by Rose M.
I had actually made up my mind to attend my first con in 2013. I was a huge fan of the show when it first aired in 1987 and never missed watching a single episode until the bitter (literally) end. Even at the young age that I was at that time (I won’t mention here exactly what that age was because of the consternation and groans of dismay it induced at the con whenever I mentioned it), the show made a profound and lasting impression on me. I was often told by my mom and aunts when I was growing up that they thought I was an old lady trapped in a child’s body, so although a deepening appreciation of the show and its values would be many more years in the making, I recognized even then that it was something special. Although BATB always remained in the back of my mind, it wasn’t until 2011 that I stumbled upon the show again on television during a very difficult time in my family’s life. Watching the episodes again was immensely comforting and it provided a much needed escape from the stress of what was going on. Then I found the fandom still going strong online and was shocked and thrilled! I just absolutely had no idea that what I was seeing had existed, and I was beyond overjoyed. I began to pour over anything I could find. I was in awe of the art work out there. I rabidly began to read fan fic (something I had never been interested in doing for any other TV show or movie) and was blown away by the level of the quality of a lot of the writing. I had never been compelled to seek out any kind of fandom until then.
It ended up being impossible for me to attend the con in Cleveland, but I hoped and prayed that nothing would get in the way of being able to finally attend my first con this year. By this point, I really would have been inconsolable if I had to wait another year, so I was both excited and relieved when I arrived in Minnesota. I was also feeling extremely anxious because I had never done anything even remotely like that before. I was nervous and scared to be intruding on a family reunion. Carole W. was the only person I sort of knew since I had been corresponding with her by email. My stomach was in knots as I dialed Carole’s number when I arrived at the hotel. She told me she was in the lobby with several other people attending the con. As I walked over and my bravery was deserting me, I began to have that “first day of school” feeling of terror thinking, “What if the other kids don’t like me and I don’t fit in?”
I was so happy to finally meet Carole in person whose writing I admire very much. I soon met SandyX, JoAnn, Pat K., Helene, Lee, and Sally. Where else but a BATB con are introductions made with hugs rather than a handshake? I later met Teresa, Mini, Skippy, and Kari. It was nice to hear Teresa’s perspective on being a con virgin since she had just been one herself in 2013. That fun conversation would lead to many more throughout the con, most of which would invariably include the sentence, “Wasn’t that just wonderful?” I could only imagine what fun it would’ve been to have been newbies together with you last year, Teresa! I’m normally very shy, so I was surprised at how easy it was to talk with people I was meeting for the first time. Many, many thanks to all of you ladies for making me feel so welcome on my first day at the con.
The next morning, I headed out to Como Park with a small group that included an intrepid fellow newbie who had traveled all the way from France named Odile (who, by the way, had the most beautiful BATB t-shirts). We rode on a 100-year-old gorgeously preserved carousel and then spent the rest of the afternoon at the zoo. We arrived back at the hotel just as registration was about to get started and I received my daily hug from JoAnn (Thank you for those awesome hugs, JoAnn!) as we were walking in. When I picked up my tote bag and t-shirt, all I could think was, “I can’t believe I’m really finally here!!!!” One of the things that had immediately caught my eye as soon as I entered the con room was Vincent’s cloak. I tried to remain calm and not trip over my own feet as I hurried over to the costume rack. I asked someone browsing in the dealer room if touching the costumes was allowed. Because of the excitement of the moment, I can’t remember who that person was, but whoever you are, I hope I didn’t frighten you with what must surely have been a crazed look on my face. I could NOT believe that I was standing in front of that cloak and (gasp!) that I could actually touch it. I did it surreptitiously because it was hard to believe that was allowed to just anyone. I don’t have the words to adequately describe what it felt like to touch the gray shoulder of Vincent’s cloak right where I had imagined laying my own head against more than a thousand times. Wow. Sigh.
