I learned very early that the world was a colorful, wonderful, curious place.
A World of Beautiful Things
Growing up as the daughter of trade confectioners (among my parents’ MANY skills and careers over the years), it was exciting enough that ice cream was a part of the family business.
Now picture my whole family going to county fairs in city after city over the summer, selling gourmet ice cream and other special treats. Hot summer days, ferris wheels, selling ice cream, riding elephants, and parking our trailer in a different city every two weeks over the summer. It was an exciting and vibrant childhood.
The County Fair of My Childhood
In those days, the fair was SO MUCH DIFFERENT than it is now.
Now it’s seedy, commercialized, and cheap. In those days, it was different. It was a place for families.
It was perfectly respectable, for example, to find your teacher at the fair selling ice cream or fresh local-made pie as a summer job.
All your neighbors had pigs, chickens, or livestock competing for a blue ribbon at the county fair.
Clowns were the good guys (and on occasion, some of the more fun babysitters I ever had).
Travelling acts came through each city with their caravan of trailers and buses and paparazzi, and some of them launched huge musical careers this way. Others stayed in the circuit, with their trick divers, zydeco bands, exotic bird expositions, magic shows, pan flutes, acrobatics, elephant training, and fire-breathing.
All these people were friends of our family. All these people were my neighbors. The carnival was my neighborhood. And I was so very free.
I learned lots of life skills–to this day, I can sense a fight in a crowd before it happens. I can walk through a sea of people and they’ll hardly notice I was there because I won’t bump into anybody. I can sell a bridge to a bridge-builder. I am unafraid to look people in the eye, even when (and especially when) they are trying to be aggressive. I learned what it looks like to be targeted and followed by strange men (very important to know, especially as a little girl). These were things I learned from the general public. Most people trust the public, and look down on the fair folk, but let me tell you: in regards to quality, the truth is actually reversed. I was always in more danger from the general public.
The fair folk were my extended family.
But I also learned a ton from the other families like mine–the ones who travelled, who belonged to this circus-ish world, who saw each other in every city at every fair, and others only once a year at a particular show. My parents were friends with the elephant trainers, who let my sisters and I feed the elephants oatmeal raisin cookies every morning, and ride the elephants any and every time we liked. We knew the people who operated the rides. We sold ice cream to Robin Williams, MC Hammer, and other big celebrities. We knew people who got their start at the fairs, like the makers of those Dippin’ Dots.
And clowns? Again: they were the good guys. And at the fair, they were everywhere. If I needed to get to safety or report some creep-o scaring me, or get a message to anyone, anywhere, I’d go find a clown. They’d help me. Suddenly, there’d be a whole network of people making sure I got safely to where I needed to be. They’d look out for and protect me. You certainly wouldn’t find that now, but let me tell you–back then, they were a network of good guys who did what they did because they cherished the innocent. They were performers who devoted their lives to joy, and protection of the innocence in all of us. And you know what? Most of them had regular day jobs, some of which where pretty prestigious. I think my parents knew of a physician and several of his doctor friends who did moonlighting as clowns at the fair. What, you think Patch Adams started that? No way! He may have been the most famous doctor to don a red nose, but he certainly wasn’t the first.
Stupid Stephen King ruined everything, but that’s another post.
As for the other vendors, we had the same kind of rows of trailers selling stuff that you see at fairs today. But it was different then. The folks who sold Chinese food were actually from China. The folks who sold Native American jewelry belonged to those cultures–and had tons of their lessons, legends, and folklore to share. The folks who sold Mexican food were from Mexico. The folks who sold grandfather clocks were actually from Germany. Then you had families who had trades and skills passed down from generation to generation. Real leatherwork from families with generations of tanners. Photographers from families who had literally every iteration of the camera in their attic since the invention of the camera. Blacksmiths. Engine builders. Inventors–real ones, with their wildest new robotics and ideas that no one else in the world had heard or seen yet.
And dumb jacuzzi salesmen and ridiculous seen-on-tv guys that the rest of us really didn’t pay much attention to. I wish I had known then that it would have been those cheap commercial guys who were going to take over everything.
