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Jean, Jean, The Raffle Queen

   written by Jean Turner
   published Cowpat, July 99

It haunts, it taunts, but not as much as a kite called Silly Simon will.

I sit there in my memory, on a rickety wet wooden bench, watching the sun take forever to rise over the hill behind the bay in Tacoma. The colours are magnificent, but the clock seems poised at 5.30am and Jeanne Mock takes forever in the shower. I can hear the running water and frustrated, I almost pray for the sun to rise that little bit faster just for today so that I can get inside and have a cup of desperately needed coffee.

You see - Silly Simon locked me out last night.

But then it's a long story and perhaps I should start at the beginning.

In the beginning there was Marla; running around in her superwoman's outfit flashing little white cards under everybody's noses at Wroughton, the 1998 WHKF 'home' festival. Foolishly, I asked Rick (my world travelling husband) if he had any dollars on him so that I could buy a raffle ticket so Marla would stop pestering me. As it happened, he had three and so ticket numbers 104, 105 and 106 wormed their way into my hand at the same time as I asked, "What's it for?"
"A free registration for next year's Fort Worden."
"Where's that?" I was greeted with the biggest Marla-sigh I think I have heard so far. The reply was classic "It's..." She took a deep breath and looked at me with real pity in her eyes, "It's where I live. A kite-maker's conference, I do the raffle."

Duly educated, I looked at the ticket, hoping I might be lucky. Usually I pay for others to win. I didn't win this time either.

In August the children and I travelled to South Africa so visit my family, and during the discussion about how many tickets we could claim on Air Miles, Rick blandly stated that he had more than enough to take me to Fort Worden if I still wanted to go. It always amazes me how many big decisions we make in the blink of an eyelid, and how we spend years mulling over the silly things. For example, it took us twelve minutes to buy our new house. We drove up the driveway, walked behind the owners through the entrance hall, into the lounge and through to the sun lounge, looked each other in the eye and nodded. Twelve minutes. Five seconds was all it took to decide to go to Fort Worden, and what a big decision that was. It will probably affect me for the rest of my childhood.

Heathrow and the fun already begins. Pat and Ron Dell and Simon Hennessey were just ahead of me in the check-in queue, but on the side and looking rather stressed out stood the Robinsons and Mom. Mother Madge now no longer appreciates passport jokes, and Janet is having a copy of Madge's passport put into a microchip for surgical implantation.

Pat, Ron, Simon and I had a pleasant flight. The crew was good, and the babies who wailed and the seats that wobbled all seemed to have been reserved for Jan, Dave and Madge's end of the plane. The Outer Hebrides disappeared into the distance and as Greenland gradually became more dark than white, the excitement of the unknown told me once and for all that I AM my mother's daughter - the thrill of satisfied wanderlust struck with a vengeance.

Superwoman Marla was there with her entourage to meet us, and to the bemusement of fellow passengers, we Brits squeaked our Red-Nosed way through customs, the train and into the people movers.

When I was a child our family holidays were often in places like Knysna in the Cape of South Africa where the sumptuous Sequoia Redwood forests grow. There they use wood to build holiday houses. Houses that look very similar to those in Seattle. I tried hard to see it as a town, but all five days I was there, the holiday village feeling stayed with me, adding to the enchantment of the place.

Seventeen people round the dinner table that night made for a wonderful time. Seldom have I felt so at home away from home. Then it was to the 'Palace' for the first night's kip. The beauty and sheer grandeur of the authentically restored home took me by surprise, and for someone who sympathises with the Pea Princess about strange beds, I climbed into mine, closed my eyes and slept like a baby. I woke the next morning to a glorious view across the bay and feverishly sketched all I could see, lest I forget anything as I grow up. Ideas and inspiration for decorating our twelve-minute house suddenly thumped home, and my camera flashed away.

Breakfast out was huge. Sticky sweet, rich and delicious, and as I licked my lips on the way home I believed I would never be able to eat again in my life. Until about 10 minutes later when I found an American size packet of MnMs on Marla's dining room table. Crunching our way through the day's planning, we slowly filled the camper with boxes for Marla's pet raffle.

Ron repacked the van so it would drive smoothly and in a straight line, and we eventually set out for Fort Worden, to find five minutes later that some poor depressed soul ('bare dropper') was trying to do away with himself on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and it was closed until they had talked him down from there. We turned back to do some shopping in the Queen Anne emporium. Some twenty minutes of therapy and an embarrassing number of dollars later, Ron sighingly offered to repack the camper for me.

Fort Worden beckoned and off we went down the highway at slow-motion 55mph. Stopping for the pits, we were alarmed to see Ron's camper about to catch fire. While stinking smoke poured from the engine, Ron sat calmly munching pretzels and murmuring normality noises at us. So we named his camper the SV. (Like RV, only meaning Smelly Van)

When I was 21 I was forced by my friend who was in love with Richard Gere to watch 'An Officer and a Gentleman' five times in a row. (She paid for the tickets.) I liked the ending, the scenery and setting, the views out to sea and the open roads as he rode his bike during the good music bits. And so with a bit of an anti-climax, we drove into a rather unkempt Fort Worden Military Base. I think I recognised one building, but can't be sure. Now a conference centre, half of the base is under renovation but is still a pretty place. We registered, found our digs and ate dinner. I liked the meals, but then I was a foreigner and so everything was new and different.

