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Section 2.....Keepin' Goin'

The Education of Le Lezard

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The Education of Le Lezard
This Would be Titled Pilgrim's Progress if Someone Hadn't Used it Already

Phil Jose

Way back in the Introduction to these articles, I mentioned that they were to be written from experience, with a view of saving both time and money by learning from my mistakes. I think the time has come to elaborate on some of those mistakes. I'm going to do two things here: first, come clean and prepare to wear an awfully red face. Second, I'm going to give you an historic reenactment of various historic reenactments in the form of entries from The Journal I'm Glad I Don't Have to Look At:

September, 1993— Well, another rendezvous' came and went, and I'm still in street clothes. I'm tired of paying lip service to how great these things are. This winter, I'm going to get a change of "old" clothes together, so I can start participating in them come spring.

I think my brother and his family will approve; their camp looks really authentic. With as much time Madame and I spend hanging around their camp, I'm sure they'd rather we do it in the right clothes. Also, I've noticed that it's starting to sting more and more when someone calls me a "flatlander."

It'll be fun. Besides, there's not a lot to it. You just wear old clothes and sit around camp all day.

May, 1994— Well, I did it. I dressed out for the very first time! There was a rendezvous (or was it an "event?") not too far from the house. My brother's family was set up, so I thought, "Why not?"

I wish I had a little more in the way of clothes for the era. (I think the term is "period proper.") I had the right kind of shirt and some jewelry, and a sash that my sister-in-law wove on her "inkel loom." However, I still had to show up in jeans and tennis shoes. I figured barefoot was okay in camp, so as soon as I found my brother, I ditched the shoes and socks.

I did what they call "daytripping"—I visited the camp for a few hours and left. The only thing that took the shine off it was that my brother must have had a pretty bad headache. I caught him out of the corner of my eye a couple of times—he'd try to raise his head to look at me, then lower it again and hold his forehead with his hand. I don't think it lasted too long, though. As I was headed to my car, I turned back and saw that he was walking tall again.

September, 1994— Well, here I am a year later at the event that got me motivated to start rendezvousing (or is it "reenacting?"). I picked up some leather back in May and made my first pair of moccasins—I think you can tell what they're supposed to be. My brother generously lent me a pair of leather leggings to put over my pants. Between them and the length of my shirt, you can hardly tell I'm still in jeans. I'm going to do something about that. I want to pick up some patterns that I saw and try to make some of my own clothes. I'm promising myself that every time I dress out, I'm going to have a little something more authentic.

I noticed something interesting today. Even though I wasn't completely period proper, the folks in camp were a little more interested in me, and a little more willing to listen to a lot of rookie questions.

April, 1995— I attended my first event fully dressed out. I solved the problem about my pants—I didn't wear any! Last September, I picked up a pattern for leggings and breechcloth. On the instructions, they said that these patterns were authentic for the Plains Indians tribes. They also said that wool was an acceptable fabric. (I sure hope they meant suit wool— because that's what I bought, and that stuff's expensive!)

I had something kind of nice happen today. I said "hello" to a guy I didn't know from Adam. We got to talking a little, and then he asked me to sit on down. Imagine that from a total stranger! But I guess he's not a stranger any more.

August, 1995— Boy, they're serious about never calling an event off. Back in May, I daytripped one that was so wet everyone was covered from ankle to knee in mud. Today it was ninety-seven and no shade. Still, the show went on.

I learned a couple of things. First, it's not just an old wives' tale that natural fabrics keep you cooler. I wasn't as miserable as if I'd been a flatlander. The second lesson involved the proper amount of caution to be used when sitting down on a plastic truck seat that's been baking in the heat while I've been out running around in a breechcloth.

I guess I really should have stayed home, anyway. I've got a lot to do in just a short time. Madame and I are going to set up for the first time. We're making it a week's vacation to boot, along with my brother's family. The tent came the end of last week. It's called a pyramid tent and it's real easy for one man to set up. Now all I have to do is paint the chairs, finish my warshirt, finish the beadwork for the warshirt, get the food together, and coordinate what to bring with my brother. Frankly, I'm running myself ragged. Sometimes I wonder if it's going to be worth it.

September, 1995— On the very first night of my very first encampment, at the time of night when campfires wax bright, I watched as the Harvest Moon ascended over a Mississippi River bluff, establishing its annual sovereignty and transforming three tipis into flawless silhouettes. As the scene swayed a bit through tear-filled eyes, I thanked God not only for the splendor, but also for the peace and sense of community I then felt.

In answer to my musings back in August, yes, the effort was well worth the result.

[Here I'm going to resist temptation and omit the details of that first encampment. It's for the benefit of any of you folks who haven't yet spent the entire weekend at an event. The only preconception I'd like to see you pack into it is the fact that it will be memorable, with or without the Harvest Moon. –P.J.]

I did something constructive this past week. I made contact with some of the members of the club who put this event on, and they gave me a form to fill out to join. It's a club devoted to the time of the French and Indian War. I sure like the way you can dress and the way the camps of that era look.

I guess so that I don't look entirely stupid, I should pick up a relevant book or two.

October, 1995— I had another first encampment of sorts. This was the first one I stayed by myself at. I took a little time to enjoy the solitude and recharge my batteries. I found I'm going to need some sort of coat—it got a little chilly in the evening. For the time being, I just wrapped a blanket around me. It wouldn't hurt to brush up on firemaking skills, either.