My point is, walking from one side of the grounds to the other was like entering dozens of different worlds, different countries. Talking to people was amazing–they’d tell me these stories of how they came to America, what they were doing, how they did what they did. Everywhere you look was a human being of a different color, shape, and size. Each one–no matter where they were from–would tell me how glad they were to be in the United States, because they were free to be who they were. This freedom allowed everyone to live peacefully together, even though we were all different–and we were ALL different, with different skills, religions, cultures, folklore, languages….it was SO wonderful. Everywhere you look, someone was doing something different, had a different skill, and it was all interesting.
I imagine heaven looks something like that.
Diversity is Proof that God Loves Us
That’s how I know what I know about diversity. It was woven into the fabric of my understanding of the world, and of God. You see, diversity is God’s way of showing all the multitude of ways that God loves us. That’s why it’s so wonderful that we are all different.
The Changing Tide
Like I said, things changed. The cost of doing business in this way became higher. Soon it was only the commercial guys who could afford to do business, that and the old-fashioned folk who became crooked and lied and cheated their wealth in order to stay in business. You know how in The Hobbit movie when Radagast notices the beautiful forest becoming corrupted by a spreading evil? That’s what it felt like to see my childhood world becoming darker, greedier, needier. My parents always ran a clean business, so in this new market they very soon were losing profits. More and more, the community turned sour and seedy, since only the more money-mongering, villainous characters were able to afford to stay. There were a couple times when it felt like my family was on an island, and things were green and good and safe where we were, but my beautiful childhood was becoming a dangerous place around me. Twice, I saw one man pull a gun on another man and shoot him. I would have been less than ten years old. A couple times, the crowd became so dangerous that my sister and I had to hide under our ice cream counter until my father came to get us–a couple hours of fearful waiting.
At long last, my family had to throw in the towel, sell the business, and return home. We weren’t the only ones. All my wonderful, colorful, beautiful neighbors in all their shapes and sizes, languages, flavors, smells, countries, all had to return home too, one by one, then handful by handful. Back to our drab tiny little towns, where everyone was the same color and the same religion, and didn’t believe my sisters and I when we said we personally knew the elephant in “Operation Dumbo Drop.”
No one in town understood the beautiful thing we had, the beautiful thing we lost, and the process of that, of what we went through. It was hard.
To them, we were abnormal. To them, we had returned home and that finally made sense, we would finally be respectable and fit into the boxes that they had always known for themselves.
I Felt Like We Were A Disney Version of The Addams Family
But we never would really fit in. My dad knew way too much about the wonderful diversity of people, and it made him an amazing teacher to hundreds of students young and old. He had seen and met too many people, had too much of a wide perspective to waste his time being pretentious or snobby like so many of his colleagues, even though he was way way wayyyyy more educated than they. My mom knew way too much about global business from, well, being in the globe and from running a business. She kicked you-know-what and became a global credit expert, one of less than 100 in the whole United States. She was simply too exotic and interesting to fit our town’s assigned role of happy pill-popping waspish cheerleader-uniform-still-drycleaned-in-the-front-of-the-closet Christian housewife. Even some of our distant metropolitan relatives clicked right into the mindset of us being back in the sticks, and for the longest time I wondered if they thought we sat around barefoot on the back porch with banjoes.
I’m proud that my parents had such integrity to run a good and honest business, teaching my sisters and I how to work. They also hired a staff every summer, and I never knew anyone who worked for my folks who didn’t come away much better, as they always took them under their wings and taught them life skills, loaned them money, listened when no one else would, fed them hot meals. Even when we returned back to town for good, my parents turned their attentions to the house and garden. They’ve made it a haven, as gorgeous as anything you’d find in a home magazine. Even so, I bet they wished there was someone close by who could have understood everything they had been through.
