Monday, May 09, 2011

History As It Might Have Been

The Mens Garden Club of Wethersfield wasn't always the world-renowned political and social juggernaut that it is today. Hard as it seems to believe, at one time this group was just one of many struggling civic organizations trying to build up its membership - and striving to get its name known by the public at large.

Which brings us to 21 May 1781, General George Washington, Lieutenant General Comte de Rochambeau, The Onion Maidens, and the event that first put the MGCoW on the worldwide stage.
As frequently happens when great ideas first come to fruition alcohol was involved.

Colonial American breakfasts were far different than the juice, eggs, cereal and bagels of today. The food was usually porridge, or cornmeal-mush and molasses. The "juice" was either hard cider or beer. Dinner was taken in the early afternoon and consisted in part of the same alcoholic libation.

So, by the time Ye Olde Mens Garden Club of Wethersfield gathered for its monthly meeting on that cold March evening in 1781 all of the members were pretty much buzzed, blotto and befuddled -- the three conditions that usually lead to someone shouting out one of these two sets of famous last words -- either "Hey guys, watch this!" or (even more deadly) "Have I got a great idea!"

All through the colonies word had spread that General Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau were searching for a propitious location at which to plan their latest strategy to win the Revolutionary War. Towns all across the northeast were hyping their best local attractions in an effort to lure the two warriors to their doorstep.

It was against that background that Roger Benjamin Enoch Dimmesdale, the first President of the garden club, rose unsteadily and in a barely intelligible voice, explained his "brilliant plan" to bring that pair of heroes to Wethersfield and, in the process, to lead his organization to the forefront of the organizational pack.

"Onion Maidens." He slurred loudly.

"Do you mean those sweet, innocent girls who weed and weep to harvest the red onions that grow so ubiquitously in our fields -- reaping the onions for the reward of a silk dress, or more likely, given the shortage of that lustrous fiber, things like chewing tobacco and snuff?" asked one of the more sober members.

"Well they don't know that. Now do they? For all they know the Onion Maidens could be even hotter than those Plowmates of the Month from that sordid Plowboy magazine that heathen Hughziah Hefner just started publishing. All it takes is a little creative PR campaign."

And it worked. Within two weeks both of the generals had made abrupt turns southward, and rushed to ye olde towne of Wethersfield as quickly as two entourages on horseback traveling badly marked dirt roads could travel.

The Onion Maidens however were not amused -- at all. They refused to participate in or even appear near any festivities involving the garden club or their distinguished guests. And the other women in town joined in the boycott.

Left to their own devices the MGCoW could only come up with a "Welcome Walk of Honor" through a cordon of club members and the few other townspeople that were still speaking to them. To decorate the route President Dimmesdale decided to strew the pathway with discarded skins from the Wethersfield Red Onions that he had desperately gathered from along the edges of the fields.

He failed however to anticipate the rain. It began two hours before the dignitaries' arrival and continued as a heavy mist throughout the procession.

The onionskins became slick with moisture. The generals -- already besotted in both senses of the word -- darted pell-mell up the slippery path in anticipation of socializing with the absent maidens. The inevitable happened.

First the French military hero, then the great American leader crashed to the ground ignominiously right at the feet of President Dimmesdale.

The location is today marked with a sign that reads "21 May, 1781 -- George Washington slipped here."

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