What a day. My sister Buffy is in residence these past two weeks, which means that I have been involved in banana bread baking and exercise classes and cottage tours and all manner of exhausting field trips including the extraordinary launching of the Shayne family in canoes down the Elk River. Never have I been on such a slow river. At one point I was certain we were going the wrong way. After hours of flapping my paddle, I stopped caring. By the end, I wished those guys from Deliverance would show up and put us out of our misery.
Buffy doesn’t merely seize the day; she carpes the diem by both shoulders, ties it to the back of her SUV, and drags it down the mountain. Oh wait–that was ME she tied to the back of her SUV.
Today’s field trip was to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg. Never mind the fact that four out of the six in our party are under the age of 12 and don’t really know what alcohol is, what whiskey is, or what a barrel is for except the storing of monkeys. We learned a lot about charcoal and sour mash and we copped a nice buzz when Chris the be-overalled guide gave us a whiff of the 94-proof mellowing tank. Maybe I’m drunk. I don’t know what else could account for my lethargy.
I did have an excellent textile encounter. So there we are in one of twenty gift shops lining the Lynchburg town square, and the fellas are deciding which kind of Civil War bullet they want to buy. (The 58 gauge minie ball was the choice.) A guy walks up, looks at a framed bayonet that is bent into a wicked-looking hook shape, and says: “I’ve never actually seen one of those in real life before.”
I look at him, and he says, “I’m a reenactor.”
Music to my ears! I love a Civil War reenactor. What a strange, obsessive hobby. Almost as weird as knitting. I ask him what his rank is, he tells me he’s a private in the 27th Alabama Infantry, and I say, “So, do you have, like, great uniforms and stuff?”
His eyes light up, and he says, “Yes, I make them myself.” Which is what I was hoping he would say, because a lot of reenactors work hard at their uniforms. Civil War reenactors are the gold standard when it comes to the concept of Love Your Gear. They ADORE their gear. Gear is KING. It turns out that he’s apprenticing in hat-making with a Civil War reenactor whose hats are so good that he has to label them REPLICA to keep them from being sold as authentic relics. ANYway, we had a nice long chat about fabrics of the 1860s, about fabric weights and weaves and vegetable dyes and wool versus cotton and honestly, if we weren’t standing in front of a case of Civil War weapons, you’d swear it was the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival.
I ask him where he gets his fabric, and he says, with admiration in his voice, “Ben Tart.” The guy’s a genius, apparently, reproducing all the fabrics used in Civil War uniforms. He dyes his fabrics 24 yards at a time in a fire-heated vat. And he stocks Federal AND Confederate fabrics–the Civil War really has ended, I guess. Or not, come to think of it. Take a look here; they really are beautiful.
He explained that the average uniform was designed to last about three months, which was the expected lifespan of a soldier in a Civil War army. Pretty sobering. As he turned to leave, I asked, “So what’s so special about that hook thing up there?” pointing at the bent bayonet.
“Welllll,” he said. “They used those for retrieving bodies from the field.” And that was when I realized that we weren’t at the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival.
A Bit of Knitting
The scarf at the top did go down the Elk River (or up, or whatever the hell direction we went), but I did most of the knitting around here. A group of women here are knitting blue scarves for the women of Blue Monarch, a program in Grundy County, Tennessee, for women working to overcome domestic violence and addictions. Very cool organization. I didn’t have enough blue yarn for a whole scarf, so I went for semi-blue, in a fluffy Misti Alpaca which is sort of unpleasant to knit when it’s 85% humidity. But warm!
Tomorrow’s activity: Buffy leads us on a 46-mile hike to the Chattanooga Aquarium. We carry our provisions on our backs. Back by midnight. It’s going to be great.