True Story, Issue #8

"Rendezvous" by Renée Branum

True Story, Issue #8

Growing up encamped at an 18th century French fort isn't easy. For a teenaged historical reenactor, costumes and customs blur the already confusing lines between past and present, and between make-believe and reality.

From "Rendezvous" by Renée Branum

Begin with history. We’ve inserted ourselves somewhere in its sprawl. It is sometime between 1757 and 1763. The French and their Indian allies are battling the British for control of the Ohio River Valley and its rich fur trade. But this hardly concerns us. It has already been decided. The British have already won, and the fort has been abandoned by the French, has been burned to the ground by a band of Chickasaw Indians, has been rebuilt, abandoned, then rebuilt again and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Meanwhile, we dress up. We convert tea towels into pockets and make judgments about the authenticity of each other’s outfits. We build small fires and drink purple soda from tin cups and play Bullshit and Crazy Eights and talk about things that have nothing to do with history, although sometimes, they seem to. We talk about the things people talk about when they are gathered around a fire and the stakes are low and there’s gossip to be spread about the drinking and debauchery that goes on in the British camp, about the ignorant questions we were asked that day by spectators (whom we, the costumed elite, refer to as “flatlanders”), and later, after the adults have gone to bed, about the kissing that is rumored to go on between the teenagers who gather beneath the George Rogers Clark statue, and about the drummer boy who lost his virginity beneath an overturned canoe.

We pretend to exist “authentically” in spite of our soda and our spandex and our zippered sleeping bags and plastic coolers and digital cameras. We pretend because the pretense builds a blister of magic around us, as if by wearing the clothes, by firing blank cartridges from replica muskets across a “battlefield” marked off by hay bales, by dressing fake wounds and eating fry bread and stew, we know what it means actually to be here, existing, fearing for whatever life has been allotted while fighting a war that at its heart is all about territory and commerce and vague promises of prosperity. And a very small part of the shared magic resides in the sly feeling, the sneaking suspicion, that we can exist here, in a historic space, in our costumes, with our guns, and still have no fucking clue what any of it means ...