Best Fair Ever: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Kilowatt ParkOne of my favorite movies of all time is Shakespeare in Love. There’s a historical character in the film named Philip Henslowe (played by Geoffrey Rush). In real life as in the film, Henslowe was a theatrical entrepreneur.

In the film, Henslowe is deeply in debt and he’s being chased by those who want to be paid. As one thing after another happens to keep Henslowe from keeping his promises, the debit collector asks: “How are you going to pull this off?”

To which Rush’s Henslowe always answers: “It’s a mystery.”

I think that that sentiment is true of community theater, art exhibits, concerts, and fairs. Somehow, in some way, it will all come together in the end and the show or Fair will go on.

But how we get there is a mystery.

I hope you enjoy the final Carding Chronicle about the annual Carding Fair. And please be sure to invite your friends.


“Mom, come on, open up,” Sarah Goodwin called as she rapped on her mother’s front door. “I know you’re in there. What’s going on?”

Ruth Goodwin glared at her beagle R.G., daring him to make a peep. But he ignored her warning, as she knew he would, and set up a joyous howl to greet Sarah. She always carried his favorite dog biscuits.

“Mom, you do remember that you gave me a key to your house, right?” Sarah said as she stood on the front stoop shaking her head. Her mother really drove her nuts sometimes. “I’m counting to ten and then I’m coming in there. One…two…”

The door opened slowly. Ruth was still in her bathrobe and slippers, an unheard-of circumstance at ten in the morning. Mother and daughter scowled at one another for an elongated moment before Sarah broke the silence.

“The least you could do is offer me a cup of decaf tea,” she said. Sarah was abstaining from caffeine during her pregnancy. “And then tell me what the heck is going on. No one’s seen you for two days, and you need to get down to the green to set up your space.”

“I can’t,” Ruth mumbled.

Sarah pushed her way through the door. “And why not?”

“Because the stuff I made isn’t good enough to sell and I can’t put a price on something that’s not good enough to sell.”

Sarah snorted. “That’s the biggest load of nonsense I’m going to hear all day,” she snapped. Her back ached. “I need to use your bathroom.”

Ruth stood uncertainly in her kitchen, waiting for her daughter. As a woman used to charging ahead no matter the circumstances, Ruth couldn’t understand her reluctance to selling her handmade critters.

“Okay, what is this all about?” Sarah demanded. “Have you got any cookies or cake? Never mind, don’t answer that. The one thing I don’t need is sweets.”

Ruth smiled. “It’s nerves, honey. You have less than a month to go before that little one walks into the world, and your body is craving carbohydrates. It’s normal.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not normal for this baby’s grandmother to still be in her night clothes at this time of day,” Sarah said. “What has gotten into you, Mom?”

Ruth sighed. “Come with me,” she said and headed down the hall to her sewing room.

Sarah gasped with delight when she walked in to see the riotous color of the googly-eyed fish, mice, frogs, and turtles grinning at her. “Oh my gawd, I don’t think you’ve ever made anything so adorable, and you’ve made lots of adorable stuff. So what’s the catch?”

Ruth shrugged. “Why would anyone pay for these?”

Her daughter swung around, her mouth hanging open. “Is that it? You figure no one will want these?” Her mother nodded. “Have you bought tags to put on them?”

Ruth nodded again, pointing at a container on a nearby table.

“Okay, you go take a shower and get dressed,” Sarah said, taking charge. “I’ll do the pricing and then we’ll pack the car and head to the green.”

A wee smile appeared in the corners of Ruth’s mouth. “When did you get so bossy?”

Sarah pointed toward the bathroom. “Git.”

Up at Amos Handy’s place on Sunrise Hill, Tupelo helped her uncle line up large plastic bottles of dish soap in the woodshed. “We’re going to make lots and lots of bubbles, aren’t we?” the seven-year old squealed.

Amos smiled as he scrubbed his large mixing bucket one more time. It was very important that no grit or dirt find its way into his bubble solution.

“Lots and lots of bubbles, yes, so let’s get started,” he said, looking down at the recipe he’d scrawled on a brown paper bag. “Six cups of water.”

They measured and poured.

“Now a half-cup of dish soap.” More measuring. “Now a half cup of cornstarch and a tablespoon of baking powder.”

“It’s just like when Mommy makes brownies,” Tupelo said as she concentrated on her uncle’s every move.

He grinned. “Well, I wouldn’t want to eat this, would you? Now hand me that bottle of glycerin.”

“How much do we need of this?”

