The annual Battle of the Bulge reenactment takes place every year at Fort Indiantown Gap, in Nowheresville, PA. Because that is quite a mouthful, everyone has shortened it to FIG. Which makes me giggle because of this:
which led to this:
What would we do without ndmspaint.blogspot.com?
I’m easily amused.
Way back at the beginning of this blog, I posted about WW2 day at the Eisenhower Historical Site in Gettysburg. There, history nerd friend Mel and I fell in with two units – the British paratroopers with the sexy jeep and the Polish guys with the sexy guns. I’m not sure how it happened, but by the end of the following week we had all but committed to going out with the Polish guys at FIG.
Not as creepy fangirls. As reenactors. Yikes.
Through an epic game of artifact telephone, the CO sent us some uniforms to try on for size. These were original artifacts. They smelled original. I wasn’t sure about wearing them. If I spilled something, the CO would banish me to Siberia. Again, yikes. Other preparations were equally hairy. Bobby-pin curls = never again. Ever. Unless I want to try out for the role of electrocuted poodle.
We drove up Thursday after work and arrived at FIG in time for bed. The other female contingent of the Polish group, N, met us and showed us around the barracks where we were to sleep. They were pretty sparse. No shower curtains and a severe dearth of toilet paper. Or sheets. We had to bring our own bedding – white sheets and wool blanket. Some of the other girls even had period-looking suitcases and hatboxes. I will confess – it is a little disconcerting to find other historically enthusiastic girls. Usually I’m in the minority as far as this stuff is concerned and being in a whole barracks of them was weird, especially because many of them were militant about adherence to period appropriateness. Generally I’m a mild stickler for these kind of things but compared to them I was a total farb.
After a brief night’s sleep (the other girls didn’t get back until 3 and chatted with the lights on until I wanted to punch them), we were the first one out the door on Friday. It was my first time donning the full uniform, and it was something else. The shirt was big, but I have small bones. The tie was short. The jacket just felt bulky because it was wool but I don’t think it looked that bulky in the pictures. The pants, after altering them and bringing the crotch up about 6 inches, were passing fair. Thank goodness I brought leggings for underneath to avoid the scratchy wool. The boots were too big and it would take me a while to figure out the right configuration of socks to make up the difference. They were also hobnailed, so I was incapable of tiptoeing. Hobnails are metal plates nailed to the heel and toe of boots, like the taps on tap-dancing shoes. The hobnails also made each boot feel like it weighted 5lbs. All the actors from the Hobbit movie were griping about how they had to run with their specially weighted boots to give them a dwarvish gait – I suddenly intimately understood what they meant. I couldn’t not march. It took a lot of work to coordinate lifting leg and putting foot down. But after a little bit (and another pair of socks) I think I got the strut down. #nailedit. Or rather, #hobnailed it.
Like this guy, minus the canteens and pants pockets, with the pants fly on the side. Also a soft cap.
We made our way to the men’s barracks (or in my case, clomped). There, N had stored all the food for the weekend. As the self-appointed team mom, she had brought a literal ton of food and a hot-pot with which to make it all. We re-met everyone again and then it was time for the first class of the weekend, which was how to deconstruct a period toilet roll.
At the beginning of the class, the CO said, “I want you guys as excited by foot powder as you get about running around outside shooting things.”
And because I actually learned stuff, I’m going to repeat it here. Feel free to skip to the foot powder if you don’t want to learn.
The class was a blend of going over what the pieces were used for, what to look for in antique shops, and how to make up your own roll. Shaving sticks are still sold today. Shaving sticks are like a bar of soap, you run a wet shaving brush to create a lather and run the stick over your face. If you’re male. Or in the circus. Shaving brushes would be held together by glue or string because they needed metal for the war effort. They made metal razors that screwed apart, Inspector Gadget-like. Plastic toothbrushes actually existed back then. Some of these history people are total nerds because they buy modern supplies from CVS and print out period-looking labels and boxes. I was impressed because it’s something I would do and I’ve never met anyone else so finely attuned to details like that. I was disturbed learning I belonged to a whole species. I think I’ve found my people.
After the toilet roll was another little piece called the “housewife” because it was stuffed with needles, thread, and darning yarn. I bet they thought this was superior to a real housewife because it didn’t nag them to take out the trash or put their socks in the basket.
Then the boys went to drill and practice marching in formation and the girls went to the barracks for our own lesson. The CO threatened to crash it if we got too crazy with My Little Pony. Actually we got a brief lesson about Poland and WW2 and how Poland’s existence was more theoretical than actual during much of its history. When we had the basics down (bad guys = Germany, good guys = MURICA) we went back for lunch.
As we were sitting there, shooting the breeze, who walks by but the British paratrooper with the Jeepie! And he remembered us! He was only there for the day to check out deals and stuff, but it was nice to see him again.
The CO had scheduled an hour or two of free time so N took us to see some of the vendors before they sold out of all the good stuff.