We watched “A Happy Life” that night, and it was so fun to view it in a room full of other fans. Later we had a special treat that put the crazy lady look on my face again. If I hadn’t already been sitting on the floor, I’m pretty sure I would have fallen out of my chair. Afterward, when JoAnn asked what we newbies thought about it, all I could blurt out was, “I can die now.” Still on cloud 9, I looked through all of the contents of my tote bags that night before going to sleep. Newbie wrangler Pat L. had given us a separate welcome bag. The most precious thing it contained was a card made by Peggy G. affixed with tiny squares of fabric left over from the material used to make Vincent’s cloaks. What a wonderful surprise! Thank you, Peggy, for sharing that with the fandom. I am so grateful to have that keepsake.
July 11 was the first official day of the con and it opened with an icebreaker activity by Rosemarie and a very funny Top 10 list by JoAnn listing the reasons why Vincent likes fan fics. There was a fan fic writing panel by Teri, JoAnn (who was wearing a very . . . ahem . . . eye-catching V&C t-shirt), and Carole that I was especially looking forward to since these ladies are among those at the top of my list of fan fiction writer heroes. I knew that it had been many years since Teri had written any BATB stories, so I always thought I would never have the chance to meet her. What a supreme thrill it was to meet her and thank her for writing and sharing those stories with the fandom. After the panel, we were given the task of writing drabbles and then were asked to share them with the group. I tried to be brave and read mine out loud with a voice shaky with nervousness. That was way out of my normal comfort zone. Everyone else’s drabbles were great, but the one that stood out for me was Ginny’s featuring Mouse. How did you manage to write something that wonderful and funny in only 30 minutes, Ginny? The writers in this fandom never cease to amaze me.
A game of Family Feud followed. For those who watched and wanted to throw things at us in frustration (I’m sure we also drove Je and Winter crazy by our complete inability to follow instructions), all I can say is that it’s harder than it looks when you’re on the spot in front of everyone and haven’t had enough coffee yet. Next up was Michelle’s announcement and presentation of next year’s con which will be in Calgary. You did good picking that hotel, Michelle! Later that afternoon I played my first hilarious game of Dirty Minds which was made even funnier by Brenda’s deadpan delivery. Who knew that descriptions of an iron or a coffee maker could sound so filthy?
At dinner that night Laura G. and Linda S. were a cleverly dressed up duo of a fan and a CBS executive giving fans what they want (i.e. “the creature there has never been”). Others wearing costumes that matched the theme of the con were Odile as a unicorn, Kathleen as a tunnel fairy, and Rosemarie as Ariel from The Little Mermaid. The variety show was a hoot and a half. Skippy’s pirates were followed on stage by a succession of fantastic singers (Michelle, CB, Suze, and Kari). Winter did a reading of the piece she had written for this past year’s Winterfest titled “The Raccoon” which I loved! Pat L. did a comical Victor Borge-style reading of a very hot and ultimately funny story by JoAnn. The Chesapeake Helpers’ Society had the entire room singing along mostly in tune to their American Classics set. Judy and Karen Q. as “Father’s Fairies” hilariously spilled the beans on scandalous Tunnels secrets accompanied by the vocal stylings of Adele’s “Rumour Has It”. The show ended with Laura G. (as Devin), Pat L. (as Catherine), Michelle (as Vincent), and Skippy (as Father, naturally) doing a skit of Laura G.’s terrific “Sibling Ribaldry”. We also watched a few more of Tunnelmom’s very entertaining music videos that night, including a funny and adorable silent movie-style version of “A Happy Life”. The amount of talent in this fandom is truly staggering! The night ended with a showing of the recent French version of Beauty and the Beast. I only know 2 or 3 words of French, but I was mesmerized by the beautiful cinematography and costumes. Since the movie did not have any subtitles, Claire was kind enough to do a Q&A session for us at the end.
