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O, Singing Pioneer.

My mother’s friend once invited me to lead a sing-along for the Pioneer Homestead Society at the Minnesota State Fair.  “She’s looking for someone young,” my mom said, which should have been a tip-off right there that the event was doomed.  Did you ever notice how you can say no to your mother, but you can’t say no to your mother’s friend?  I imagined this musty room of old people and some fellow dupe in an arm garter accompanying me on an upright piano.  I, singularly qualified thanks to my nineteen years, would stand in front to keep the songs going while the old folks took a break from the August sun and reminisced.  Harmless and brief, it couldn’t be that bad, I figured.

So I started brushing up some sure-fire winners like “K-K-K-Katie!” and “Down by the Old Cherry Orchard.”  I learned some old-time favorites with lyrics like “Put on your old gray bonnet/ with the blue ribbons on it/ while I hitch Old Dobbin to the shay!”  My mom exhumed a dress that looked like a cross between Laura Ingalls’ smock and a Lanz nightgown, and her friend pledged a bonnet.

It is possible I put my hair in braids.  With my sweaty list of songs in my apron pocket, I was good to go.

Arriving at the fair with my mother and littlest sister in tow, I found no musty room awaited me.   Indeed, no.  There was not even an enclosure.  Certainly no piano player had been corralled to accompany me, and worst of all, no old folks had been assembled.  My mother’s friend pointed me to a tuffet-shaped, waist-high structure on a triangle of parched grass in front of a barn.  She indicated that I was to stand on the tuffet and, presumably with my youth and bonnet, entice people to come over and sing pioneer songs with me.

Streams of cheerful, pre-drunk Minnesotans in search of corndogs were passing on the sidewalk.  Tie-dye was big that year.  The Midway rides with their whirls and blares were one block over.  I stood beside my tuffet, sweating and mortified, and I’ll tell you frankly, getting strangers to sing pioneer songs with me was not something I could do.  It was not something anyone could do.  Or should, for that matter.

My sister’s pity made her wise.  She retreated to the shade.  My mother’s deluded friend sat on the tuffet, smiling at me encouragingly, and my mother sat beside her.  An old lady wandered out of the barn looking for the bathroom, and my mother’s friend made her sit, too.

“Okay!  Go ahead,” said my mother’s friend, pointing proudly to me.  She dreamed perchance even then that the passersby secretly longed to join our little sing-along.

They did not.  But I, in my bonnet, I sang pioneer songs.

6 Responses to O, Singing Pioneer.

  • OMG. I have tears in my eyes from laughing. It really was that awful.

  • Thank you for confirming, Nancy.

  • “. . . and through fields of clover
    We’ll ride up to Dover
    On our Golden Wedding Day!”

    “OK, now, everybody sing!”

    “Put on your old blue bonnet . . .”

    Yes, I was there, too, to witness the mortification, cringing on the sidelines. It was ineffably horrible.

  • Tim ~
    We all agree. Lovely.

  • I mean it was really really really awful. For me, I just couldn’t understand it. You were my cool, hip, older sister. Yet, something was wrong…. an incomprehensible rip in the universe. Undeniably off. We all saw the U.F.O. arrive and suck up your cool-ness, and now, thirty years later, it is time to form our support group.

  • Nancy ~
    Some scars run too deep for a support group, babe, but maybe we can write a haiku.

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For a chance to win a signed copy of THE VAULT OF DREAMERS, enter here! The Goodreads giveaway ends September 13, 2014.
Upcoming Events

September 14, 2014: We'll have a launch for The Vault of Dreamers at the UConn Coop Bookstore, Royce Circle, Storrs, CT on Sunday, September 14th at 3:00 p.m.


September 16, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR begins as Ann Aguirre, Marie Rutkoski and I visit Anderson's Bookshop in Downers Grove, IL on Tuesday, September 16th at 7 p.m.


September 17, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR continues with a stop at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH on Wednesday, September 17th at 7 p.m.


September 18, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR continues. We'll be visiting the Cambridge Public Library in Cambridge, MA on Thursday, September 18th at 7 p.m.


September 19, 2014: With the ongoing FIERCE READS TOUR, I'll be visiting Books of Wonder in New York, NY with moderator Emmy Laybourne, on Friday, September 19th at 6 p.m.


September 20, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR continues with a visit to R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT on Saturday, September 20th at 6 p.m.


September 21, 2014: I continue with the FIERCE READS TOUR, visiting Towne Book Center & Cafe in Collegeville, PA on Sunday, September 21st at 2 p.m.


September 22, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR continues with a visit to Politics & Prose at the Bethesda Library in Bethesda, MD on Monday, September 22nd at 7 p.m.


September 23, 2014: The FIERCE READS TOUR will wrap up with a visit to Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, SC on Tuesday, September 23rd at 5:30 p.m.
Check out the second leg of the tour with other FIERCE authors Gennifer Albin, Nikki Kelly, Marissa Meyer, and Jessica Brody.


October 2, 2014: Tui Sutherland, Dayna Lorentz, Kristin Cashore, and I will be on a panel moderated by Jim Shepard about Writing for Young People at Williams College in Williamstown, MA on Thursday, October 2nd at 8:00 pm.


October 3, 2014: Tui Sutherland, Dayna Lorentz, Kristin Cashore, and I will visit Northshire Books in Manchester, VT on Friday, October 3rd at 4:00 pm.


November 15, 2014: I'll be visiting The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, MN on Saturday, November 15th at 4:00 pm.

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