Something amazing happened in Oshkosh the week before last but this is the first moment I’ve had to really write out the incredible story. PaperGirl is lengthy today but you’ll see: It’s so worth it.
Many of you are familiar with Carmen, my beautiful, capable, lovely assistant in Colorado who came onboard this summer to help with gigs while I’m at school (and forever after, I hope.) Without her making my dossier and communicating with my hosts about details (bios, supply lists, etc.) I simply could not be making this work. I’ve proposed marriage to her at least three times. She’s already married, so it’s not gonna work.
Carmen’s dossier for the Oshkosh gig was perfect. But I read it wrong.
I didn’t see that the location of the workshop that day was different from the location of the lecture that night. It was there in black and white, but I didn’t register that. So, bright and early at 8:25 a.m. — plenty of time to spare before 9 a.m. class because that’s how I roll — I show up at the venue for the lecture…and the comedy of errors began.
“Hi!” I said, brightly, to the desk person at the community center. “I’m teaching quilting today. Can you tell me where I need to go?”
The woman looked at her schedule. “Oh, sure,” she said. “Just follow this walkway through to the back.”
Great, I thought. Let’s go to work.
When I got to the classroom, I was surprised to find just one lady there. She was basting a quilt and only half the lights were on. I hope the numbers for the class are okay today, I thought. If a class has low enrollment it’s like, the worst. Every teacher has experienced it and it doesn’t mean people hate you; sometimes, for whatever reason, you have a small class. What can you do? I greeted the lady with a warm smile and, thinking she was my host because she was the first to arrive, I said:
“Hi! You must be Janice!”
The lady looked up at me and said, “No. I’m Colleen.”
“Oh,” I said, “Well, it’s nice to meet you! I’m Mary!” I stuck out my hand to shake hers. She shook my hand but did not make any gesture of, “Welcome! It’s so nice to meet you! I watch your show!” or “Welcome to Oshkosh!” She just kinda…looked at me. Though it feels weird to say it, that’s kinda what happens when I get to my gigs. I mean, I’m the guest teacher and everything and usually people are happy to see me, you know? That was not what was happening.
I looked around. “Colleen, I have to say: It’s funny there aren’t more people here, yet. Do you know if the class is full?”
“I have no idea,” Colleen said, still looking at me funny. “I didn’t know we had a different teacher today. Where are you from?”
Oh, no. Something was wrong. I felt my stomach drop. Anyone who works on the road knows it: that first, horrible wave of anxiety when you get to a gig and something doesn’t look right. I was in Wisconsin, right? Yes, I drove there the night before. Was it September 21st? I literally took out my phone to look. Yes, it was the 21st of September. Plus, I have Carmen, now. She is my angel. Carmen wouldn’t let me drive to Oshkosh on the wrong day.
“Well,” I said, trying to breathe, “I’m concerned… I haven’t talked to Janice this morning and I know I’m in the right place…”
“I’m not sure who Janice is,” Colleen said. I felt sick.
“Janice P.,” I said, “asked me to come and teach for you ladies. I’m teaching you the Thousand Pyramid.I’m Mary Fons and —”
“No you’re not.”
Colleen looked like she had seen a ghost. “You are not.”
I thought she was kidding, of course. I chuckled a little. “W-well, yes. I… I’m Mary Fons.” I hated how that sounded, like, “Eeeeeewwww, yeeeessss, I’m Mary Faaaaaahhns,” like I eat cucumber sandwiches all day.
She stared at me. “No, you’re not.” Colleen squinted through her glasses. “I mean, you look like her but…”
I had to laugh, though the clock was ticking and I was not feeling good at all. “Yes, I’m Mary. And, uh, I’m really worried, actually, that I’m in the wrong —”
Colleen gasped and clapped both her hands over her mouth. “Oh, my God! It’s YOU! It’s YOU! Oh! It really is you! Oh my…! It really is! Y-y-you’re here! What on Earth??? You’re…here?!”
What was happening? I mean, this lady was awesome and I felt flattered that she was so excited to see me, but the prickly heat had begun. The woman at the counter of the community center told me where to go to find the quilters, right?? Yes, she had! And I read the address on the dossier that morning and put it into Google maps. And this woman is a quilter with a quilt on a table. I was in a very bad dream. Tick-tock. Everyone waiting, somewhere, for me. Pendennis, help me!
