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My father (actually, both my parents) have always had strange ideas of what I might do with my life.  My mother, as I mentioned before, pushed plumbing on me with a ferocity that was alarming, and when even she had to admit I was overeducated for it, she started on the postal service.

My father focused on something entirely different– being a tour guide.  Every time we would take a tour, he would launch into this grand vision of me giving organized tours to wide-eyed tourists, possible owning my own van or bus, and living somewhere like Hawaii.  He would drive the van or bus, I would get on the microphone and point out flora, fauna, and local color.  Partway into this elaborate description, he would get a faraway look in his eyes as he pictured father and daughter creating the kind of vacation experience you gush about to your friends afterward.

Of course, when this was at its peak, I was a sullen teenager and usually countered with a “Daaaaaaaaaaaad, nooooooooooooo, I don’t want to be a tour guide,”  and he was left to bask in his dreams.

There was never any discussion as to how to make these dreams reality, rather, my father maintained (still does, really) a child-like innocence and wonder that says I can be anything he wants me to be (nevermind the fact that he’s quite unlikely to leave the Midwest, and people are not clamoring for tours…)

Because of my parent’s insistence on touring historical site and making vacations a priority, I really, really love touring historic sites.  This is something we agree on, and I now drag my friends with me to places like Slater Mill, and the New Bedford Whaling Museum etc.

Jewish Friend loves touring historical sites as much as I do, and we have decided to spend part of our summer of underemployment making mini-pilgrimages to authors’ homes.  First stop, The House of the Seven Gables in Historic Salem, MA.

We packed a picnic lunch and planned for a lovely day, which it was.  The only wrinkle was the tour guide at the House of the Seven Gables, who was so odd that we spent most of the tour dissecting what was going on with her.

First off, she seemed terrified.  She kept pulling on her sleeves and crossing her arms like she was trying to hide in her own shirt.  Secondly, her manner of speaking was… odd.  It was like she had an accent, but not really. She eliminated whole words, misused others, and was very hard to understand.  What is now the historic site The House of the Seven Gables, used to be a private residence owned by the Turner family.  The Turner family were shippers, and lived in the house for three generations until John Turner III lost the family fortune and the house with it.

She mispronounced the name Turner every time she said it.

Over the years, I’ve had good tour guides, mediocre tour guides, and bad tour guides (to date, Mistress Vicky from Slater Mill may just be the best ever), but I’ve never had tour guide be bad because I couldn’t understand her, or because she didn’t seem to even know what she was saying.  I did have one, years ago, who pronounced the word tour as “ter,” I still get annoyed when I think about it.

As Jewish Friend put it, “It’s like she just memorized the script and delivers it in a singsong tourguide manner without knowing what she’s saying.”

I left the tour thinking, “I should work here, that would be totally awesome.”

Then I remembered my father, and his dreams of me being a tour guide, and I got a little squeamish.  When I was working at the Redwood Library, we had tons of tourist traffic come through either on organized tours, or just wandering in (part of the reason is that in the Newport Tourism brochure, it’s listed as free), so we would tell them a little bit about why the library is important, and answer questions about everything from “Where are the Gilbert Stuarts?”, to “Is that the USS Constitution?” (Answers: most are in the Harrison room, which is all the way on the end, one is in the vault, and one is hanging over the large print fiction, and No, it’s not the USS Constitution, it does look like it, but has too many guns).

I loved telling people this stuff, especially when they would get all wide-eyed and say things like, “Wow, you really know your stuff.  Is that the same painting that’s in the White House?”

I still think my father’s dream of him driving the bus while I give the information is unlikely to happen, but I doubt he remembers all this, so I’m certainly not going to tell him he may have been right.

And this is why I love librarianship. A while ago, I was sitting at the circ desk at job number 1. A gaggle of teenage girls came in with an older gentleman who had a very chaperonely air. Teenage girls are rare in this type of library, and they all looked very baffled, so the reference librarian asked if she could help them.

Basically, these were girls who go to some private school, and one of their treats for being honor students is that they get to come to Newport and go on some sort of scavenger hunt. They needed to acquire a book from our library, and also were looking for Mr. Potatohead.

Naturally, I found this very confusing, but it was explained to me that Hasbro is located in Pawtucket, RI, and some years ago (to increase tourism, to raise awareness, cause this seems to have been a trend in 2000?), the state decorated large Mr. Potatoheads and scattered them throughout the state. Unfortunately for these girls, no one knew where the potatoheads had been relocated, and 15 minutes of asking the internet and making phone calls only resulted telling us where the potatoheads had been, and confusing the people who were unfortunate enough to have answered the phones.

This made me curious, and I thought that it might be fun to sleuth out where the potatoheads had ended up, and make a day of finding them. So, I settled into my web-based research, only to unearth something a bit shocking: Mr. Potato Head Statue Said Rascist

By Gillian Flynn
Associated Press Writer
Friday, Sept. 29, 2000; 12:47 p.m. EDT

“WARWICK, R.I. –– A 6-foot Mr. Potato Head statue, one of dozens dotting Rhode Island as part of a tourism campaign, will be taken down because of complaints that the grinning, brown-skinned figure appeared racist.

The “Tourist Tater” was painted dark brown to appear suntanned and wore an ill-fitting Hawaiian shirt, glasses and a hat.”

And the best part:

“Kathy Szarko, the artist who designed “Tourist Tater,” said that she meant no offense and that several other spud statues are a similar color.

“He’s a potato. That’s why he’s brown,” Szarko said.”

Oh man, what a gift. Of course, you can judge for yourself.