Grand Illumination is an event in the first or second week of December that brings people from all over the world to Colonial Williamsburg. It’s estimated about 30,000 people are in town for this one event. There are lots of things going on, including shopping, touring, guided walks, demonstrations, fireworks, a special fife and drum march and more.
I worked one Grand Illumination when I was at Chowning’s. I was on a cider stand, across from the Magazine, where they were setting off the fireworks. As the day went on, I was stuck out there with someone only coming around occasionally to restock me. I was lost in a sea of people, with only some tables to protect me. It was fun though. And I got to see the fireworks. And I had cressets. I love cressets.
This year, I was at Tarpley’s. It was chaos, to say the least. I have never seen the store that busy before. The day was such a blur that I only remember bits and pieces. But here are those bits and pieces that made up the most insane day at Colonial Williamsburg, that year.
-A female customer was hitting on me really blatantly while I helped her. She was looking at some jewelry when I asked her if she needed help. She kept commenting on how beautiful I was and called me “pretty girl” like I was some kind of parrot. When I checked her out, she started talking about how attractive I look in my costume and asked me about my underwear. I told her about my stays and she remarked that I had such a beautiful figure. The woman was about my mom’s age, I’d wager and she was with a man who acted like her husband. It was strange, to say the least.
-Fireworks are awesome. They’re like exploding sparkles.
-It’s our policy to ask for photo ID whenever someone hands us a credit card that has some form of “see ID” on it or if it’s not signed. Usually, it’s not a problem and a lot of people thank us for checking ID when they use their cards. But one woman handed me an unsigned credit card and said that she didn’t have ID on her when I asked for it. She told me, “It’s me!” as if that meant anything to me at all. In the end, her husband had to pay for it because he had both a credit card and an ID.
-A man was asking me a bunch of detailed questions about fife and drum. Like who the leaders of it were? Are they CWF employees? Do they volunteer in schools? How long do they train with the corps? I had no clue. I know very little about fife and drum other than I love to listen to them. I don’t know everything, sir.
-That night as a night of people shouting at me from the street. Seriously. They wouldn’t come inside, they would just see me walking past the door and shout something to me.
-We usually have a large, drop-leaf table in the middle of the floor, close to the entrance. For Grand Illumination, it was moved into the hallway, away from the customers. Whenever there were enough people in the store, it seemed very natural that it wasn’t there. But as soon as it cleared out, the floor looked bare and strange.
-A woman asked me where the restrooms were. I told her, diagonal across the street, behind the William Pit store. Which is completely accurate and my standard answer. The woman, however, stared at me blankly and kept demanding more details. I didn’t even know what she was talking about at first. She asked me where the restrooms were and I told her. How much more detail do you need?
-Our goal was pretty steep for the day and I was slightly concerned that we wouldn’t make it. But then I saw the sales numbers in the late afternoon and we were almost there. We ended up hugely over budget. I was pleased.
-As I was dealing with another customer, a man came up and started asking me about the busy season in Colonial Williamsburg and how stressful it got for me. However, I’m not naive and I’m not going to talk about how stressful it is to deal with silly customers to a silly customer. I dodged a lot of his questions about how hard the job is and he finally gave up and talked about how awesome it is to do something you love and get a paycheck. I didn’t want to alert him to that reality either.
-Robert came over from the Pit to do some heavy lifting. I totally don’t mind lifting boxes and I have enough upper-body strength to do it. But as soon as I get into those stays, lifting and carrying heavy items just becomes entirely too difficult. I’m so glad Pit doesn’t mind lending us their men to carry around cases of beer.
-Speaking of the Pit, their flag was stolen. We put flags out front to signal that the store is open and when they went to collect theirs at night, they found that it wasn’t there. There was some talk of William and Mary kids being to blame. But it’s still an odd thing to steal. And highly childish.
-A woman was looking to buy the marcasite bow ring, which is the ring that I own. She started off talking about how you can’t get marcasite wet under any circumstances. She didn’t know why, but the stone didn’t like water, for some reason. I told her that I own that exact ring and have gotten it wet several times, as I wear it every day. I showed her my ring, which looks the same as the day I bought it. She finally dropped that and started hyper-analyzing the two rings that she was given to try on. She insisted that one looked “rounder” than the other one. She asked me what I thought. I couldn’t even pretend to see what she was talking about. I just told her that they both looked really round to me.
So that was my Grand Illumination. May I never work another one.