I know Christmas is coming because the craft fairs have started. As we get closer to December, there will be as many as two or three on a weekend. There’s the one at Sidney that’s held in the Sancha Hall. There’s stuff for sale you couldn’t imagine. There’s more earrings for sale than there are people in Sidney. There’s more earrings for sale than there are people on Vancouver Island. There are earrings made of old blue jean cloth, bottle caps, melted plastic, ribbon, rolled magazine pages, copper, silver, gold, sea shells, computer innards. There are earrings made of feathers and even laquered spaghetti. If every person in Sydney bought two pair, there’d still be a semi-trailer load of earrings left to send to Quebec as an apology for our being called British Columbia.
There’s Christmas wreaths made out of plastic bags, sea shells, the corks from wine bottles. There’s a forest of cedar wreaths. Some wreaths are made of intertwined willow and others from dried bull kelp. You can’t say people on Vancouver Island lack imagination.
There’s jams and jellies. I always buy a jar of Oregon Grape. If I’ve been too lazy to pick blackberries, I buy a half dozen jars of blackberry jelly. There’s home made mustard pickles, bottles of vinegar with plants floating in them. The health department made them take the bottles of salad dressing with garlic cloves off the tables. Garlic and oil can form botulism. There’s cookies that look like trees and snowflakes and Santa Clause.
There’s always a lot of knitting. Sweaters for kids and sweaters for women but never any sweaters for men. Sidney men don’t wear sweaters, I guess. Or maybe because Sidney’s a retirement town there aren’t that many men left and their wives knit them all the sweaters they need. I’ve thought of filing a complaint of systemic discrimination over the lack of men’s sweaters year after year. However, no one would sell me Oregon grape jelly if I did.
There’s a craft fair at one of the arenas but I won’t go there anymore. They charge too much to get in and they don’t even give you a credit against your first purchase. It’s a bit like having to pay to get into a department store. Besides, they mostly have pottery. If you’re a pottery mavin, it’s the place to go. You can get pottery for everything from spoon holders to garlic jars. The sellers are up scale. They wear white tailored blouses and ankle length skirts and have had their hair permed. They all have business cards with raised printing. If you went to their house for supper, they’d swirl their wine in their glass and sniff it before letting you have some.
The best craft sale I ever went to was at Shirley. Shirely is north of Sooke and before Jordan River. It is so small that if you turn your head to look at a cow or somebody’s goat, you’ll miss it. It’s really just a small municipal hall painted CNR red even though there are no trains on the west side of the Island. Some stubble jumper must have brought the paint with him after he sold the farm.
I’d been to Jordan River. Jordan River is bigger than Shirley. It has a restaurant, a take out, a dry sort where the logging company organizes the logs by size, a small park and four houses. A lot of surfers go there in the winter. I like to sit in my truck and watch them ride the waves. A lot of kayakers also surf the waves. There’s a whole flotilla some days. While I was up there one Sunday we got a real West Coast storm. On the way back, the road was covered in branches. A tree had fallen across the highway but someone with a chain saw had already cut a piece out of it. Around here, people carry things like chain saws in their truck. You never know when it might come in handy.
When I got to Shirely, I saw a sign was up and cars were parked outside so I stopped. When I went in, the hall was lit with candles. A tree had taken out the power line. There was a wonderful, quiet feeling to the soft light and shadows. The coffee tasted particularly good as I drifted from table to table. Everyone was talking to everyone else. I expect in Shirley most people know each other and talk to each other all the time. But there quite a few people like me, non-Shirleyites who’d dropped by, and they were all talking, too. People are like that when they are faced with natural disasters.
My all-time favorite, though, is the Sooke craft fair. I’d pass up a trip to Europe rather than miss going to Sooke in November. Sooke’s half-way, sort of, between Jordan River and Victoria. It used to be a tiny fishing village, logging town. Now, like most of the island, it’s filled up and spread out with stubble jumpers who’ve jumped across the mountains to grow roses or kill salmon after driving a combine for forty years.
The hall is the second most important building in town. The most important building is the Legion because its got bingo and cheap beer. The Sooke hall is about four times the size of the Shirley hall. It’s raised up so you have to climb a steep set of steps. The last time I started up those steps, a very attractive woman in a long wine-coloured dress with a lace vest was standing at the top. She had shoulder length curly dark hair pulled back and tied with an elegant pink ribbon. She was wearing rubber boots with a red line around the bottom. She saw me looking at the boots. She had, she told me, two pair of socks inside them. White cotton socks, then wool fisherman’s socks over those. Her table was in front of the door and there was a terrible draft.
There’s a double set of doors. In the space between them, there’s always a something interesting. One year it was two reindeer someone had made out of logs and tree branches. The sculptor used an axe instead of a carving knife but there was no mistaking what they were. One year there were snowmen made from sheets.
When I go inside, I always follow a plan. I don’t want to miss any of the tables so I start by going to the right, looking only at the objects along the walls. It doesn’t matter how interesting something might be, if it’s on an inside table, I ignore it. As I worked my way around the tables, music students played pieces up on stage. There was an audience of moms and dads and uncles and aunts in front of the stage. They clapped at the end of every piece. Some of the dealers clapped, too. They were the ones who didn’t have any customers at the moment.
There’s more stuff for sale than at the Bay. And the Bay in Victoria is four stories and covers a city block. At least it seems that there’s more stuff in the hall. No refrigerators or freezers but a lot of small items you can cram onto a table. There’s bottles of home-made fragrance. There’s pot pouris. There’s bees wax candles and bees wax plaques to hang on the wall. There’s walking sticks cut from the local forest. There’s the blacksmith with iron work. There are carvings in cedar that are done by sandblasting. There’s always wooden toys. If you don’t see just what you want, the builder will make you a toy to order. At least he did for me last year. He even delivered it to my door. There are things you put in the freezer or microwave and then wrap around whatever part of you has got arthritic There’s always some Cowichan knit goods. The Cowichan are a native tribe knit sweaters and socks and mittens. The knitted goods are big and bulky and warm and good for wearing when you go digging for clams.
It takes me at least two hours to see everything. Some things I go back to look at twice. I did buy a matching baby blanket and cap for the grandchild of some friends. The pattern is so intricate the knitter couldn’t have made more than a dollar an hour.
I never go to the Sooke craft fair without stopping at Mom’s cafe. Mom’s is right across the street. It’s got booths and a juke box with lights. There’s a blackboard with the names of the specials. It’s mostly families at the tables. Unless you’ve got a friend with you or have spent all day cutting down trees don’t order the roast beef dinner. It comes on a platter. The platter is filled to the edges. When you go to Mom’s you go to eat, not have your plate decorated with food art.
I used t think that craft fairs were all about buying and selling things. And they are, sort of. But there’s not much profit in them. Craft fairs around here are more about sharing something you’ve made. There’s a lot of pride in the items set out on the tables. Some people start right after New Years, knitting or sewing or carving, getting ready for next season. Everything is reasonably priced. When I buy an item, it’s not the five or ten or twenty dollar bill that makes people’s eyes shine. It’s my thinking enough of something they’ve made with their own hands that matters. That’s what sends them back to the workshop to build something they’re out of and deliver it to my door days before Christmas even though it’s only a ten dollar item.