Colleen looked at me like I had a halo or wings or something. “I watch you all the time. I love your show! Well, I don’t like it when you’re not on. The best episodes in over a decade of that show are the ones with you and your mother! How on Earth did they get you to come here???” Colleen trailed off, staring at me, shaking her head. “I just can’t believe they got you to come here! You must cost an arm and a leg!”
I went around to hug her, partly, I think, because I needed a hug at that moment, though I also was really liking this lady through my fear.
“Colleen, you are so sweet. Thank you. But Colleen, um, something is very wrong, though. I was invited by Janice. Do you know her? The guild? I am very confused. I don’t cost too much, I guess, I mean, I was asked to come, so…” I had my phone out, frantically flicking through emails and the dossier and text messages, looking for whatever piece of crucial information I had missed. With my other hand, I searched my totebag for the dossier, my contract, a treasure map — anything that could help me.
I texted Carmen. While I waited to hear back, Colleen solved the mystery.
“Wait!’ she said. “You’re here for the Lakeside Quilters.”
“Yes, yes!” I cried, and pulled out my papers. “Look! I have this address on my schedule!”
“Ohhhkay,” she said, scratching her chin. “That’s the problem. This is a quilting class offered by the Fox Valley Community College. We’re not a guild. We’re just a class. We meet on Wednesdays.”
That same moment, Carmen texted me back: “Mar, the workshop venue is 14 minutes from where you are — I think you’re in the lecture venue! Two different places!”
Dang it. My whole body felt hot. If I left that second, I could get to class by 8:58 a.m., which is not good but is a lot better from being in the wrong state or the wrong galaxy, which is where I thought I was.
“Colleen! Okay! I got it! Oh, thank you so much — I’m so sorry, you must think I’m such a dummy!”
Colleen was so helpful and sweet and tried to give me directions, but I was already plugging the correct venue into my phone. She was saying how no one would believe that she met Mary Fons this morning.
“No one’s gonna believe me!” she said. “I lie a lot.”
I laughed and pulled the handle up on my suitcase, about to literally run to my car. But I was kind of in love with this lady. She was wily. There was something special about her; I could feel it even though my stress. What was one more minute?
“Do you have a phone, Colleen? Wanna take a quick selfie? But we gotta do it super, super quick,” I said. She said she didn’t have one and wasn’t that just her luck. I grabbed my phone out of my back pocket again. “Okay, I’ll take it an email it to you, okay? Let’s do this!”
We took our selfie. I emailed it to her right away. This woman was still in total shock. It was kind of amazing. She was just shaking her head the whole time, still kinda not believing that Mary Fons (!) had walked into her Wednesday morning quilting class at the community college. After the email sent, I flew to the classroom venue and we had an awesome day.
But it was stressful. This stuff happens. And when you meet someone like Colleen and funny things like that happen, it makes it okay. She was so adorable and sweet and she made the Oshkosh mix-up story a good one, not a bad, stressful, day-in-the-life-on-the-road one.
Colleen, you are the best. What a funny situation we were in, my friend. I’m going to paste in the thank-you email you sent me last week because it is priceless — priceless — just like you. (“Whistler’s mother”?? A mickey in your Geritol?? I am speechless with admiration.)
I shall never forget you, CoCo. Stay in touch — I mean that.
Dear Ms. Mary,
Thank you so much for the selfie. I just love it, your so cute and I have a bit of Whistler mother about me so its all good.
I couldn’t wait till lunch to tell my story. I had to wait till lunch because everyone would be there and they couldn’t interrupt me because their mouth would be full. Well it went over like a lead balloon, no one believed me and someone asked me if Iwas drunk. Being a tea total-er I said no unless someone slipped a mickey into my Geritol. It really hurts to be telling the Truth once in your life and no one believes you.
Then some one walk in and said Mary Fons was going to be at the gild meeting tonight. Every one certainly changed then and I just said Well I know she would be there and when they ask how I knew I told the truth. She told me, her and I go way back (at least 29 min) but I left that part out.
I watch you on PBS and I like you But in person I LOVE you, your so warm and friendly and your hugs are your crowning glory.
Im going to get so much millage out of my selfie I might have and 8 by 10 made and have it bronzed .
Thanks Mary for just being you. You made my day. Correction you made my year.