The first vendor had a lot of women’s cosmetics/hosiery on one half of the room and men’s guns and webgear on the other half. (Webbing is the term for all the belts holding weapons on a person.) In the far back of the room was a booth with girls doing hair. These girls are part of a group called the Pinup Girls, and they had several calendars full of pinup shoots. I think all the money from sales of the calendar go to charity or a Cause? Dunno.
At the second vendor, we only really stopped to look at Sharon’s booth. Sharon is a seamstress who does alterations and sews on patches for cheap and makes a killing. (My mother taught me how to sew when I was 7 so grown people not knowing how doesn’t make any sense to me.) She also makes a lot of period appropriate clothing and I really wanted the fur wrap but it was one of those things I couldn’t justify.
An amusing exchange that happened at Sharon’s booth:
I was trying on a pair of gloves that matched my shoes for the dance.
Passing 29th ID guy: “Those gloves are really yellow.” (because they were)
Me (on reflex): “That’s racist.”
He looked like he was about to poop his pants. He tried to recover: “Maybe they’re more mustard than yellow?”
Me: “That’ll make people think of mustard gas. Do you really want to do that at a WW2 event?”
He extricated himself and ran away. Er, sorry dude, it’s a reflex. No hard feelings, I hope.
After free time, the menfolk drilled some more and prepared for the veterans’ pass-in-review. Us womenfolk went to have our own class, which consisted of where and how to equip ourselves for the Hobby. One of the other women had a thick folder full of references for the different women’s uniforms, and good places online to search for deals. When done well (and authentically), the Hobby looks amazing, but it costs something like wow.
How – how much is wow? Somewhere between ouch and twainnng.
Oh – wow.
We missed the pass-in-review because we were redoing our hair but someone on Youtube got some good footage of it. Don’t our menfolk look sharp? I wonder what the vets are thinking.
Up next? Family dinner time! The womenfolk were tasked with heating up food for a potluck dinner, which meant tetrising the 4 outlets, 4 crockpots, an electric fryer and a hot water heater without blowing a fuse. And success! No fuses were blown!
Before dinner there was a flag ceremony. The unit’s flag is a pretty big deal. You can read about it here, but the conclusion is that it was formally presented to the unit, after a blessing by a Polish priest, by official representatives of the Polish embassy in Washington, DC. Talk about legit. Then two of the members got promotions within the unit. I know those two are dedicated to the group so it was nice to see their hard work be rewarded.
Dinner was pretty good. All Polish food, none of it I can pronounce or spell. Bread, wine, borscht, handmade pierogies, golumbki(?), kielbasa, some sauerkraut stew thing N had made. Everyone nervously watched the borscht, a red liquid that would stain anything it touched. Even thinking about it made me nervous. I ate with my napkin tucked into my necktie, just in case. My uniform is the original. You don’t mess around with that, especially when it belongs to your CO’s wife. There were two surprises at the end – one a surprise engagement cake for N and her man cuz that’s exciting, and two, a Red Cross “care package” with gloves and canned food. Yum?
The menfolk cleaned up while the women went to get ready for Devil’s Den. The Devil’s Den was the enlisted men’s club, no officers allowed. An open bar powered by donations and some creative drink mixes, a vintage song set, and a homegrown, bonafide band = the best house party I’ve ever been to. Disregard the fact that I can count the number of house parties I’ve been to on both hands. They were also taking bets on a rat race, but it turned out to be sort of a let down because they used mechanical wind-up rats instead of real ones.
In the midst of all the bookie-ing, a hush took the crowd as an older gent began speaking about his role in the Berlin air-lift. I missed most of it because I was distracted by my camera and that everyone was shhhhhshing each other loudly. (Ironic) But when he was finished, he got a generous applause. Good on ya, sir.
One of the cool things about the people I was with is that they were totally not ashamed to go in full traditional Polish costume. It was like taking the weekend’s premise of a dress-up game and turning it back on itself. Kind of meta. You guys are cool.
Last thoughts of day 1: The homegrown band, The Fubar Boys, were pretty good. As was the USO style singer, Lana. Yellow-gloves guy was there and asked me to spread the word about his small business thing, which is the least I could do for scaring the pants off him earlier. It seems like a good cause. One of the other females there was the friendly, sloppy drunk type and kept spilling beer down the front of her uniform. I hope it wasn’t an original. How do you clean those things anyway? She was described to me as a drunk girl with a history problem. Our girls were the last ones back in the barracks and it wasn’t even late. I suppose that’s better than having a bunch of girls there for the man-hanging-on opportunities.
And this was only day one! Stay tuned for day two …
Here are some videos I couldn’t wedge in otherwise:
Probably on the way to/from the pass-in-review.
I just realized I always get videos of the bad guys. I’m not one of those people, I swear.
Lana, singin’ her song.
PS. Check out this video. You might catch a glimpse of someone…