When my dad first got diagnosed with cancer I was 23-ish. Dad and I have a difficult, complicated relationship. I can say we love each other, but we definitely don’t like each other. Still, there was no hesitation, and Mom didn’t have to ask. I told my various employers I was taking a leave, and canceled all my show plans for the rest of my season so I could stay in Chicago and do whatever I could. My bosses completely understood. I expected that. They were groovy dudes on the whole. My friends in my immediate circle knew what was up of course, because they were nearby. But this was before everyone had cell phones. Before Livejournal and Facebook. Internet was a thing, but it was a thing campgrounds didn’t have. Most of us still used calling cards and pay phones, and getting information spread around was a matter of weeks, not hours. Unless you’re a rennie.
There’s a saying. “Telephone, telegraph, tell a rennie”. Within days all of Bristol faire knew what was up. What shocked the crap outta me was how much they cared. I got a rose from a guy I could not stand, who was none too fond of me either, with a message of support. I was baffled, and asked him wtf. He told me, without the patented swagger and sarcasm that made him insufferable, that his mother had died recently of cancer. That he understood where I was at, and was there for me if I needed to talk to someone who got it. That blew me away completely. It was only one of many flowers, letters and messages of love and support that came from all corners of my home show.
Two months later I was at the faire in North Carolina, visiting friends and just getting some space from all the drama at home before digging in for a winter of slinging coffee at a bookstore and worrying. I ran into the owner of the faire there, who was not a big fan of yours truly. We had clashed on several occasions over petty shit, because I have a stubborn streak wider than the Amazon and rabid dislike for mansplaining. My policy was to avoid him at all costs (a policy I have instituted for all members of management staff in general, no matter what it is they’re managing, because I am sassy as hell and that tends to go over badly). I nodded, briefly, hoping to just scamper away unnoticed, when he stopped me. He said he was so sorry to hear about my dad, and if there was anything he could do to help, to please let him know. He said, and I remember this vividly, because his face was so sincere and he looked me right in the eyes when he said it (not something this man tended to do when speaking to me), he said, “We’re family here. Always remember that.” I couldn’t really do anything but mumble a “thank you”, because I was so totally about to cry.
Years later, I’m hunkered down in a strangers house in Shreveport, and a century storm has just taken out the city I was living in. At the time, CNN was telling us that something like 85% of the city of New Orleans was under water. Much later we would come to understand that they weren’t making a distinction between two inches of standing water in the street, and neighborhoods flooded to the rooftops (which, thanks by the way, assholes).
We thought we had lost everything. I had evacuated with 4 days worth of clothing, dog food, and a coffee pot. Because we thought we’d be right back.
Within days I was fielding tons of phone calls. My nearest and dearest peeps, of course, but also people who I barely knew had gotten a hold of my number and were calling to make sure we were ok. People I had outright animosity towards, who were only too happy on an average day to tell everybody what a bitch I was, were calling to make sure I had gotten out. Boxes full of things started arriving. Underwear, socks, yarn and needles (so I could knit and keep my hands busy), coffee, booze, dog treats, gift cards to Wal-Mart, little wads of cash rolled up in t-shirts and folded between packets of incense and other little comfort items rennies tend to use to make our mobile life more homey, books. Care packages from every show where anyone who vaguely knew me might be at. My tribe, even the members who hated my salty guts, pulled together for me right then.
I am actually tearing up as I write this. Because it never fails to humble and awe me (and I’m actually emo AF, though I try not to do it in front of people). I’m nothing special. I’m not a rock star or a pillar of the rennie community. I was just another traveler. Just a booth monkey with a few friends, a few enemies, a trailer and a dog. I was pretty antisocial, to be honest. I worked six days a week, so who had the time, but really that just gave me a convenient excuse. I’m not a big joiner. I’m awkward and uncomfortable in social situations. But somehow this group of people, some of whom had what I thought was the barest, most incidental of connections to me, stepped up in a big way when shit hit the fan.
That is what community is all about.
That’s why I threw $50 in the hat to get Pendragon’s booth rebuilt. Not because I’m friends with the owner or involved in her life. But because Jeffery Segal said it simply and accurately. We’re all family here. And you help your family.