When I first suggested taking a family trip to the Renaissance Faire, I was shot down immediately. “Mom was making plans to go to Disney World,” Dad told me, before burying his head in the newspaper.
“But it’s my last summer before I go to college in the fall! Can’t I choose the vacation spot for once?”
Dad looked up again briefly, with an apologetic smile. “Sorry, Minnie.”
The second time I brought up visiting the Renaissance Faire, Hurricane Jack was pounding the state of Florida. Mom kept insisting that Disney World would be fine because was on its own electrical grid, but there was still no way of getting there, since all the flights had been cancelled. “The Renaissance Faire is only a two-hour drive from here,” I pointed out.
Dad looked at me, one eyebrow raised.
“You and mom could have some time to yourselves. And we could stay overnight at the hotel across the street.”
Mom and Dad exchanged glances. I could tell they had talked about going already, but they wanted to make it look like I had convinced them. “Fine, Minnie,” Mom said, after sighing dramatically. “We’ll go to Disney World another time.”
“Ooh, will there be wenches? I want to see a wench.” My 13-year-old horndog of a brother Don had a one-track mind.
So, after much wrangling and complaining and general fuss, we — Mom, Dad, me, Don, and way-too-uptight Aunt Maura — all piled into the minivan and made our way to the Faire. As soon as he sat down, Don shoved earbuds into his ears and tuned the rest of us out. Aunt Maura complained the entire way, first that it was too hot, then too cold; about an hour into the drive, I was wishing I had brought my iPod too.
“So Uncle Ralph and The Twins are going to meet us there?” I asked. I knew the answer, but I was trying desperately to change the subject before Aunt Maura launched into another tirade about why they shouldn’t be teaching sex ed in schools.
“Yes,” said Dad, catching on quickly. “And Bill will be there too, although I think he’s driving himself.” Bill was Uncle Ralph’s oldest kid, and my only boy cousin. He was only two years younger than me, and we got along reasonably well, although he was — how do I put this delicately? — a little bit odd. Uncle Ralph had divorced a couple of years ago, and Bill had decided to stay with his mother until he graduated high school, so we rarely saw him at family gatherings anymore. The Twins (Elsie and Sophie, but nobody ever referred to them separately) were only 9 years old, and they lived with Uncle Ralph for most of the year.
When we pulled into the parking lot — it was more of a field, really, with dirt roads and haystacks delineating each row — we were directed to our spot by a grizzled man dressed in Elizabethan livery. Bill had arrived just a few minutes earlier, and was parked one row in front of us. He waved at us distractedly as he rummaged in his trunk. He seemed to be putting on his costume right there in the parking lot.
Uncle Ralph appeared as we were climbing out of the van, parking just a few cars away from us in the same row. “Great timing!” he called over to us through his open window. He was wearing a Robin Hood outfit, complete with feathered cap, and looked quite authentic. As they got out of the car, I noticed that The Twins were decked out in full princess regalia. I looked down at my ratty hippie skirt and blouse that I had dressed up with some costume jewelry to create some sort of gypsy garb, and was suddenly embarrassed.
Don — whose idea of dressing up was to sport a t-shirt that said “To Err is Human; To Arr is Pirate” — had finally pulled his earbuds out of his ears and was looking over at Bill’s car. “What on earth is the doofus wearing?” he wondered aloud.
I followed his gaze and saw Bill putting the final touches on his own costume, which looked to be more of a mascot uniform than anything else: he had transformed into a giant yellow rubber ducky, with his face obscured by yellow mesh underneath the beak. We all swiftly walked over to him, in various states of disbelief.
Aunt Maura was turning red. “Take that ridiculous thing off!” she shouted.
“What’s the problem?” Bill said, his voice slightly muffled through the costume. “You told me to come in costume. I’ve been wanting to try this costume out for a while!”
“But,” I explained, “it’s a Renaissance Faire, not a Halloween Faire.”
“Could have fooled me, Gypsy Girl,” he retorted.
Uncle Ralph was covering his face with his hands. Mom and Dad were trying to console him. The Twins, unperturbed, were poking at his costume and asking where his arms were.
“Look,” Bill pointed with his beak towards the gate. “I’m not the only one who isn’t coming as a human being.” We looked and saw that there were two tall men with red body paint and horns giving their ticket to the man at the turnstile.
Don was cracking up. “I love it, dude! Keep it on!”
