Other Than Guns

The Dressmaker

I had an interesting talk with AWA the other day about dressmaking. Why, you ask, were we talking about dressmaking? Well, I was discussing the process of making my 18th century kit for the upcoming season at a local living history museum, which I am a part of. I had to order a pattern for a short gown that I’m making, because my skill level isn’t high enough to fake it for this type of garment. The pattern is somewhat complex, and based off an extant short gown that was disassembled a number of years ago and resides in a museum (in Boston, if I remember correctly, but I’m guessing).

AWA wanted to know why the pattern was considered so complex. After all, garments at the time really weren’t all that fancy, at least for working class women like myself. I explained that, in the 18th century in America (and likely in Europe, though I haven’t looked into it), there were no patterns. Women would simply sew their own clothing. Most women, even of the poorer sort, would have hired a mantua-maker, or dressmaker, to make an outfit for them, from which other items might be sized. A mantua-maker was a traveling dressmaker, who specialized in working with your body in particular. If you’re interested in seeing the process in action, there’s a great video on YouTube. Basically, she would drape your fabric over you, sketch out the pattern pieces for your body, cut them, and then sew them. Sometimes the customer would help with the sewing, and sometimes she’d just pay for the mantua-maker to do it.

The skill level required to draft a dress for someone with nothing more than draping fabric and chalk is huge. This goes back to my article on words, and how the meaning of them changes over time. At one time, someone who could make a dress, a mantua-maker, was considered a highly skilled, sought after person. They were well paid, well trained, and knowledgeable. Today, we say “dressmaker” as if the person is doing something quaint. People don’t make their own clothing, and those of us who do are looked at oddly. We’re just dressmakers, or seamstresses. We’re not considered skilled workmen.

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Not “just” a trophy…

This made me laugh! The last time we got a deer, I spent three days taking the large bits and trimming and cleaning and packaging them up. We have a bit less than the above (well, much less now, as we’ve eaten quite a bit of it), but we got a good size one. We had to discard the liver, though… it had been pulverized by the shot. No tongue, though. I don’t like eating food that tastes me back…

Tuesday Tunes

Guest posting for AWA today, I wanted to share Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman”.

AWA asked me, why this song? Well, part of the answer is that the song makes me think of a strong woman. I have never been a wilting flower. I’ve never been interested in Victoria’s Secret. As the song says, “I can get that same damn thing in Walmart on half price.” I’m not a huge country fan, but this song resonates with me.

I need to see strong woman in media. I love seeing Nikki Haley out there, kicking it up in politics. Gretchen Wilson does it in country music. In television, there’s Gina Torres (Zoe Washburn in Firefly), Caitriona Balfe (Claire Fraser in Outlander), and Ming-Na Wen (Melinda May of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), among others. This song evokes that strength, while still holding onto the facets of womanhood that stand out to me.

Women can do most things men can (we’re not equals on a physical level without a LOT of work, but very few jobs require that brute strength and there are tools that make us equal). But that’s not all we do. We work all day, then we come home and make dinner, clean house, care for the kids, do laundry, help with homework, and in too many cases, we also run after our spouse as if he’s another kid. So when I see a woman out mudding in a Jeep, it makes me happy. And when I see a strong man standing beside her, helping and supporting, that makes me damn proud.

Tuesday Tunes

Joe climbed into a B-17 flying fortress. He moved to the bombardiers position and went through his part of preflight.

The signal is given and the airplane starts to taxi. Soon it is in position for roll out and take off. Joe tenses as he starts another flight over enemy territory.

His air craft joins up with others and soon the sky is filled with 100s of aircraft. Soon they are over the channel and shortly thereafter they pass over the coast heading towards Germany. Huge contrails tell the enemy exactly where they are. 88mm AA open up and soon have the altitude. Bombers are flying into flack and flack is hitting different bombers.

Planes are exploding or damaged to the point they can no longer fly.

JOe clutches his hands tightly, wishing he could wipe the sweat from his palms. His gear stops him. It is cold at altitude and yet he sweats and wishes he was as brave as the other men in the plane with him

The flack comes closer, but they push on. They have over an hour to go before they reach the target yet the Germans are throwing everything at them. He prays that they will make it home again.

There is a sound of a huge explosion and the plane seems to stop for a second in midair. Joe feels something hit him on the back and turns to see what is left of his friend sitting in the navigators position, his chest missing, splattered over Joe and the cabin.

The left engine is out. The co-pilot orders everybody to bail out. Joe can’t get to his exit without pushing his friends body out first. He watches it tumble downwards, he counts chutes, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7… His friend makes eight and he is about to go up when he sees a body falling, no chute. That’s 9. Joe forces himself out of the dying aircraft.

The wind whips past, tearing at him. He opens his chute and floats towards the ground. It is quiet while above him the ugly black explosions continues. More of his friends dying. More aircraft falling from the sky.

The ground rushes up to meet him and he lands. There is a terrible pain as he hits. His right hip is shattered. He passes out.

He wakes as he is carried into the hospital. Not a POW camp or a POW hospital. The faces looking down at him speak in German.

Joe is one of the lucky ones. He lives. A German found him and instead of turning him in to the army, he got Joe to the hospital. WHere the POW camp would have cut his leg off and Joe would have likely died, the doctors operate and save the leg. They have to fuse the hip.

At the end of the war, Joe is returned to America. He becomes a high school teacher and coach. He gets into local politics and is elected to mayor. He writes a book.

He interviewed ever survivor that he could find. His book is full of the heroes of that day. And he names them. All of them did so much more than Joe.

Joe was a hero. He was my great uncle. He never considered himself a hero. Heroes were what those other people did. He spoke to me only once of that day. And when his tears filled his eyes his sister in law stopped him. My mother stopped me for asking and listening.

Joe, the hero, never finished his own story. Another veteran that knew that the horrors of war were not for the gentle folk that stayed behind.

I grieved for my uncle Joe that day. I grieve for him today as I write this.

This song is for him.

Book Review: Pale Horse Coming.

If you are a shooter, Stephen Hunter should not need an introduction. He is one of the few writers out there that knows guns and its applications plus he is a hell of a story teller. His Bob Lee Swagger series are well know and even one made into a movie (Shooter) but I confess I have a soft spot for Bob’s father Earl Swagger. He is old school, righteous and inflexible in his mission. He is mentioned in some of the Bob Lee Swagger books, but the ones were he is the main character are a world appart.

My favorite is Pale Horse Coming. The book is perhaps the one of the best portrayals of darkest and worst examples of the human souls unchecked. The first half of the book is Earl’s travels to Hell on Earth, almost abandoning all hope and so well described your own mood will become as miserable and hopeless as Earl’s itself. The second part is all Fire and Brimstone as only can be achieved when justice is served magma hot and shoved down the throats of evil men. It is St. Michael descending into Hell to whip Satan’s ass with a crew of like minded archangels. And what archangels! No spoilers here if you haven’t read the book, but even with the names disguised by Mr. Hunter, you will know who they are and agree that you would not mind going to a righteous war besides these men.

“I am giving you a night in Dodge City, where I bet in your heart of hearts you’ve always wished to be.”

Dodge City was a nunnery compared to what’s coming in that book.

Quiroga: I hate thee.

I remember clearly that day min elementary school when a teacher read to us Horacio Quiroga‘s “The Feather Pillow”. I got home to literally beat the crap out of my pillow even though it was stuffed with some artificial filler. Quiroga was a fantastic horror writer from the early 20th Century and the absolute definition of a tortured soul. Later in High School I was treated to his Decalogue of the Perfect Story Teller and I was always haunted by rule 9.(Loosely translated):

“Do not write under the empire of emotion. Let it die and evoke it later. If you are capable to revive it as it was, you have artfully reached the half way point of your road.”

No doubt I am an emotional writer. I’ve been writing on and off for many years but mostly for myself and the occasional very non-professional works. The Word Processor and the Internet has helped me expand (and seriously get in trouble) but I still write in the moment when I am exploding emotionally about something. Now that I am forced to write “seriously” (as seriously I can which ain’t that much. I don’t take myself seriously enough) I find myself again remembering Quiroga’s #9 and damming his cursed soul.

Horacio Quiroga in the jungle, