Yesterday I revisited the scene of an imaginary crime and, in the process, committed an actual one. Herein lies that story.
|My fictional 'Brookfield Fair' looks a lot like |
the very real Topsfield Fair
Anyone who has seen a map of the Topsfield Fair will immediately note a striking resemblance to the map of the fictional “Brookfield Fair” that appears on the flyleaf of The Garden Club Gang. Further, anyone who has heard my ‘Gardening Is Murder’ presentation knows the circumstances under which that venerable annual event came to be the inspiration for the story of a heist that doesn’t go quite the way it was planned.
For those who don’t know the story behind the story, a brief synopsis: The Topsfield Fair has, among its many attractions, a flower show sponsored by the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. My wife, Betty, is a floral designer who periodically enters such competitions. Once you have signed up to design at the Fair, you also are making a commitment to be at the Fairgrounds at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m., where you have two hours to create your design.
Medfield is 52 miles from Topsfield and the only sane route from Point A to Point B is the insane circumferential highway known variously as Route 128, I-95, and the Yankee Division Highway. Rush hour on that particular roadway begins at 5 a.m. (I promise I am not making this up) and so, to be at the Fairgrounds by 7, you need to leave Medfield before 6 a.m. And, to arrive there without the residual urge to strangle anyone driving a gray Honda Accord, you need someone to drive you.
|Even at 6 a.m., Route 128|
is not for the faint of heart
And so, on a morning seven or eight years ago, I did my Loving Spouse Duty and drove Betty to Topsfield. Unfortunately, once she was ensconced in front of her pedestal to begin her design, my presence became distracting and she bluntly let me know that I should go somewhere else for the duration. Where I went was out in front of the Flowers Building (yes, the Flower Show has its own barn-like building which also houses horticulture and mini-landscape exhibits). Close by were two other features: the Fair Administration Building and the Fair’s Main Gate. I thought it mildly interesting that the three landmarks made a tight little cluster.
Then, the ‘Aha’ moment occurred. An armored truck pulled into the main gate, went around a little traffic circle, and stopped in front of the Administration Building. Two men jumped out of the truck, walked into the building, then came back out in under thirty seconds carrying a pair of enormous saddlebags. The bags went into the truck, and the truck pulled out of the Fairgrounds. Elapsed time: perhaps ninety seconds. I realized the truck had likely just picked up the Fair’s daily gate proceeds.
And then it hit me that I was in the last bastion of the cash economy. In a world where debit and credit cards have replaced cash in our wallets, places like the Topsfield Fair continue to be ones where we peel off twenty-dollar bills. In that moment was born the plot of The Garden Club Gang in which four ‘little old ladies’ will pull off the feat of robbing that truck in broad daylight (yet with no witnesses), leaving behind no clues, and injuring no one.
Well, yesterday morning Betty was again entered at the Topsfield Fair and, once again, I was her designated driver. But things have changed in the intervening years. I have gotten to know many of the designers who form the core of the amateur competitions (they are ‘amateurs’ in name only). Further, I spent three years as Chairman of Blooms! at the Boston Flower and Garden Show, where I learned the intricacies of how these competitions operate (knowledge I put on display in A Murder at the Flower Show and Murder in Negative Space). Instead of wandering the fairgrounds, I stopped to chat with the flower show staff. Moreover, taking a cue from one of my most useful activity as Chairman of Blooms!, I helped designers carry in cartloads of flowers from their cars.
|Betty's design captured|
the essence of Connecticut
Most designers were at their work places by 7. A few had already completed their arrangements by 7:45. But there were still a few open spaces. These late arrivers would have to work quickly. I saw one of those late arrivers struggling to bring in a cart and armload of flowers. Her name was Rita, and she is a very nice lady. I immediately rushed over to help her. I swept up her cart and carried it into the building, following her instructions about which station was hers. I placed the cart in the proper location, feeling very proud of myself.
Which was when I got my foot caught in a basket.
There are moments in your life that will endure forever in memory. This was one of them. I did not see the basket; I knew only that I was inexplicably falling down. And so I grabbed for something to keep me upright. The ‘something’ that I grabbed was a pedestal on which rested the completed floral design of one Bonni Dinneen.
I did not know this at the time. Nor did I know I had simultaneously jostled yet another pedestal. All I knew was that I was being drenched in water and covered with croton leaves. From start to finish, my pratfall lasted perhaps two seconds. To me, it lasted an eternity.
I had just ruined someone’s entry.
In seconds, I was surrounded by women asking me if I was all right. Physically, I was fine. A little wet perhaps but none the worse for wear. What I was, was mortified. This was the thing Betty had been admonishing me about for more than a decade: stay away from the designers – they don’t have time for chit-chat. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t ever get near any of the designs…
I slinked out of the Flowers Building and sat in my car. As I was doing my slinking, I heard people asking if Bonni was still in the building and heard that, yes, she was still somewhere nearby. I did not have the courage to face her, nor anyone else. This was my ‘You’ll-shoot-your-eye-out’ moment. Oh. My. God.
Early in the afternoon, the judging results were emailed to the entrants. Betty received a 90+ Red for her Connecticut door hanging. A 90+ Red is a big deal. It means you got second place, but your design was good enough that it could have won a Blue (first), except that someone else’s entry was just a skosh better.
|Bonni's reconstructed design|
received a Blue!
Oh, and Bonni Dinneen’s entry in a different category won a Blue. And, no, it wasn’t a ‘we’re-so-sorry-for-what-happened’ gesture for my clumsiness. The judges don’t show up until 9 a.m. and they have no idea whose entries they are viewing, and they certainly have no idea that someone’s entry had to be re-done on the fly.
I sent Bonni a congratulatory note that also apologized for my causing such devastation. This morning, I received the following reply:
I feel as though I owe you an apology. As I saw it happen, all I could do was laugh. It was a comedic episode played in slow motion, with my design splaying in all directions and you grappling for control, while the second pedestal was wiggling back in forth. No one knew if the second stand would also topple. It was truly funny to see. I apologize that I laughed at your accident. I had to walk away, my laughter was so pronounced; like watching someone slip on the ice, it was that funny.
Please if you ever tell the story... tell it with a light heart and without embarrassment. I know I will, when I encourage others to pursue flower design.
Bonni, that’s just the way I’m telling it.