Every semester I give my students the assignment to write about their tribe. It is a great writing prompt because it can be interpreted in so many ways -- one’s family, one’s friends, one’s co-workers, there are a myriad of possibilities. Today, I found myself amidst two tribes. The first I experienced when bringing the photos and drawings I am entering to the Tunbridge Fair. For those of you not in the know, this fair in Tunbridge, Vt. is billed as the World’s Fair and I had to smile at the sign announcing this as I do every year when I approach. Tunbridge is far from a budding metropolis and while the whole world may not make its way to the fair, almost everybody I know will find themselves there over the next four days.
It was beyond hot this afternoon when I showed up at the fairgrounds, but the place was bustling. Farmers toted bails of hay from trucks to stalls, handlers led their cows to water, pickups carrying livestock whirled by. Inside the Dodge-Gilman building women brought squash and pumpkins to vie for ribbons and at Floral Hall, where I was headed, others had already brought their artwork for judging. People moaned about the heat, assessed each other’s entries and exchanged friendly jibes.
“Hot enough for you?” a white-haired man crouched outside the hall asked. A round-faced woman shone a toothy smile in my direction as she took my art. She wore a shop apron and moved with the busy efficiency of one of Santa’s elves. The whole place whirred with activity, like a giant engine kicking into gear.
“Whose trailer is that?” one farmer shouted to another. “Lambert’s,” the other answered. “Be nice to Lambert,” he warned. They all laughed, an inside joke.
And, I was a part of it, too, inside the warp and weft of this rural existence.
I found myself part of a different tribe only a few hours later as I set up shop at Books-a-Million’s café in preparation for working on my Obamacare article. My house is too chaotic to work there and as freelancer, I have no office, so the bookstore has to do. But, I am never alone. A community gathers there. There are always familiar faces, but the small café seems to be the home office to at least two others. One has been there for almost as long as me. We are on the same schedule. Short and round with a soft, friendly, almost feminine face and large brown moons of eyes, he always sports a cap and sits two tables down from me, where he reads and works on his computer.
A new man has joined us -- tall, bearded and dark-skinned, he wears headphones and works even more diligently on his laptop than the other man. He has been there for the last several weeks. I round out the third of the trio. I arrive, claim my space, fire up the laptop, grab my pomegranate green tea and spread my notes out in front of me. Open for business. The friendly man nods at me when I come in and I wave in return. We both smile, our eyes twinkling. The other man looks up, noting my presence, but continues his work. I don’t know their names, I don’t know what they do, but I log their behaviors, which now are as familiar as my own. Books-a-million offers only three coveted tables near outlets, and so we claim our same three each time.
“What do you do if someone else is there?” my mom asked me today. I laughed because I had just witnessed this happen.
“We sit a one of those tables nearby, glare and talk loudly about needing an outlet until somebody leaves,” I answered.
It is true. I had seen the friendly man do so and I had done the same. In many ways we are strangers, in others kindred spirits. Tonight the humidity of the day gave way to thunder and lightening. The two men and I, alone with the bookstore barista, watched the spectacle from inside. The lights flickered, the wind blew and water teamed down from the sky. We pondered it all and then simultaneously looked back down at our books and laptops as if programmed to do so. We worked for another half-hour until just before the bookstore closed as one by one we stood and gathered our laptops, storing them in backpacks and bags. We are likely to return again tomorrow or the day after, each to his or her table with a nod and a smile. But tonight we leave without a goodbye. It is not your typical office, no water cooler chatter here, and yet, I realize I am part of this, too, this company of strangers, a peculiar, but welcome tribe.