“Oh, just a tablespoon. Okay now, stir it gently. We don’t want a lot of foam.”

It took a while but eventually, uncle and niece got their bubble-stuff production organized, and by the end of the afternoon, they had filled 36 quart jars with the mixture.

“Okay, we’re going to take these down to Andy Cooper’s store and put them into his refrigerator,” Amos said.


“Well, for some reason, the bubble stuff gets even better if it sits in the cold for a while, and we want ours to be the very best, right?”


The trip took a lot longer than Amos expected.

“You might as well shut your engine off for a spell, Amos,” Charlotte Davenport hollered as she signaled him to stop in the center of town.

“What in the world is going on here?”

The police chief grinned as she hooked her thumb over her shoulder. “The company that normally brings the carnie rides in for the Fair pooped out on us so Gideon Brown’s organized a bunch of folks to make our own fun.”

Tupelo stretched out of the truck window as far as she could go. “Oooh, look, they’re putting up lights like it’s Christmas and there’s slides and can we go see, Uncle Amos?”

“After we drop the bubble stuff off at Cooper’s,” he said.

“Bubbles?” Charlotte said. “Why didn’t you say so? Let me get you through this mess and out the other side.”

From her spot near the center of the green, Edie Wolfe grinned as she watched Gideon Brown pointing and laughing and hammering and talking, directing the small army of men and women who had swarmed to the center of town to help out. At one point, he had a phone pressed to each of his ears. Edie couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him so content with himself.

“Excuse me,” a woman called. “Can you tell me where you want the kettle corn stand?”

“Oh, you must be Cate Elliott’s cousin,” Edie said, extending her hand. “I’m Edie Wolfe.”

“I’m Beth.” The young woman was tall and graceful with a face that liked to smile, her curly hair swept up in a ponytail that followed every movement of her head.

“I’m assuming you would like a spot on the perimeter of the green,” Edie said, consulting her layout chart. It seemed to change with each passing minute.

“That would be great. If I can keep my truck close by, it means I can swap my gas tanks quickly, and not keep people waiting,” Beth said.

Edie pointed across the green toward Gideon who was now supervising the building of the raised walkway among the sycamores. “See that guy in the red T-shirt?” Beth shaded her eyes and nodded. “He’s probably got a better idea than I have about the best place to set you up. His name’s Gideon.”

“Thanks.” Beth waved as she walked off.

As lunchtime approached on Friday, you could feel the frenzy of the workers on the green increase. People hammered and sawed, laid electric lines, set up tables, moved tables, and then maneuvered Lee Tennyson’s two Belgian horses into Edie Wolfe’s driveway along with a hay wagon and a watering trough. Of all the creatures great and small involved in the Carding Fair, Babe and Merry were the calmest. They stood shoulder to shoulder in the shade of the great ash tree in Edie’s front yard, their tails whisking away the occasional fly, and wondered what all the fuss was about.

Finally, Edie gave the signal to clear and all the volunteers stepped back to see what they had created. A rope-and-plank walkway arched gracefully from tree to tree to tree in the center of the green. There were five handmade water slides, a pile of colorful stilts for walking, four zip lines, and a track along one end of the green where a nightly tug-of-war was scheduled. The gazebo was twinkling with lights, and Ruth’s stall was replete with critters in every color. The Friday evening band, Ground Control, had started to set up their equipment.

Then Amos appeared, dressed in a brightly-painted smock, glittering top hat, and lime green shoes. He and Tupelo slowly emptied one of their bubble stuff jugs into a shallow pan, Amos immersed the string circle of his bubble maker into it then gently held the contraption up in the air. A fair breeze pushed on the soapy film, and when a large bubble emerged to float through the air, the whole green applauded.

“Okay everyone,” Edie said, “you have done the most amazing job, and you have done Carding proud. Let the Fair begin!”

Later, when it was all over, the tired volunteers gathered for a quiet picnic at the town beach. Almost too tired to talk, they dug into potato salad, corn on the cob, and barbecues chicken with gusto, each of them feeling that they’d earned their supper.

Off to one side, Edie noticed that Gideon and Beth were sitting side-by-side in a friendly sort of way, and that Ruth’s customary gusto had returned as she recounted how fast her critters had sold. And Amos still had his top hat perched on top of his head.

“To the best Carding Fair ever,” Charlotte Davenport said as she raised her bottle of locally brewed beer in a toast. “I can’t wait to see what we do next year.”

You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing has just been published. All of the Carding novels are available on Amazon.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

If you’d like to get in touch, my email address is:

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