Immediately following another nice (and much appreciated by this newbie) icebreaker by Rosemarie the next day, Winter led an activity on how to draw Vincent. I had a lot of fun trying my hand at that, but I won’t be in danger of having anyone ask me to illustrate their writing any time soon. Or ever. A George R.R. Martin archive presentation by Karen Q. and JoAnn was the subsequent activity which was very interesting and informative. Like many others in the room, I was glad that we got the episodes that we did get, considering some of the horrifying script ideas that had been considered. Later there as an interactive “White Stuff” story reading by Judy. I was giggling like a little girl as the “snow” was flying every which way inside a hotel meeting room in the middle of summer. Before breaking for banquet prep, we had a Skype chat with David Greenlee who was very gracious and funny. I’m still kicking myself for having missed the phone call with Roy Dotrice.
The banquet was even more fun than I imagined it would be. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up as I looked around the room during the lighting of the candles. I had tears in my eyes when I looked over at my fellow newbie Odile with a smile. I was too moved to speak. What I wanted to say was, “Can you believe that we just experienced that?” I’m not the dancing type, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the folk dancing. The band was terrific. I’m embarrassed to say I got teary-eyed again when we were all holding hands in a big circle singing “Goodnight, Irene”. My tears were soon dried during the hilarity of the charity auction. As the bidding got more and more heated, so did the antics on stage between Laura G. and JoAnn. All I can say is that by the time Skippy stood up and quoted a line about rum from her pirate skit, my sides were hurting from laughing so hard! There were a lot of wonderful things up for auction to raise money for this year’s charity such as a BATB pewter chess set, a “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” poster in fabulous condition, lovely pieces of art including a bust of Vincent sculpted by Peggy’s daughter, and a 1939 (I think) edition of Great Expectations like the one used in the pilot. I was fortunate enough to win an iconic Vincent sweater. I know how invaluable that sweater really is, so I promise to take very good care of it and will be gentle with my huggings.
Sunday went by in a blur. Something happened during Beast Bingo that made me love this group even more. Bless whoever it was who came up with that thoughtful and generous idea. During lunch I was able to see pictures from the early/mid 1990s shared with me by Jackie K. and Gloria of their writing group gatherings back in the day. What a treat that was! The group discussion about what attracted people to BATB was the official activity that I enjoyed most at the con. It was wonderful to hear the personal stories that were shared. The closing ceremonies came too soon. I was a weepy mess by the first line of “A Gathering of Spirits”. It was a surreal experience to be crying uncontrollably standing in the middle of a circle surrounded by friends listening to the song that had previously reduced me to tears at the conclusion of Winterfest. Then we were invited to join the circle. Goosebumps. Gratitude. My heart was full.
Thank you to Je and the entire con team for all of your hard work putting together such a wonderful gathering. I had a fantastic time. For everyone who graciously took the time to have long chats with me (including Carole W., SandyX, Teri, JoAnn, Brenda, Ginny, Pat M. and John, Claire, Pat L., CB, and Peggy) when you could have been catching up with old friends instead, thank you for humoring me with discussions on topics that I know are old hat for you all. Having those kinds of talks about the show and the characters I love so much was something I had to wait 27 years to be able to do. If I had to describe my first con experience in one word, that word would be “cathartic”.
The main purpose of writing this con report was not so much to preserve my memories of my first con. I could never forget a single moment of the magical time that I had. I wanted to write a great big “thank you” to all of the members of this fandom, past and present. I can’t express how much joy the products of your astounding and loving creativity gave me during a very tough time in my life that fortunately had a happy ending. I tried to convey my sincere appreciation of your work to as many of you as I could during the convention. I went to this con largely because I wanted to be able to tell people in person how much I appreciated and enjoyed their work, and it meant a lot to me to have the opportunity to do that. Thank you to each person who in their own way helped to keep the candles burning brightly all these years. Love and hugs to each and every one of you, and I hope I’ll be able to see you all again in the future!
Rose is a friend of BatBland's: you can read her first (and not last, we hope) contribution here: Winter Sun