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Mid America Buckskinners Info Page

Beginner's Corner

Manners (You Gotta Problem With That?)

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No, it's not skinning bucks............ Developed and maintained by JP Finn

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Manners (You Gotta Problem With That?)


Phil Jose

Stop thinking so loud, I can hear you from even this distance. You're thinking, "If this jerk (and here I changed the phrase you used out of respect to Mom,) thinks he's going to tell me that I should extend my pinkie while hoisting my beer mug, or that I should wipe off my favorite fish-gutting knife before carving a roast chicken supper, or – YECCH! —that I should bathe at rendezvous, I'm going to find him and beat him up!"

Relax. Here's a couple of things to consider: Give me a crowbar and someone to distract you, and I can whup you in a fair fight. Besides, that's not the kind of manners I'm talking about.

What I'm talking about is that set of rules every hobby has when the participants get together. They're the ones that get you accepted when you abide by them, or shunned if you don't. So take them seriously, even at the places where it sounds like I'm stealing from a Boy Scout manual.

One of the things you may have already noticed about the world you intend to inhabit is that many of the folks in it are some of the finest embellishers of truth that have ever graced the planet. It is with no exaggeration when I say there have been times around the fire that the conversation has turned so "deep" that I wished I had brought a six-foot ladder and a shovel. That's fine, swapping lies around a campfire is an ancient and honorable tradition, and a fun part of reenacting. However, there's nothing that's going to put the Mark of Cain on you in camp like lying when the truth counts, stealing, or welshing on a deal. Basic honesty is a foundation of the community you're joining.

Let me tell you a true story. A couple years back, I was at one of the larger rendezvous in the Midwest— there was close to five hundred camps there. A friend of mine accidentally left his drinking mug on a table at the registration tent. A little later, the table was moved to another spot, a couple hundred yards away. Two days later, my friend finally caught up with the table, and—there was his mug. No one had bothered it. ("Only at rendezvous," muttered my friend. I think I added an "Amen.")

Now remember, we're talking about a mass-produced mug, with nothing to distinguish it from a hundred other mugs just like it, except for a piece of ribbon tied around the handle. Given the hundreds of folks that were there for the weekend, I think that this incident says a lot about the people you're going to associate with.

While you're thinking about honesty, let's talk about something that grows out of it—that is, the keeping of your word. In camp, a promise, word, or handshake on a deal is more than just a polite gesture. It is an end-all and be-all. There are those in camp whose word I trust more than any contract a good lawyer could draw up. So before you tell anyone that you'll have the money for them tomorrow, or that the trade you're making is a done deal, stop for a second. Make real sure that what you're saying is jibing with what's in your heart. Take what you're saying very seriously here, because everyone else will be.

If you've done any daytripping at all (and by now I sure hope that you have), you've probably noticed something. As you're wandering through camp at least saying "hello" to the total strangers that will one day be your friends, (you have been doing this, RIGHT?) you've noticed that you're getting more than "hellos" back. You might get a little conversation started about how you're doing today, the weather, how this year's event stacks up against last year's, etc. You've introduced yourselves. Then you've been invited to sit a spell under the tent fly to get out of the sun for a while. Maybe, just maybe, you were even treated to a cup of coffee. Summing it up, you've experienced hospitality.

When you've established your own camp, you're going to be giving some of this back. You're going to enjoy it, too. It's a pleasurable thing to pass the time of day, showing off your camp, swapping jokes and stories with fellow reenactors. Don't underestimate the importance of this. It shows to the other folks in camp that you're not just there participating as an historical reenactor. It's showing them that you're also participating as a member of the community that the camp becomes. The acceptance that a little hospitality brings is well worth the price of bringing some extra coffee for the weekend.

In this community where you're going to be lent to and borrowed from, there's an indispensable trait that you should cultivate. I've heard it best described as "being shareful." If your neighbor needs a spare tent stake and you have one, let him use it—you'll get it back Sunday afternoon. The same goes if anyone had need for the use of a shovel or axe, etc. Trust me, the day will come when it'll be your turn to need the spare tent stake, shovel, axe, etc. and someone's going to come to your rescue.

