Every year my newspaper does an article on the Virginia Festival of the Book. It is a rather large, literary pow wow here in Charlottesville, VA and draws some decent authors. I have held a huge grudge against this Festival since 2004 and each year when March rolls around I am reminded of the cluster fuck of an afternoon that began my lower lip protruding, arms crossed, “hmph” of an attitude towards the event.

At that time, my husband was the manager of a local venue that was going to host a kid-friendly festival event. Valerie Tripp, the author of the original “American Girl” books was going to speak, and we decided to take the girls. My oldest, who was around 8 at the time, was sort of into the books and we figured it could be fun.

We got there early, and hubby, who was not working that day, helped the festival folks set up chairs and get the room ready. I was busy keeping our youngest, who was only 3 at the time, occupied until the event started, while my other girl waited patiently for the lecture to begin. When people began to arrive, the promoter put out a basket with slips of paper – attendees were to put their names on the paper to be drawn later for door prizes, one of which was an American Girl Doll. I don’t know if any of you out there have a clue about these dolls, but they run around a hundred bucks each, and it was greedily eyed by more than one mother/daughter pair in the audience.

The author was a bit long-winded and rather dry. In short, it was a really boring lecture. My youngest, who was far from the model toddler, got very fussy very fast, so my husband took her to walk around the room. Once the lecture was over, the promoter began drawing names for the prizes. Just seconds before, hubby had told me he was going to take our fussy toddler to the bathroom, which was located just at the back of the room.

When it came time to draw the name for the doll, my oldest and I were surprised and elated when the woman pulled the name of my 3 year old out of the basket. We cried “Yay!” and stood up to claim our prize. The promoter, a very manish looking older woman, scrutinized us and stated, “neither of you look like you could be 3 years old.”

I laughed and said, “Oh, no. That’s my daughter. My husband took her to the bathroom,” as I gestured to the back of the room. The promoter looked at me and said, “Sorry, you have to be present to win.”

My jaw dropped. I said “She’s three. She’s in the middle of potty training, come on… She’s right on the other side of that bathroom door.” The manish woman tilted her head to the side, thought on it a second and said, “I feel like being mean today. Sorry, I’m drawing another name.”

I said, “Are you kidding me?” and scanned the audience, hoping that someone would come to my defense. All I saw was a group of mothers that were all too relieved that their kids still had a shot at winning the coveted doll. I would’ve made a scene – I swear I would’ve, but I didn’t want it to reflect poorly on my husband, so I just walked away while my 8 year old began to cry.

But boy did I write a letter. I found the name of the head of the festival and relayed the whole story to her. I also suggested that the bitter, rule-happy Nazi of a promoter should NOT be scheduled to run any more events Involving children. I actually got a response back from her where she half heartedly apologized, and included some American Girl buttons. Gee, thanks. I had a $100 doll, and I wind up with dollar store buttons.

I spent the next few years kind of getting even. Whenever the festival was scheduled to run in the paper as the cover story, I made sure the cover was either ugly or unflattering to the festival. One year I had a dog reading a book. On another I used a very nerdy, miserable looking girl. The content inside was designed to be boring and misleading. I would use large photos of authors who had very little to do with the festival, and would downplay the big names as much as possible.

They never cared of course, but it always made me feel like I got my little dig in.

The festival is coming up again in our next issue. Even though it’s been 7 years, I’ll still be looking for bizarre, unattractive photos for the cover. Maybe a reading pig….

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