November 17, 2010
Comfort and joy at the Christmas Faire
When my husband is on holiday from his demanding job, we have to make the most of it. Instead of thinking about what I was going to write on my blog for this weekly post, my brain was occupied with what I could accomplish around the house while my husband was home. Without making too many demands on his well-earned holiday time we managed to put the yard in order for the winter, plant the garlic and the flower bulbs, trasplant the shrubs that have been staring at me for months, etc. So, for today, I am reposting something I wrote last year around this time. I have recently noticed all the ads for various Christmas Fairs in my area and they, as well as the beautiful craftwork we saw on Granville Island, have triggered some rather special memories from my childhood.
Every year around this time our family friend Pauline would phone us to ask how many of us would like to work for her at the Kootenay Christmas Craft Faire. She paid well - around seven dollars an hour, so those of us without previous commitments would jump at the chance. I think I was twelve when I started working at the entrance gate. I had to dress warmly because the table where I sat to greet people and take their small entrance fee, though inside the badminton hall in the old Civic Centre, was directly downstairs from the door to the cold and wintry outside, and every time that door was opened a whoosh of cold air would descend the stairs and hit me with its fresh chill. I didn't mind. It was an excuse to drink endless cups of hot chocolate from the canteen.
Pauline's Faire was a magical time in my memory. It wasn't just a bunch of people selling stuff in a big gym, it was an event. Pauline had a vision of the kind of Faire she wanted to put on and she did it with resounding success every year. At one end of the hall near the canteen Pauline set up a stage for live music. My brother and sister - both singer-songwriters - were included on the schedule of performances along with several local acts, and I had a little sister's adoring pride in them. Chairs were set up by the stage for people needing a break from shopping to sit and visit. In between the live performances, Pauline played good recordings of Christmas music, mixed tapes many of which my family put together for her - we had a lot of records.
The Kootenay region is known for its artists and craftspeople ( and its colourfully dressed hippies) and the Faire was one of the occasions when many of these people came out of the proverbial woodwork and gathered to sell, to buy, and to just be together. I spent all the money I earned working at the entrance gate at the Faire, buying presents for my family and friends and maybe something for myself, too. How I loved to wander from table to table, smelling, touching, looking with wonder at the incredible things people had made with their own hands and imaginations: rods of iron forged into treble clef hooks and wall mounted candle holders; beeswax candles dipped in rainbows of colour; pottery of exquisite thinness or delighful chunkiness; hand-knit mittens and toques of hand-spun wool; handwoven scarves of jewel-toned silk; crocheted animals and doll's clothes; enameled copper barrettes and brooches; wooden toys and painted letters linked together to spell a child's name; tooled leather wallets and belts; crystals big and small to catch the light in a kitchen window; stained glass kaleidescopes; handmade beads and buttons and on and on and on. There was something for everyone of every budget. My first year attending the Faire I bought a tree decoration for $1.50. My last year I bought a handwoven wool scarf for $45.00.
Pauline has since retired and I have moved away. Most of the craftspeople I mention are now represented year round by at least one craft cooperative in my hometown. I can, when visiting my parents, see and buy these crafts at will (which of course is very good for the crafters and artists!). I would not for a second say that the quality of these crafts has diminished, but I will admit that something of the mystique surrounding them is lost for me. It is forever bound up in a dreamlike swirl of childhood memory.
Thank you Pauline.
The photo above is of the main street of my hometown of Nelson on a wintry afternoon. Twenty years ago, I could be found sipping a special coffee in the Library Lounge of the Hume Hotel after a long day of Chistmas shopping. I wish I knew who took the photo (found on google images), but I don't.