Marla snaffled us for the raffle. I folded hundreds of bags for the tickets to go in, it was about all I could manage, jet-lagged to the point of faintness. The raffle grew as more and more people donated prizes.

Friday brought a beautiful day which belied things I'd heard about rain and Seattle. That was my day for Don Mock's MockForm class. On Don's machine, I sewed and cut and sewed some more. By the end of it I could make the machine go more or less straight. The biggest problem was the reverse button which was in the wrong place. It's like driving a car with the wrong gears. By the end of the day, with a little chilled Glenmorangie to help it flow more easily, I had produced my Mexican Chilli. At 8.15pm it flew.

Saturday morning was for Achim Kinter's History of kites which was totally awe-inspiring. This guy is a wow - a German engineer with a love for the Cody kite and it's derivatives. His replicas are incredible though he regretfully admits using stainless steel screws instead of the original aluminium ones. The rest is authentic as possible - the research effort put into each kite is staggering. In the afternoon, I attended Dan Kurahashi's course on working with bamboo and mulberry paper to make a kite which had to weigh in at less than 0.75g. It also had to fly. We learned how to split bamboo, and I came away with a much wanted splitting knife. Dan demonstrated the how-to which made it look so easy. We also learned how to bend bamboo using heat, something I'd wanted to learn for a long time. My kite was a success, it weighed in at 0.74g and it flew. A few minor adjustments by Dan on the bridle and it flew straight. My biggest challenge was how to get the kite home safely.

Sunday morning was a little more sober. The weekend was almost finished and only one course left to go. Johnny Hsiung (pronounced shee-oong) makes hi-tech fighter kites out of mylar and carbon fibre for the spars. To create the bow in the spine, he uses a fine-walled aluminium tube which goes over the spine and then is bent to shape before the kite is flown for the first time. Already recognising that I would have a problem getting everything home in just two suitcases, I opted to make a version of the kite which uses line to create the bow. It is an original concept by Johnny which is still in the developmental stage. Interesting though, and the adaptation of which has interesting possibilities in other kiting areas. He is a stickler for detail, something some of my classmates could not handle, and tongue-in-cheek I told him he needed to sign my completed (and balanced) kite twice, once on each side, so that there would not be a weight discrepancy. I still don't know whether he thought I was serious or not, but he graciously did it all the same, to the point of lining up his signatures.

Sunday afternoon we went our weary way home and after a delicious dinner out went home with Don Mock, who was our host for the night. It was during a conversation about gifts for the family that I realised I did not have a kite to give to my youngest child. Don suggested I go and make one in his workshop and off I went. Sometime during the evening, Simon Hennessey came to see how I was doing and then went off to bed. I finally finished up at 12.10pm and went to the house to my bed for the night only to find that I was locked out. I knocked and shouted until I decided it was hopeless. Back in the workshop I figured with no blankets, pillow or anything remotely resembling a mattress, I'd better just get busy and stay up until Jeanne was due to go to work the next morning. During the same fatal conversation that evening, Don had mentioned that it took him four hours to complete a MockForm. I dug around in his Fort Worden box until I found a kit and cut the few bits I needed to make the kite and started timing myself.

Four and a half hours in a kite-maker's heaven and many appreciative glances through the window at the stupendous view across the bay later, my kite lay just about complete on the table. It was beautiful - the graphics I'd chosen worked well, and apart from the trailing edge fabric and bridling which I couldn't find, was finished. I'd also not made the same mistakes I made in the workshop on the Friday. I sat around reading everything I could lay my hands on until I noticed the sun starting to rise. Then it was that I stood outside in the steaming air watching the interminably slow colour changes and listening to the running water from Jeanne Mock's shower.

At 6.15am I frightened the life out of the newspaper man and just before seven I woke Simon by banging on the kitchen window. A few choice phrases, coffee, laughter and breakfast later, the new kite was finished, bridled by Don, and duly christened 'Silly Simon".

The Bulls Eye Shooting Gallery in Tacoma was our next stop Monday morning. For some reason someone in our group made a point of standing between Simon and me all the time we were there. My target plates are going to be framed in the entrance hall to dissuade any intruders into my twelve-minute house. After lunch it was a sad farewell from Marla and Ron's house back to Seattle airport courtesy of the Robinson Taxi Service.

The flight home was fine. Coffee at regular intervals, made extra strong by the crew especially for me once they heard my story, kept me going to Heathrow. My drive home was in the shape of Bernie, our local taxi. His job of keeping me awake was tough as the caffeine wore out half way home. Rick pumped me full once more when I got home and I managed to stay awake long enough to hand out all the presents I had brought and made, and fly the Mexican Chilli and Silly Simon in our back yard.

I"m going back next year. It's already decided, only this time I plan on sleeping in that delightful room in Don and Jeanne Mock's home. They have promised that they will show me where they hide their spare key.

I bet if you"ve read all this that you're still wondering about the Raffle Queen bit?

Simple really.

I won about twenty prizes in all. And that's what they now call me.

Enquire about hiring my writing skills