or how we survived a summer weekend in the mid 1800s
Old skills made new
Years ago now, we moved our family out to the country and onto our small family farm for many reasons, not just limited to raising healthy food for our growing kiddos. One of our many reasons for this move was to assist us in homeschooling, as farming makes for an extremely educational lifestyle. We also wanted our children to learn old ways and skills and for us to keep them alive in our family!
So, one way in which we've been able to do that is by being involved in what's known as Living History, aka Historical Reenacting!
A couple of weekends ago, we had our Living History Club, the 11th Texas Dismounted Cavalry, out for a training weekend on our farm. We call such weekends, Schools of the Reenactor or SOTR. Now I have to say that we are NOT a military organization, nor do we have any political, religious, racial or other leanings. We are a History Club, full of dedicated historians and educators. We are open to anyone who shares our love of history! We really enjoy the opportunity to periodically walk in our ancestor's shoes for a weekend, and thereby gain a better understanding of the lives they lived and just how they managed to live them. We also gain a greater appreciation for the benefits that we enjoy living in the 21st century! It's wonderful seeing a period encampment come together, and the camaraderie around the campfire is truly a blessing in all of our lives. But it's also wonderful to head home afterward to hot and cold running showers, light and heat and A/C at the flick of a switch, stoves and ovens that heat up quickly, cleanly and easily, and dish washers, washing machines and driers that do all the work for you! Lol. There's nothing like temporarily having to either do it yourself or do without. It certainly makes you appreciate whatever you normally have all the more!
So, we set up our encampment down in what we call our Beaver Meadow. Yes, we really did have some local beavers move in at one point and they actually dammed up a seasonal creek in that area. The beaver colony had already moved on down the creek when we dug out a part of it out to become our Lake. The beaver's had already drowned quite a few trees, but the ones that they left are widely spaced and super tall, so they give high shade and allow cooling breezes to blow through. Instead of being swampy, that 5-acre parcel has now become a very peaceful, grassy, park-like space. So many people came up to me throughout the weekend to comment on how lovely our farm is, and how they were sending photos of it to friends and family who were jealous that they weren't there too. That was heartwarming, as we are generally so focused on all the chores that need doing that we don't really stop and properly appreciate the beauty of the place we call home.
Most everyone showed up on Friday night to set up camp. We had 10 or 11 tents and 30-40 people in attendance, as some folks made day trips out of the weekend. The camaraderie was lovely, as it always is when we get together. We made a campfire in the center of camp, as usual, as a hearth makes it a home. But with those high summer temperatures, no one was very interested in gathering around it's heat. Instead, we let it smolder to help keep the mosquitoes at bay, and gathered around anyone with an instrument who'd lead us in singing!
In the mornings, the "soldiers" got up early to the beat of the drum and spent the cool of the mornings focused on practicing 1830-1860s Drill, using the Manual of Arms that was used in that time period. They marched and wheeled and refused and generally tried to stay in step with each other, with only moderate success. Lol. They practiced cleaning, loading and firing blank rounds from their replica "curios and relics" black powder fire arms...and prided themselves on who could load and shoot the fastest. You have to understand that in that period, three shots a minute was considered pretty quick "shooting".
We "civilian" ladies pulled together pot luck meals focusing on cool foods, cold drinks and "Ploughman's Lunches"! Lol. We made salads and served lots of fruits, summer sausages, hunks of cheese and sandwiches. No one was in the mood for spending time cooking over a campfire's heat, nor having a belly full of hot food. We even had an old fashioned Ice Cream Social, though Blue Bell did the churning for us!
We ladies spent a good bit of time discussing period sewing techniques, 19th c. clothing patterns and how best to be able to dress our families in period style without breaking totally the bank. We talked about corsets and how a good one should feel like a HUG and not be a torture instrument, a la Scarlett O'Hara. In fact, back in the day, men, women, and children ALL wore corsets, believe it or not. The men's version were called Bracers and were quite like the back supports that the guys at Home Depot now wear. The children's version helped the kids grow up with correct posture, with their stomachs tucked and their shoulders back...something our own generations could benefit from as I see more and more slumping. In fact, once you have a comfortable corset that's properly fitted to you, many women wear them in every day life if their back is hurting. The support is quite lovely.
We'd intended to do some hand sewing, quilting, spinning and weaving instruction, but that was during the heat of the day and by then everyone was HOT and STICKY. So, people either went off to either fish in the lake or wanted to swim in the creek! I think that became the absolute highlight of the entire weekend for everyone! I mean, just how many people these days can say that they've been over to a pond to go fishing, or down to the creek and gone swimming in a real Swimming Hole these days?! They were both very Currier and Ive's sorts of activities.
I blush to admit that though this land has been in the family for 3 generations, this was the first time any of us had actually gone swimming in the creek ourselves! Yes, we've gone swimming in the lake, but in the summer, the top couple of feet of water in the ponds or lake tends to feel like hot bath water, though your feet get down into the cold waters towards the bottom of the lake. You certainly can feel that "thermocline" between the two distinct layers of water. It's always been a good way to explain why the fish hide out down in the cool, more oxygen-rich waters at the bottom, instead of staying in the hot, oxygen-poor waters on top, as the warmer the water, the less oxygen it can hold. But all of that hot water's just not felt very refreshing. And besides, we're on Black Gumbo clay, and that means you have to wade through two feet of muck to climb OUT after your swim.
So, when we were trying to decide how we could make the Living History encampment this summer more enjoyable, we checked out our sand and gravel bottomed creek. In our experience, it's always been ankle to calf deep, which explains why we've never gone swimming in it. But apparently our recent Superflood in May (that wiped out much of our perimeter fencing) dug out a big hole in the creek bed that's chin deep! We've now got an Honest to Pete SWIMMING HOLE! We were even more surprised to discover that there's no "thermocline" and the creekwater was really CHILLY, even on 95+ degree days! I guess it's because the creek is spring fed and runs through a tunnel of high shade. In any case...we discovered that our ancestors' lives without the modern conveniences of gas, electricity, and the internal combustion engine weren't all work and no play! I felt like we were living in the middle of a Winslow Homer painting or two. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winslow_Homer) Whenever we were, we all had an absolute blast!
This is a mockup. Publish to view how it will appear live.
This is a mockup. Publish to view how it will appear live.