Many people don’t know this, but until I was 10, my family traveled the US with the Renaissance Faire circuit. We lived in a travel trailer (and before that a renovated green school-bus) and traveled to shows around the entire country. From before the time when I could walk I was regularly dressed in old-timey costumes and was part of the entertainment of the Faire. Even after my parents split when I was 10 (a subject for a different post) my mom and sister and I still worked at the local faires, in between our regular jobs and school. It was where my village was. All the friends of my family from when I was a child were still there, and while I gradually made my own friends in the new world of mainstream American life I had been thrust into, that was where my friends all were too. I gradually lost contact with all of the friends my age that I had made, since this was before the internet was ubiquitous and I wasn’t much of a letter writer (and even if I was, where would I send them? Everybody moved every two months, on to the next faire until the next year).
Anyway, lately I’ve had a few people tell me I should write a book. Which is funny because several years ago I started on writing a book about it! I haven’t gotten very far, just a few paragraphs really, but I’ve thought about it a lot. This is a sub-culture that not a lot of people know much about, though there was a book written by another Rennie (the affectionate name we have for ourselves) which explored some of the early days of the Circuit, much of it before I was born. Renaissance Faires have been around since the first small fair in California in 1963, and the circuit of faires around the country has only grown from there, with major multi-week faires in California, Colorado, Texas, Florida, Maryland, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York State, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and many other states besides. The events morphed into all kinds of faires, from Renaissance era, to medieval, to fantasy themed, fall themed, Christmas/Dickens themed, and probably more I’ve never heard of.
My father is a book-binder, so he makes hand-bound blank journals and photo-albums with beautiful cloth or leather covers, using the techniques of early book-binders. Many of these techniques are still in use today for restoration work, and it’s made me think of possibly going into restoration in my career. I spent most of my formative years, from as early as I could hold a piece of sand-paper and reliably soften the edges of the press-board used for book covers, helping my father make books, or watching him at work. It’s instilled in me a lifelong reverence for the book-as-object and book-as-art that is probably directly responsible for my decision to enter librarianship. To this day I have to steel myself when I want to write in a printed book, because in my heart of hearts it feels sacrilegious! But anyway, this is the way I began in Renaissance Faires, as The Bookbinder’s Daughter, and that designation still resonates with me today, even when I haven’t seen my father in over 20 years.
But the designation that truly resonates with me the most is “Rennie Rat”, the affectionate name Rennies coined for the children they brought into this world on a permanent basis. There were more of us than you might think, trailing our parents around the country, living in small trailers, or renovated vans, sleeping in tents at the fair site, or living above the booths our parents ran. We learned to speak to strangers early, always selling something, always in costume. Most of us didn’t go to regular school, and we learned on the go, in the back seats of trucks or tucked away behind a stage for the day. We might be selling you a book in a shop, or running in small packs around the faire grounds, or assisting our entertainer parents in feats of whimsy and daring-do. Most of the ones my age actually grew to adulthood entirely in this environment, and some are having their own children now, the next generation of Rennie Rats. It is perhaps one of the greatest regrets of my life that I have not been able to fully share this culture which made me with my son.