Saturday, November 28, 2009

The weight of history

There is a phrase that re-enactors use when they are so into a living history situation, so totally immersed that they actually begin to feel they are living the century they're interpreting. It's called "seeing the elephant" and it has only happened to me occasionally--like when I arrived at the Randolph House tonight. The path through the gate has been a muddy quagmire of late, even though the staff has thrown down sticks and firewood, but tonight, with my breath in the air, the first thought I had when I arrived and saw the path was "Well, one good thing about these temperatures--the ground's frozen, no more mud." Thinking like a colonial, when muddy roads and quagmires were a part of daily life.

My storytelling site has moved approximately twenty feet, from the backyard of the Randolph, to the passageway between the house and the kitchen. (why aren't we in the house proper? Loong story dealing with politics between the Randolph and evening program people) The passageway isn't heated, and since we have to leave both doors open due to fire policies, it's little better than a sheltered lean-to in the cold, windy weather we're currently having. I dressed for work tonight like I was going to a football game: two pairs of stockings, flannel undergarments, shift, stays, (I wear my stays, because it's uncomfortable to tie petticoats around my waist otherwise) underpetticoat, petticoat, sweater, long-sleeved tee, bedgown (it's amazing what you can hide under a bedgown, which is a baggy T-shaped jacket), kerchief and two caps. That's right, two caps. And here we have the eighteenth century solution to keeping warm: More layers. Over all this I threw my heavy wool cloak, which is so heavy it gave me back problems last March when Jeff and I went camping.

Wool is warm, and honestly, if I was sitting down in one place and could tent a cloak over me, it's no problem. But when it's hanging off your shoulders--and you're already wearing twenty pounds of clothing--you can really feel it. I already cheated with the modern sweater under my bedgown. In the eighteenth century, it would have been another bedgown, another petticoat...I can't believe that women never wore some kind of breeches or bloomer like garment to keep their upper legs warm (apart from my hands and feet, that's the part that gets cold soonest), but apparently they didn't. I try not to wear anything there either, because I try to keep the vestiges of authenticity, but on this...I'd rather just throw on some old flannels than deal with cold on top of all the other complications from my site.

But as for everything else someone might see...everything else that is visible...perfectly authentic. So when I show up in someone's holiday snaps, they'll marvel at the accuracy and maybe, just maybe, spot the elephant.

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