.

As I was unloading my stuff, a group of young women walked by. One had a tripod and one had a camera the size of a hav-a-hart skunk trap. I asked them if they know if it's ok to park there. They didn't know. Then one girl said to another, "Hey, maybe that's someone you could interview about parking."

She said she's from KVAL news and would I mind? I said no, if it doesn't take too long.

So she pinned a microphone to my shirt and hoisted the huge camera to her shoulder. She asked my name and had me spell it. "Where are you parked?" she asked me. Well, she had me there. "I don't know," I said. "I think I'm on Jefferson, and I'm just going to head out in that general direction to find the fair." I waved toward the northwest. She wondered if I thought something should be done about parking. I said I'd never had this problem before and if it only happens one or two days a year, there's no sense building a new parking lot.

And soon we were done. She got a shot of me walking off with a backpack and two rolling cases of books. Then one of them hit a crack in the sidewalk and the box flew off the rolling rack.

I don't think any of the footage ever made it on TV.*

Dan Armstrong the ex-mechanical-engineer-turned-fiction-author and I talked about his work to get the grass-seed-growing farmers to start growing more beans and grains. People in the Valley grow lots of fruits and vegetables, but actually only about 5% or less of the food we eat is grown here. He'd like to see that change and I have to say he makes a lot of sense. With the price of fuel, it seems like good insurance to have a good variety of food plants grown close by.

But if everyone switches to quinoa and fava beans, Paul will soon be out of business.

Sales were terrible compared to previous years but lots of people stopped by to say they read my column. The proportion of buyers to column-readers was 1 to 7.

One woman told me that my work is "so needed," that I show people how family is done, that people like her, with an abusive alcoholic mom who literally didn't speak to her for 14 years, want to have a sane, normal family life but don't know how. And I show them how and I give them hope and she thinks that's wonderful. Of course my first thought was, "You've got to be kidding." But when she described her situation I got what she meant. Sort of.

One lady came by with a t-shirt that said, "I am not fat. I'm hiding my fabric stash." I get that.

Another woman said, "My children have benefited from your writing. Some of your columns have stopped me from killing my kids."


A young man named Jason was supposed to show up at 7 to sell his memoir but he couldn't make it. It turns out he has that same disease as Stephen Hawking has, and is just as crippled, and communicates by blinking once for yes and twice for no, and actually wrote a good memoir by blowing through a straw at a special computer screen. Imagine.

The famous Frog came for the last two hours. I've written about him before.

Frog smelled nicer than he ever has before at the Fair but he still has lots of bushy hair and his dirty joke books and his odd quirks.

But I have to say I like him. What you see is just what you get. And he isn't jealous if you make more money than he does, and he doesn't care if you wear Christopher and Banks or an old T-shirt, and he is kind and friendly.

Now the truth is he wouldn't be easy to live next door to, with his disdain for city law, and he also would neither judge nor care if I cheated on a final exam or my taxes or my husband.

But something about him always reminds me that there's a lot we Christians can learn from publicans and sinners.

I took a picture of Frog and me and sent it to Emily with the caption, "Me and my friend Frog."

Then at 9:00 I packed up and left, dreading that long walk back to the car in the dark. At the gate were two young men with bike pedicabs or whatever they are, with a little bench in back and a bike handlebars and tire in front. One offered me a ride to my car. Oh, how tempting. How much? Tips--whatever I want to give.

Ok, wonderful. I piled on my books and we set out, together finding our way back to the car. I figured he's a typical pot-smoking hyper-left-wing U of O student. We started talking. He came from a small farm in eastern Oregon and a family of six children. He was happy to live in Eugene because he could grow a garden in his back yard. Ok, I stood rebuked.

I gave him $5.

I still had to get groceries but first I stopped at Taco Bell for my first real food of the day. While there I got a text and photo from Emily. It said, "Me and my friend Frog."

It turns out Jenny had brought home her costume for the VBS program skit in which she was to be the prodigal son's dad.

I don't often laugh out loud in Taco Bell but I sure did then.

Quote of the Day:
"Yes!! You should write a Mennonite murder mystery!!"
--Shirley Tallman, the mystery writer. She and Dan Armstrong and Carola Dunn were trying to persuade me to broaden my repertoire.

*Actually, yes it did, a 3-second blip where I rather nervously say, "I've never had trouble parking before." (Here's the link. I'm at 00:25)


  1. Nancy Ainsworth8/22/2011 5:44 AM

    Yes! A Series...I am picturing it now, sort of like the mystery series starring a Police Chief of a small town and the local Episcopal minister, who somehow tumble into all kinds of sticky, tricky matters as we all watch the progress of their seemingly impossible-to-complete relationship.
    Only yours would involve an agricultural background...I just know people are up to all kinds of human-type idiocy and grace while bathed in the earthiness and beauty of the fields...well, you get my point.

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  4. Love both of the froggy friends!

  5. I saw your blip of a comment on the news about the time I was telling my husband about visiting you at the authors booth. We laughed when it came on, not because you were made fun of but because I said your name and then we saw you and my husband said "there she is." and you were gone. I got good parking in the grass lot each day, even though the day after that aired, I had to look a little harder and ignore the men on horses so they didn't put me Way Way out where the livestock people used to camp. I didn't get off until well after dark and don't like to walk that far alone into the dark. (I know God is always with me but most people can't see Him there and it makes me feel vulnerable.)
    I know this is already too long but I must comment on the first anonymous comment: I will still talk to Dorcas, because a)she is always respectful even if you interpret it otherwise, and b) her writing is true to her, she makes us think and God uses her: you are a case in point. I would have told you (if she hadn't already) that she admitted her prejudice and apologized for it, AND we are all sinners and you react like a sinner that God is talking to by lashing out rather than listening to what God is saying to you.

  6. My daughter felt like I was condoning digital drama by keeping the anonymous comment so I pulled it off.

  7. Nothing worse in writing and publishing than censorship.

  8. I can't delete my own comment because I sent it Anonymous (although I did identify myself) so you'll have to do it for me. It doesn't make sense without the other comment.

  9. The second frog picture made me laugh too. I think I like your family's sense of humor.
    And I love your books and don't think they need to be broadened too much...but if they do, my opinion would be to go to romance like your short story. Keep writing.