I may have the beginnings of a "camp name." Sunday morning, rather than worry with a fire, I just faced east and solar heated. I took some kidding about being a lizard sunning himself on his rock. As a matter of fact, when I saw the same people a little later, they hollered out, "Hey, Lizard!"

I've been doing some thinking on the character (or is it "persona?") I want to portray. I'd like to be a coureur du bois, an unlicensed French fur trader. But from what I've been reading, most of my clothing and camp is either too far in the future or more common among folks farther west. I may have to make a few adjustments.

Spring, summer, early fall, 1996— Madame has undergone and is recouping from a couple of life threatening operations. She's my only priority. Everything else is on hold.

January, 1997— So this is a trade fair. It's pretty neat—a winter rendezvous without the wind-chill factor. I've got cash in hand so I can start looking for a period proper gun. According to my research, I should be looking for a smoothbore flintlock. I don't care how long it takes; I'm going to be picky about what I drop a bundle on. I'm not going to buy the first thing I pick up, and want one that looks like it's been in the woods a while—

Oh, look at that! And it's a smoothbore flintlock! What a beauty! Oh, no! I'm skipping in slow motion towards it!! Phil, remember your vow not to buy the first thing you pick up. Look at the gun lying next to it. I wouldn't be caught dead at a dogfight with it. Lemme pick it up— there, honor's been served. Okay, friend, whatcha asking for your pretty little flinter? Do I have anything to trade? Well, yeah, but she's still recovering from surgery—Oh. Then I guess not. (Sigh.) Well how much, four digits or five? Only three? Then here's your cash and have a pleasant day and a wonderful life!

For someone who wants to portray a trader, I think I need to sharpen my bargaining skills a bit.

Summer, 1997— I don't believe this. Just as I was making some headway revamping my clothes for the F&I Era, the other guy in my two-man department takes off for some much-needed surgery, I'm trying to deal with the first UPS strike in history, and for added measure, I break my foot and am hobbling around in a soft cast. [Folks, this is not a camp story—I wish it was! –P.J.]

I'm putting everything on hold except working and sleeping.

October, 1997— I'm sitting here at rendezvous held on the same weekend that my club's putting on an F&I event. I'm here because my pyramid tent bars me from setting up at my own club's doin's—it's about eighty years too futuristic.

This is embarrassing. Until I can afford the right tent, though, I'll have to grit my teeth and set up period improper.

Summer, 1998— Wow, I've put in the overtime this season. Saturdays at work tend to put a ding in attending any doin's, but it can't be helped.

And it's not like I haven't been putting the extra loot to good use. Now that I know what kind of tent is appropriate for my persona, (whose Frenchified camp name is "Le Lezard") I've ordered one. When it gets here, I'll put my pyramid up for sale. (I'm also toying with the idea of getting a single piece of canvas to make a lean-to.) I've found some chairs that I'll be way happier with than the green monstrosities I now have.

It also looks like I'm going to have an alternative to my capote. In one of my reference books it describes in detail a coat that the French used as a trade item in the mid-eighteenth century. I should be able to swing having one made. Once the overtime slows down a bit, I'm going to sacrifice my oldest wool blanket to make a proper pair of leggings and breechcloth.

The work and research is starting to pay off. When I am able to make events, more and more often, I'm stopped by flatlanders who want to take my picture. Just a couple of weeks back, I was invited to participate in a couple of living history events that one of the local towns is putting on.

Winter, 1998— Madame picked up a food dehydrator at a yard sale. That's got me thinking about events where I'm not going to have to pack a cooler…

I'll stop the narration here. It's been a while since I've done anything stupid enough to record, or at least that's what I'd like to think. [Although, while proofreading this article, I consulted my French/English dictionary and found that I'd been putting one "z" too many in "Lezard." –P.J.] Anyway, I'm pretty sure that I hit most of the relevant lowlights.

As you can see, I started off in the wrong direction, had to stop a couple of times along the way, and had to do an awful lot of backpedaling. Yet, after almost five years, I've gone from a generic attender of rendezvous, to a recognizable coureur du bois. The single most important step I took was to define my persona. (You have been doing this, RIGHT?) Once I decided who my eighteenth century self was, I knew where to focus my twentieth century research and resources.

The other important thing I've learned is persistence. Have I been disgusted when my research dead-ended? Oh, yeah. Do I get frustrated when my progress slows because my overtime's dried up? You betcha. But I've found that making headway is sometimes a matter of gritting my teeth and plugging away as best I can.

I certainly hope that it doesn't sound like I'm either bragging or putting myself on a pedestal. The point I'm trying to hammer home is that if I can do it, just as everyone else in camp has, so can you. It's a matter of intelligent planning and hanging in there.

Finally, I'm giving you two more assignments:

First, I want you to start making a few appointments with yourself. Make them a minimum of three times a week. When the appointed time rolls around, do a little more on that possibles bag you've started, or thoroughly read that primary source document you've downloaded. Even if you can only squeeze in a half-hour a night, it's going to pay off. You're eventually going to look more authentic or be more knowledgeable because of it.

The other is kinda fun. Pick an event you're pretty sure you'll make annually. Find a recognizable landmark and have your picture taken there in full regalia. Repeat this every time you go there. Then have a look at your progress from year to year. I'll bet you'll be surprised.

Just fight the urge to burn the pictures from the early years.

Copyright 1999, Philip Jose.


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