Let me tell you about my bizarre weekend. It’s one of those occasions you think you may laugh about in a year’s time but for now, all bets are off.
This was my second year as part of an artist’s sale called Northwest Holiday Handmade. When I was invited to join last year I was flattered. I felt like the Big Girls had asked me to play with them. My watercolors joined up with Molly Hashimoto’s (my first teacher) paintings and blockprints, Linnea Donnen’s handwoven textiles, Barbara Clark’s ceramic tiles, and Marin Curry’s vintage inspired jewelry. This year included Beth Hall’s beadwork, Virginia Hungate-Hawk’s etchings, and Paula Gill’s ceramic tiles.
For seven years this sale has taken place in a rented space at a Scandinavian Lutheran Church. I believe that for seven years the church has had a pastor and an administrator, but just now they are lay led. So it was perhaps understandable that we got double-booked with a funeral. That’s human error. It could happen anywhere in the environs of Lake Woebegone. Linnea saw the announcement in the paper two days after our publicity had all gone out and immediately called her contacts at the church.
They were oh so apologetic. There was actually plenty of time for them to have shifted the funeral to the day after the sale when everyone would be in church anyway, but they didn’t. They decided the two events would go on simultaneously. My first thought was, fair enough. Death happens. Life goes on. They are upstairs, we are downstairs. They come down for coffee and cookies after the service and buy our art. Where’s the downside?
But when I got to the church to set up my watercolors, I learned that the deceased had been a very old and much-loved man. At 11:00 the next morning, the church expected at least 150 funeral guests in a sanctuary that only held 100. They expected the overflow would watch a streaming video right in the middle of our sale. I couldn’t believe it. It was a solution bound to offend just about everyone. Certainly it was an act of bad faith towards us who had booked the hall well in advance of the death, which itself had been a month earlier. But you don’t argue with Scandinavians. You learn that when you live in Seattle.
The first day of our sale was a Friday. The day was rainy, windy and gloomy. Virginia and I drove around the neighborhood putting up ten signs. I bought two colorful Mylar balloons to attach to the signs outside the church. They immediately went flaccid, hovering dispiritedly inches from the ground. Sales were slow and discouraging.
I wasn’t looking forward to Saturday. I hoped there wouldn’t be an overflow of funeral guests at all. But when I got there, Virginia’s and my displays had been pushed disrespectfully out of the way and a huge screen sat in their place. Video equipment and chairs pushed our entire sale into a corner. Church ladies were everywhere setting tables, making coffee, unpacking boxes of sandwiches and cookies, and looking repressively at us. I almost burst into tears. Then I almost threw a fit.
“This is a disaster,” I blurted out.
“Not yet,” Beth said quickly. She has a calm demeanor.
We tried to keep an aisle clear for folks who started wandering in around 10:00 for our sale. Rather than singlehandedly dismantling the video equipment and stacking chairs, I volunteered to stand outside and try to separate the shoppers from the bereaved. This was perhaps the best place for me.
It was easy enough to tell which was which. Anyone elderly and any man under the age of 50 with a tie on was a funeral guest. Any woman with a fanny pack had come for the sale. I developed a patter with which I way-laid the shoppers.
“Are you here for the sale? Well this is going to be a unique experience. The church has double-booked us with a funeral. . . so there will be entertainment as well.”
Many of them laughed. “Oh that sounds just like the Lutherans!”
If I got a shocked look, I switched to a minor key and assured them that the family was fine with the sale going on. That much was true as far as I could tell. A son of the deceased had laughed with me about the situation. Someone told me that the man would have loved the idea of a holiday sale being double-booked with his funeral. Later when I spoke with the widow, she concurred. But families live in a surreal place after a death. The whole business was, to put it mildly, less than optimal.
Because I was wearing a black coat that matched everyone’s funeral attire, I cut loose one of the Mylar balloons in order to look more festive. There I stood, a lone sentinel flogging the air with a dispirited balloon. I stood there from 10 in the morning until after noon. My wonderful friend Susan who I have painted with every Tuesday morning for the past six years sat at my table while I was on sentry duty. She needn’t have bothered. Once the service started the sanctuary and the hall were packed. People were standing in the corridors and the hallways. You couldn’t get near the sale. Worse, my fellow compatriots were trapped inside a Lutheran funeral. Susan managed to dig herself out towards the end.
“This was appalling,” she said to me.
When the outside door opened the crowds became unglued and people started to leave. There was still a crush in the hall where food was being served but we pushed our tables toward them and the funeral guests who didn’t hate us too much eventually came shopping. By 1:30 the place had quieted down allowing for a steady stream of people who had seen our publicity. I actually had a very good day after that. But I think we were all still a little stunned as we packed everything up and locked the church at the end of the sale.
Listen, do something, will you? I won’t be there but go see my fellow artists on Dec 5 and 6 at Pioneer Hall, 1642 43rd Ave E in Seattle. Look for Northwest Holiday Handmade. Tell them you read my blog post. Then give me a year and if I write about this again, I’ll make it funny.