My first job, as I’ve mentioned, was as a tour guide in a historical park. Every summer, near the fourth of July, a festival was held on the sunny lawn below the white marble carillon bell tower that gave the park its name. The first week of the festival was dedicated to weekend historians, men who dressed in period costume and reenacted battles from the Revolutionary War. The men who had decided that they would declare their loyalty as a royalist would pull on bright madder red coats emblazoned with golden buttons. They had all trimmed their beards neatly, and took on affected and lilting English accents, effectively hiding their flat southern Ohio ones. They would gather in white tents, camped in regiments on the East side of the lawn, below the cottonwood trees.
Since I had to still give tours while these festivals were taking place, I usually passed the English camp on my way to lunch or a smoke break behind the yellow caboose that served as the gift shop of the park. At sixteen, I was already 5’8, and a few round new curves had finally settled onto my thin body. I watched out of the corner of my eye as the men watched me pass, and I tried not hear the catcalls they threw. They sometimes forgot their historically accurate accents and became Ohioans briefly, shouting hey darlin’ or hey baby in my direction.
The men portraying the Americans were not so lewd. They mainly kept to themselves, offering nods instead of leers when I passed their camp. Their camp was not as refined as that of the English. Where the redcoats had shiny silver tea sets on white tablecloths to dine at between battles, the American’s camp was rougher, wilder, with simple wooden trenches filled with bread and stew. They appeared to drink coffee, and I liked the smell of their campfire and the smoke from their pipes.
Sometimes I would sneak away from my station in one of the park’s historic structures and watch their battles on the lawn. Each had two boys around my age act as a drummer and a fifer, and the rhythmic sound of their drumming and playing carried throughout the entire park. Both sides had shiny and authentic-looking rifles and muskets which they held and loaded with a studied precision, and when their captains or generals would call out instructions for formation, the air was often filled with gunpowder after their rifles cracked.
If I closed my eyes I forgot where I was, that I was in a park in the southern part of Ohio and not in a battle in Virginia. I forgot about the inappropriate catcalls and the sweat and the hidden away bottles of mineral water or cans of Bud Light that the men tucked behind their tents, and was transported, if only momentarily.