And my sisters and I? Well we were always seen as odd. For my sisters, they were frequently seen as exotic, popular, desirable. I wasn’t so lucky. Other kids didn’t understand or trust that I would be open-minded because of the color of my skin, and treated me accordingly. My sisters and I were independent, could run businesses of our own. When I grew up and had my turn for management experience, it was almost as though the other folks thought I was too young to be qualified…little did they know I had been wearing an apron and managing money since before I was in kindergarten. While they were on summer vacation, I was working. I was working in heaven, but hey, it was still hard work.
A Whole New World
Enter the digital age, and PRAISE GOD, too. For the first time since my childhood, I FINALLY had access to the world again beyond my tiny town. Everything changed for me with my first smartphone. I was able to go to school online and compete with people all around the country instead of the little college in my town, and these people really challenged me and helped me grow.
Even my love life was made possible thanks to the access provided by the digital age. In a chat forum, I could talk with people from other countries. How I had missed getting to talk to people from different countries! I chatted with a lady my age in China who told me about university there. I learned about life in Copenhagen from a man who had just moved to the city. Finally, one day I started up a conversation with a man from Argentina.
It was Eugene. I finally met a man who understood what it was like to have a concept of home that travels with you, a man who had a global perspective, who knew how to work hard, who had family values, and knew what it was like to have to leave home and start from scratch. Self-made, could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, could make something from seemingly nothing, who knew the same secrets of this wonderful, colorful world like no one in my town ever could. Plus, he’s also a person who made the best and did his best with everything around him, his entire life. Let me tell you–I knew right away that this was a real man! We started just having friendly conversation, and were very fast very dear friends. But even then, I knew Eugene was someone who would be important to my life.
There are two men in a girl’s life who make all the difference. There’s her father, and there’s The Guy. I knew Eugene was The Guy–the only guy that could possibly have been just right for me in the whole world.
And, I get to be his partner! How amazing is that? I get to add to his life as much as he adds to mine…..*mind blown*….
United as Travelers of Exceptional Variety
Now that I’m grown, and the world is so accessible, I find myself actively seeking out new friends and adventures all the time. I’ve met some truly special people who embody my sense of home–you know, there are just some folks who stay with you through your life, no matter where you wind up going. Experiences are that way, too. I can’t remember the last time I was bored. I can’t remember the last person I met who didn’t have something interesting about him or her. I love people. I love places. I love different cultures. I love being in a country where we get to all be/do/think different things and still come together to stand in favor of the ideas behind one flag, and have a say in developing those ideas, too!
Don’t Worry, There’s a Happy Ending
My town in the valley has gotten a ton better too. Sure, in with the angels come some unsavory types. But all in all, it’s a wonderland. I could walk down the street and hear English, Spanish, Portugese, Tagalog, Mandarin, Assyrian, Hindi, Korean, and more, all in the same afternoon. There are people of all colors, shapes, and sizes in my town. Churches of all shapes and sizes. Cultures of all these different wonderful varieties.
I remember turning 18 and absolutely praying for a way to get out of my valley. I had become so bitter about being treated as odd for so very long. But the world changed. Technology changed. We are all now in a digital age, and the world is so very accessible to anyone who may have an inclination to be curious about how other folks live and think. I grew up during the birth of the internet, and there were lots of bugs to work out with it, let me tell you. Kids today have inherited a world that is so much more accessible. I want younger generations to celebrate! Where I was limited, nowadays kids are so free! I want to show them this great access they have been born with. I’m happy for them-joyful for them, even! I want them to feel good about themselves, and to understand how joyous and wonderful it is that they have these technological gifts!
More than anything, I want to encourage them and others to utilize the gifts they have been given–to be curious, to see the wonder and magic in the world. It’s there!
I’m so excited to be a teacher and work with the students from all of these communities. I hope I can open a door to the same wonderful world of my childhood, where life seems so vibrant, and the world just endlessly full of new faces and friends to meet, places to explore, and interesting things to do! I hope to show them that we’re all journeying, we are all moving around, discovering, being human. I hope to show them that being diverse makes it MORE possible to come together under one set of ideals in a Constitution, not less–MORE possible to have respect for each other, not less–MORE possible to enjoy peace and community in a beautiful country, not less.
It’s a wonderful world. It really is. Not an easy world, not a perfect world. But it is beautiful.