Monday, February 27, 2012

Reenacting Is Not For The Faint-Hearted

Lots of people think that we reenactors wear uncomfy corsets, hot wool coats, and sit around in funny looking tents while spectators stare at us. They have no idea what other EXCITING things can happen in a reenactor's life. Like the "fun" we had this weekend at the Battle of Aiken. And for the record, I think I'm the only family member who (still) maintains that it was FUN. :D

We arrived on Thursday and set up our campsite with great, albeit, windy weather. Everything looked nice and spiffy by Thursday evening. We downed some yummy homemade stew and pie and got set for a (hopefully) peaceful upcoming three days of the reenactment. Little did we know...

Does this look peaceful and organized?

Bad weather was predicted for Friday morning so we figured we'd have to deal with some rain and wind. No problem, the breeze would dry us out by Sunday afternoon, when we'd pack up our canvas and head home. Ha. The best-laid plans of mice and men and reenactors...

So Friday morning, Dad heads out bright and early to the campsite. He calls us at the hotel. "Don't dress out today, they've canceled the school day activities because of predicted bad weather. It's raining and windy here." Okay, no big deal. Sometimes these things happen at reenactments where we're all at the mercy of the weather. We show up in "civvies" - that is, pants and shirt and jacket. It's definitely raining and windy.

Not to worry though. We have Big Plans for shopping. We snag Lucy, who had camped out with her hubby Walt and our other unit member Dave, and head for the sutlers! After an exceedingly productive morning, wherein we help Lucy pick out ball dress fabric and buy sundry other necessities for ourselves, we head back to the campsite.

By now, there have been several false alarms of impending tornadoes, hailstorms, blizzards, and miscellaneous atmospheric agitations. However, it's still just windy and spitting rain. No biggie. Although we do keep an eye on the weather radar via our period-correct 1860s wireless telegraphs. :D

Meanwhile, we dig out food for lunch. Dad heads up the hill to the fry bread tent for his meal while we dig in the cooler for sandwich makin's.

A staff car roars by about now, with the occupants hollering that a "bad storm cell is coming!" No problem, we've heard that before. We continue muddling with lunch and Mom observes that she will pinch Dad when she sees him for leaving water in the bottom of the cooler to soak the bread. She has no idea we're about to get all the water we can handle and then some.

A sudden gust of wind knocks over half of our camp furniture. In case you're wondering, this means it was a LARGE gust of wind. Our furniture is heavy, solid, period-correct wooden tables and chairs. As we're struggling with the furniture, another gust of wind brings blinding rain and starts whipping the canvas flies around.

(When we first told this story, a friend of ours didn't know what a fly was. So for those who are not of The Illuminated Ones Who Have Seen The Elephant, a fly is a canvas awning held up on all sides by poles and ropes. Our flies (we have three) are each 12' X 12'. Walt and Lucy had a fly up as well. In addition, we had three tents between us all. Because our flies were hooked together, we had three hefty wooden ridge poles down the center. Imagine all of this flopping wildly around and you get the picture.)

Speaking of pictures, we're kind of nuts in that we take pictures when it looks like the imminent end of our existence (such as when our van caught on fire and burned up by the side of the highway in 2001, but that's another story). So here's a picture I took when the first gusts started.

The fly poles were now literally lifting off the ground so we all ran to grab them. Except I think Lucy stayed in the tent and prayed. Water was pouring off the flies in sheets, onto us (naturally). Another gust of wind blew the furniture over again. Raquelle, hanging onto the middle fly pole for dear life started shrieking, "I can't hold it! I can't hold it!" Walt, valiantly grasping another pole looked over to his setup and drawled in his low-key way, "Well, there goes our fly." Sure enough, his tent fly went over with a crash and completely enveloped he and Dave's wood-working setup. Fortunately, they had hastily shoved all the sandwich makin's back in the tent as the rain first started. Here's the wreckage of Walt's fly.

Our two front flies were now flopping around so dangerously that I started hollering, "Let it go! Let it go!" Unfortunately, we had neatly tied everything together the day before so they couldn't "let it go." I yelled for a pair of scissors and our blessedly organized mother handed them to me in three seconds. I jumped up on a chair (that was still standing) and started whacking away. The two flies went down with a whoosh.

You do realize that by this time we were all completely soaked, right? The temperature was in the high 60s though so at least we weren't cold.

There was now only one fly and three tents standing. And the one fly was flopping wildly too. It was also neatly tied... to the tent. I dove in with my scissors and a moment later the final fly was heading for the ground. Right then, Dad came up.

He had been helping to hold the tent poles at the fry bread place. Once their fly blew down, he figured he'd better head back for our setup. As he headed down the hill, he saw everything still standing, so he put his head down to keep the rain out of his eyes. When he arrived at the campsite about 30 seconds later and put his head back up, everything was DOWN. He was a little startled, to say the least.

This is him bringing down the final fly ridge pole and me looking businesslike with my scissors.

We untangled all the ropes and let everything fall, then went into the tent to wait out the storm. We were sopping, soaking messes. The storm passed in a few minutes and then we stepped out to view the carnage.

Both wall tents were still standing. The A-frame was standing too, but its ridge pole looked really funny - in fact, it looked like the ridge pole had completely snapped off and was only held in place by canvas. (We found later that the poles weren't snapped off, just majorly bent. See below.)

Our carnage wasn't as bad as some other folks' though. Several sutlers' tents were down, either blown away or in shreds. Doesn't this look awful?

However, reenactors are rather resilient people. After the ladies sojourned into town to dry off (in a hotel without power!), we came back to find our engineering guys had fixed the A-frame, set up the four flies and straightened out the furniture. (A trip to Home Depot and the sutlers next morning provided a new ridge pole for Walt and a new fly for us since one of our shredded.) Not to mention, getting a roaring fire going. All that was left was to throw on the chili and get out the pie and rolls. Here's our lovely repast at the end of the day.

And as for the rest of the weekend, we were blessed with beautiful (if still somewhat windy) weather which was good 'cause Mom and I had some new outfits to show off!

And a really fun picture... Mom with her Secession Cockade and Mom's dolly Flora with HER Secession Cockade!

So if this account didn't scare you off, come see us at the next reenactment! And remember, reenactors lead exciting lives!


  1. love your new dresses. Sounds like an interesting weekend and the shopping sounds worth it :D

  2. Beautiful dresses! I am a South Carolinian by birth but live in NC. Are you ever near Wilmington, NC?

  3. Hi Donna! We have been meaning to do some NC reenactments but it hasn't worked out with our schedule lately. We are in the Greenville, SC area.