Almost my entire extended family on my mom’s side–the Dixons & Company–went to the Ohio Renaissance Festival as a crew of pirates, in full costume and character. There were forty-one of us. Some of the grownups started drinking at nine in the morning. The Dixons don’t actually drink very often, but when we do we are Catholic about it.

They knew we were coming, but I don’t think they were quite prepared.

There was a lot of shouting and ARRing and attempting to sing shanties to which we had managed to learn about one line each. The first of many attempts to break into song came as we crossed under the portcullis to enter the festival proper, and it went like this:

“Well the ship set sail with a lusty crew


The hmm a grr and rum da dum


And they all got something mumble barnacles



What’s the one about the cabin boy? Let’s sing that one.”

I am not kidding when I say costume and character, either. We all had handmade outfits courtesy of my aunt Lea and my cousin Jerusha, plus jewelry, flintlocks and cutlasses. Sneakers were not permitted. We were the crew and wench-brigade of the Slime Dragon, under command of Cap’n–no, Adm’ral!–Lice. When Queen Elizabeth I made a personal visit that afternoon, she was quite impressed with our display of fealty.

There were vague-but-fervent plots of mutiny and assassination all day, but–just like with real pirates–it’s tough to stay on track with drunk ringleaders. It was like the world’s least-organized LARP. I just tried to keep afresh of the prevailing wind, and I gave some money to the poor stage juggler after he endured a good deal of the crew yelling that wasn’t handling enough blades.

It should be noted that this was not a spontaneous occurrence. In addition to an extraordinary amount of planning and effort by my uncle Jeff’s family, we have a shared pirate-story canon as documented by multiple home movies dating back to the late Sixties. Though those scurvy dogs were also led by a Cap’n Lice, yesterday’s crew was missing several key members and had gained a number of new ones. It also seemed to be rooted in a different time and place. Perhaps this (sea-based) Cap’n Lice was an ancestor of the later lake-based one?

Anybody who wonders why I became a drama major and a role-playing nerd doesn’t have far to look for an explanation. The same goes for my fervent belief in art as commons and shared creativity. And pirates. My family is amazing.