Do I have another pertinent story to tell? You betcha:

A couple of years ago, I was at a winter rendezvous. It was not only cold, with daily highs barely reaching thirty, but it was windy. By the time the late morning of Sunday got there, the camp's wood supply was running down to nothing.

As my buddy and I gravitated ever closer to his dwindling fire, we noticed the camp across the way had a very generous supply of wood still on hand. "Let's go see if we can borrow some," my buddy suggested.

So we wandered over there. "Say there, friend," sez my buddy, "can we borrow a couple sticks of wood from you?"

Well, it turned out that the woodpile was the only thing generous in that camp. "Actually, that wood came with me from home," came the annoyed reply, "But if you really need some, I guess I can let you take some."

My buddy and I looked at each other. Silently, we agreed that our keeping warm was far too inconvenient to our neighbor to even consider. So we left empty handed.

But we got our revenge, without ever saying a word, without ever lifting a hand. A little later, the wood hoarder decided to break his camp early—a decided breach of camp etiquette in itself. Now, when I say that it was windy that weekend, I mean a steady fifteen to twenty mile wind—not the most convenient thing to have around when there's only you and your ten-year-old son to handle pieces of sail-sized canvas. "Whaddya think?" asked my buddy.

"Well," sez I, "I think if we move our chairs a little more to the left, we could see the show better." So we did, and I was right. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

That was a rare situation that gave the two of us special dispensation from another important unwritten rule: If you see someone that needs a hand, jump on in and lend it. Sometimes it's just something as simple as holding a tent pole while someone drives a couple of stakes in. But speaking as the guy who needed a tent pole holder, the effort's well appreciated.

More than once, I've referred to your camp and your tent as your home away from home. That's something to think about when you're visiting at another camp. Remember that you should never go into anyone else's tent without their invitation—it's like walking through someone's front door without even knocking. If you see something really pretty that you'd like a closer look at, for pete's sake, don't just pick it up, ask permission first. (In fact, a good rule of thumb is the prettier it is, the more politely you should ask.) Some of the things you're going to see are one of a kind and awful expensive. Treat them and their owners with the respect they deserve.

I'm going to give you fair warning about something: The respect and attitude towards others that your persona develops in camp has a sneaky habit of smuggling itself back into the Twentieth Century. You're going to go to work Monday morning with your outlook towards your neighbors and coworkers just a little sweeter. You're going to dismiss it as afterglow from the wonderful weekend you've had—and that's true in the beginning. But as time goes by you're going to notice some changes in the way you're seeing the world around you and the people in it.


Here I'm going to have to impart the Greatest Reenacting Secret of All: I want you to take a little time and browse the previous articles. Anywhere that I've used the word hobby to describe what we do, I want you to mentally substitute the phrase way of life. Ultimately, that's what you're going to find.

Herein ends the first section of the Beginners' Corner articles. I think there's enough information in them to get you barely started. (From flatlander to pilgrim through articles! Shoot, in my day, 'tweren't such a thing…)


The next section is going to be a lot of fun; they're going to cover the different things to do at rendezvous, what to expect at events, and anything else I can come up with, either in or out of desperation. We'll kick it off with the next'un: A Buckskinner's/English Glossary. I hope it's as many laughs to read as it will be to write.

Now I have a favor to ask you. If you're ever at rendezvous (especially in east central Missouri) and you see a fat, balding coureur du bois dressed mainly in blue, who looks like his feet hurt him, holler out "Le Lezzard!" (That's my camp name, more on these later.) Offer me a seat in one of your tacky, brand new rendezvous chairs, and a cup of really awful camp coffee.

And pilgrim, that's because I'd be downright proud to make your acquaintance.

Copyright 1999, Philip Jose.


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