Historically Speaking You Can Be Whatever You Want

"The British are coming! The British are coming!"


There are two types of people in this world: those who appreciate historical reenactments, and those who would rather stick needles in their eyes than witness such events.

I fall in the latter camp.

Still, I find myself on occasion, taking a road less traveled- an unpaved path to the 18th century, where I spend my day drinking sarsaparilla, eating apple dumplings and dodging mule patties in the midday sun.

It's the least I can do to support my soldier.

My dear husband, the buffest of the history buffs, is a member of the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment, a part of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

At least he thinks he's a member of the group. For cryin' out loud, they disbanded in 1783.

But, don't tell him that. He's having way too much fun.

To understand reenacting, you must realize there are three categories of reenactors:

Farbs: People who like to dress up and play, but aren't really serious about it, i.e., drunk men in tricorn hats who make statements like, "I'm headin' to ye 'ole porta pot!" They're cute and interesting for about 30 seconds.

Mainstreams: This group is more serious than the farbs. They appear authentic to the time period in which they portray, although they might cheat a bit, maybe hiding Gatorade in their tent, or sewing their clothing by machine. They stay in character for the reenacting event, but return to regular guyhood with the final boom of the cannon. A mainstream colonial soldier might say, "Enough of those Red Coats, let's get pizza."

Hard-Cores: Hard-core reenactors are obsessed with getting every detail correct. They sleep outside, spooning one another for warmth, and soak their metal buttons in urine to give them an authentic patina. You can usually smell a hard-core before seeing him, as these men rarely bathe, eat rancid pork and rub lard in their beards. I think most of them are single.

My better half is a mainstreamer, possibly on the verge of hard-core.

For years, I've sent him off to war as a colonial soldier. A spiffy looking fellow, he wears a linen shirt with a wool waistcoat, a blue coat with red facing, long socks with breeches and black buckled shoes.

And, as the song says, his hat, it has three corners.

All in all, a fashion statement not a lot of guys can carry off.

He sports a wooden canteen, a cartridge box, and a haversack for food and supplies. With Brown Bess at his side, he bids me adieu.

"Billy," I say, "Don't be a hero."

I rarely head to war with my man, but I couldn't resist attending the last reenactment, "The Fair at New Boston."

My soldier exchanged his musket for moccasins, his breeches for a breech clout. Now a Delaware Indian, he had committed to not only shaving his head, but removing all hair from his body.

Remember when the minister said, "for better or for worse?"

I've now seen "worse."

At base layer, he looked like an embryonic bird struggling for survival. But once he added makeup, a scalp lock, jewelry and a loin cloth, things started shaping up.

Then he looked more like Mr. T.- in a mini-skirt.

Chief Chilly Buns, as I came to call him, positioned himself between two trees as the militia approached.

There was an exchange of black powder, a blast of artillery.

A small boy in the crowd started to cry.

"That Indian scares me!"

I tried to console him.

"Don't you worry about that Indian. Underneath his costume, he's just a bald and naked, middle-aged man who cries at Hallmark commercials."

The screaming continued.

"Mommy, that woman is scaring me!"

"You know," I thought, "I'm scaring myself."

And so ends yet another battle of The American Revolutionary War. But, not to fret, they'll be back.

"The British are coming! The British are coming!"


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