Apart from the fact that I’m limping on both legs and my feet are so cut up I can’t wear shoes, the Fourth of July was a total success! I never had so much fun in my life.
I’ve finally started my militia training, and even though I haven’t passed on musketry, my captain asked if I’d like to work with the military program guys on the Fourth. They’re in charge of setting up the barricades around the firework display—in addition to putting on all their military programs for the day. That included a military review at ten in the morning, with most of the militia present. I couldn’t drill, but I did stand by one of the gates and direct guests around by the street. (“Why?” “Because, sir, the cannons are pointed this way and they’re about to be fired.”) Then I helped pound wooden stakes into the ground, which was slightly softer than concrete—one moment when I wished that CW wasn’t quite so bent on periodness. Plastic CAUTION tape would have suited me just fine. By this point the thermometer was hovering around ninety degrees and the humidity was rising. Keep in mind I’m wearing cotton stockings, silk and cotton breeches, a linen shirt, a cotton weskit and a straw hat. And period shoes. I learned that period clothes get sweaty very quickly, but they also dry out very quickly, which was good. And after about the first hour of sweatyness, you don’t really care anymore. Everyone is sweaty and dirty. It happens.
The militia had been asked to supply a color guard for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. Most of the part-timers had already scattered, and the regular guys were busy, so the captain sent a squad of newbies down to the Capitol. Including me. I borrowed a purple hunting frock and a black cocked hat, grabbed the yellow flag and followed our lieutenant down the street. We ducked through the back alleys as much as possible, but we did attract quite a bit of attention—five women, four of whom are armed with muskets, one carrying a bright yellow flag—as we got into position behind the bakery. The Fife & Drum boys were already there, beating out a VERY modern tattoo on their drums—that is, until their drum major arrived and stopped it short like. THAT. We walked out onto the street, “formed up” and waited for the order to forward. MARCH!
Now, keep in mind that Duke of Gloucester Street is only a mile long total. And we were only marching, oh, maybe a hundred and fifty yards of that. But historical armies marched slowly. A slow, steady beat that they could keep up for hours and hours. And they march literally shoulder to shoulder so that you can sense what is happening by the person standing to the right of you. As we got the order I remember thinking “This is going to take all day!” but in truth it went a lot more quickly…several of the interpreters took off their hats to us and shouted “Huzza, boys!” before realizing that, uh, we were all women. That’s okay. Historically, we probably would have been impostors, so cheering us on as men is totally okay by me. People were clapping, tourists were taking pictures, I was hard pressed not to keep from grinning like an idiot.
We marched down to the Capitol and stood at rest while the Declaration was read—actually a dramatic performance by six or so interpreters—and then shouldered arms for the walk back up. When we turned around, I swear, I’ve never seen so many people, and I had a moment of stage fright. Thousands of people taking pictures and cheering, it was quite overwhelming. But I thought about General Washington and doing my duty and the carnage I’d soon be seeing and managed to keep a straight face. We marched back up the street, and then disbursed for chow. The military guys provide a BBQ for their own people, since they are there all day, so I had an all-American hamburger, chips and apple pie for lunch, washed down with two quarts of water and a Diet Coke.
In the afternoon I helped out with a kid’s program: tomahawk training. They set up a canvas target with a hat on top and handed out wooden sticks with leather “blades” nailed on, and let kids practise trying to knock the head off the Enemy. It was a blast to watch the kids being allowed to throw their toys for a change, and occasionally parents jumping in to be part of the fun.
After that we finished the barricades and broke for dinner. I had about a two-hour break before I was supposed to report back to the office, so I crashed at one of the interpreter break rooms, took my shoes off and attended to my wounds. Period shoes don’t have arch support, so I had added my own insoles. That made my feet and knees feel fine, but it lifted the backs of my heels so they were rubbing against my shoes, resulting in giant blisters. I had gotten some band-aids from somewhere, but they needed changing. Also, it was eating time again. My colleague from work, Other Nicole, who had also signed up for the fireworks, showed up with a salad for me, just enough to keep me going. I kept drinkin’ the water…I reckon I downed about two gallons just in the afternoon. I don’t know why I was so thirsty, because I kept going to the loo instead of sweating it out like I thought I would. Without being too obvious: breeches are not designed for female anatomy. The fall-front is a genius design if you don’t need to sit down, but they are a challenge if you are in fact trying for a larger range of movement.
Speaking of the loo, brb.
Okay, that’s better.
So finally, to the fireworks. We had been setting up the barricades all day, and the firework people had been setting up their equipment all day, but once the fireworks were “armed” about seven PM, it was necessary to keep people out of the safety zone. That’s where we came in. I was stationed near a tied-off gate across from Bruton parish, ostensibly to keep people safe, but also to answer questions about where things were located. It started raining about seven thirty, not a heavy rain, but steady and warm. After that people were asking if the show would go on—“Yes, ma’am, nine-fifteen.” It was a lot of fun to be actually talking to people and interacting with them, instead of being sequestered away as I usually am. One woman, who I’m guessing from her accent was from Eastern Europe, asked me if women would really wear this type of clothing in the 18th century. I had to answer in the negative, “Nope, I’m just wearing this because it’s easier to move around in.” But I was also getting really tired. Wearing shoes with no support on a brick pathway was incredibly wearing, and I could feel the ache moving up from my feet to my knees and into my back.
The show went off without a hitch exactly at nine-fifteen, in spite of the rain, which was still falling, steadily, warmly, straight down. Most of the crowd was in good spirits, having come armed with umbrellas or ponchos. I had to take off my hat so I could see the fireworks, and—holding it there against my weskitted heart—it occurred to me that the Fourth of July was more than just eating and drinking and making merry, that we were commemorating an anniversary, that we were celebrating a birthday. That even though this country is crazy and sometimes screwed up and sometimes embarrassing, today we could look at the events of 232 years ago and say “aw, Happy Birthday, America. Today you’re number one!” I felt like Williamsburg was the perfect place to celebrate the beginning of the country. Without any subsequent history, it’s easy to be excited about the declaration of independence, about the birth of a new nation. But I also saw people from other countries, heard people speaking Spanish and women wearing hijabs walking around, carrying American flags and small children in red, white and blue. I’m also grateful that our founders put enough stretching room into the Constitution to make room for everyone.
After the crowds cleared I quickly helped cut down the barricades (with my Leatherman—still useful!), and then signed out. Thank God Other Nicole had offered me a ride home, so I didn’t have to worry about taxis or buses at that time of night. I hobbled home, stripped off my breeches and jumped into the shower where I made use of the odd little seat that is part of the surround because my legs were a liiiitle shaky. Yesterday I had to work at the Toymaker’s, and I’ll be back there again today. In total defiance of the dress code I wore my sneakers, but I’m still sore. I’m so glad that I got to play in the 18th century all day on Friday, but it’s good to be back in the land of sneakers and indoor plumbing.