And so it was decided that we would go in together, but for the sake of the adults’ sanity, we would split up as quickly as possible. Mom and Aunt Maura went shopping for jewelry and Christmas presents, and Dad took Uncle Ralph to the pub, leaving me in charge of The Twins, Don, and Rubber Ducky Bill. I had hoped Bill would help me with the kids, but I could see that he was just there to have a good time by himself. In his duck suit.
I had already planned to meet up with my friend Alva, who was working that summer in the “Ye Olde Fryed Vegetable” booth. She waved at me when she saw me coming, but stopped waving when she saw Bill. “What is that?” she asked when I got close.
“My weirdo cousin Bill. He’s…an odd duck,” I smirked. “But he’s harmless. Just let him do his thing.”
“Okay, whatever,” Alva said. “I don’t really have a break right now, but I’ll meet you after the lunch rush, okay? By the gaming booth.” She wanted to introduce me to her new boyfriend, who worked there.
“Ah, of course. And where is that?”
In one efficient move, Alva pulled out a map and pointed to a spot in the middle, then handed it to me. She smiled at Don and The Twins. “Hi guys, nice to see you again. Is there anything you want? I’m sure Minnie will be happy to amp you up on sugar and salt.” She winked at me.
Don leaned over the counter. “Do all the wenches here show as much boobs as you do?”
I punched him in the arm to shut him up, but Alva’s face had already turned beet red, and she quickly turned away from the counter. “I’m sorry,” I called out to her as I ushered the kids away. “After lunch, by the gaming booth. I’ll make it up to you.”
I decided that the best way to keep the kids entertained was to go to shows; first we saw a sword swallowing act, and then I took The Twins to have tea with the Queen. Don wanted to go to the wench auction, but I vetoed that decision and took them all to a swashbuckling pirate show instead. Everywhere we went, Rubber Ducky Bill followed, and from what I could gather, he was happy to just tag along.
By lunchtime, however, Bill was beginning to get uncomfortable. “Itfsh shweaty in herefff,” he said. Or at least, that’s what it sounded like to me (his voice was even more muffled than it had been at the beginning of the day). “Alsssho, I ffthink I’m chafingff.”
“Then take it off,” I told him as we walked towards the row of food vendors. There was a horrendously long line for turkey legs, but Don really wanted one, so we were doomed to stand in line until we got one.
“Why not? Nobody’s stopping you.”
“I…” Bill mumbled something under his breath.
“What? I can’t hear you.”
He waddled closer to me and leaned in so that his beak was touching my head. “I fftook my clothessh off to get into thissh suitfff,” he whispered.
“Oh my God.” I peered into the mesh that covered his face, trying to look him straight in the eye. “All of your clothes?”
I looked around at the crowd. One of the actors — I think it might have been Shakespeare — was talking to Don and The Twins, trying to get them to help him write his new play or something like that. Shakespeare was actually pretty cute. The Twins were loving every second of it, and even though Don was trying to play it cool, I could tell he was just as into the interaction as The Twins. I ran over to Don and whispered that Bill and I were just going to go to the gaming booth around the corner, and we’d be back in a jiffy. He nodded and puffed up his chest a little bit, looking less like a pimply horndog and more like someone who could actually look out for his little cousins.
Muttering a quick prayer that all would be well with the kids, I grabbed Bill’s wing and dragged him to the gaming booth. My only hope was that Alva’s new boyfriend had some spare clothes somewhere. Bill’s movements were becoming increasingly frantic as he scratched and pulled at the duck suit from the inside. “It’sff so hotff!” I could hear him whimpering.
I spotted a handsome blonde guy standing by the archery line. He was totally Alva’s type, so I took a chance. “Are you Jack?”
“Er…yes,” Jack answered. He glanced at Bill suspiciously.
“I’m Minnie. Alva’s friend?”
“Oh, yes, of course.” He held out his hand to shake mine. “I’m Jack. Alva has told me a lot about you.”
I smiled coyly. “She’s told me a lot about you too.”
“Mmmff,” said Bill.
Jack moved to stand between me and Bill. “Is this duck bothering you?”
“Oh, no. He’s…well…my idiot cousin.” I explained Bill’s problem. “I have a feeling he’ll get heatstroke if he stays in there much longer; I don’t want to take him all the way up to the parking lot. Is there some way you can help? Maybe give him a change of clothes?”
Jack looked skeptically at Bill. “Um…”
At this point, Bill decided he’d had enough and began to take the suit off, only to realize that the zipper was on the outside. He banged his arms against the inside of the suit in frustration.
Jack sighed. “He’ll have to go to the backstage area to get changed. I’ll be breaking a lot of rules by bringing him there.” He moved towards Bill to lead him away from public view.
But Bill was now in full panic mode, and he tried to attack Jack with his only free appendages: his feet. Unfortunately, his wild faux karate kicks only set him off balance, and he fell over onto the dirt road. Jack had to jump on top of him to pin his legs as he tried to find the zipper.
At this point, we were starting to attract attention. A small group of passers-by had formed a semi-circle around the action. I could hear the comments circulating in the crowd, and I could feel my face turning red.
Then a voice called out from within the crowd. “My word! What have we here?”
There was a commotion, and Shakespeare stepped forward, with Don and the Twins in tow. God, he was cute. And I was so embarrassed.
Jack was almost done getting the zippers and snaps undone on the duck costume, but Bill was still panicking. “Helpff!”
“Methinks the duck doth protest too much,” said Shakespeare.
The crowd laughed.
Jack unhooked the last hook, and Bill burst forth from the duck suit, panting and gasping like a man emerging from a deep water dive. He was completely drenched in sweat; his skinny white body was so wet that he slid completely out of the costume before any of us realized what had happened, and there were several gasps in the crowd before Jack threw his jacket over Bill’s lap.
Shakespeare took over and waved his hat with a flourish to grab the crowd’s attention. “It’s a miracle!” he declared. “A boy has sprung forth, fully formed, from the head of a duck! I think I have an idea for a new play.” He saw another actor behind the crowd and waved at him. “Oh, Marlowe!” he called out. “You will simply love this story. Mayhaps this will be the play that will give you as much fame as I.” Winking at me as he passed, Shakespeare strolled quickly towards Marlowe, and the two actors expertly moved the crowd away from Bill.
I think I fell in love with Shakespeare right then and there.
Jack did his best to cover Bill up and rush him to the backstage area.
I looked around and saw that the crowd had all but dispersed, save Don (who was laughing so hard that tears were running down his cheeks), The Twins (who were exchanging concerned glances), and a few others. I did a double-take as I noticed Mom (who had a very angry look on her face) and Aunt Maura (who looked like she was about to faint) among the lookers-on.
“Um…hi, Mom. Aunt Maura. Did you buy anything cool?” I didn’t know what else to say.
Aunt Maura opened and closed her mouth several times, but words never came out.
Mom looked up at the sky. “Please tell me you had nothing to do with this.”
“Mom.” I shook my head. “How long have you known Bill? How could you even think that this was anyone’s doing but his own?”
A wry smile crept onto Mom’s face, despite her attempts to maintain a disapproving countenance. She looked away and busied herself with looking after Aunt Maura, who was starting to come around.
“I think I’m…going to be sick,” Maura complained.
My mother rolled her eyes.
Just then, Jack and Bill re-emerged, Bill wearing a game booth uniform that was slightly too small. The Twins, visibly relieved, ran to him and hugged him.
“Thank you,” I whispered to Jack.
“Both you and Alva owe me,” he murmured back. “It’s a good thing I like her so damn much.” We shook hands and I promised to make it up to them both.
“Heeeey!” Dad and Uncle Ralph were wandering drunkenly down the street. “We heard something was going on with a duck and we were wondering…” Dad’s voice trailed off as he saw the rubber duck carcass on the ground. He looked up at Bill in his too-small costume and blinked several times. “Oh.”
Mom took over. “Maura’s getting a migraine,” she announced. “I think it’s best if we left now.”
And so, with much wrangling and complaining and general fuss, we all piled into our respective cars and headed to the hotel.
We didn’t go back the next day. But I returned by myself the next weekend. You know, to make it up to Jack and Alva. And also to see if Shakespeare was single. (He was!)
And that’s the reason why I love the Renaissance Faire. Nothing like this could ever have happened at Disney World.
A migraine, a miracle, and a large rubber duckie.
Just as a side note: if you know me in real life you know that I have spent a lot of time at Renaissance Faires over the years (I even met my husband at the PA Renaissance Faire), so some of this story was informed by my experiences there. However, just so you don’t get too confused, everything else about the story is pure fiction, spun from the deep, dark recesses of my imagination.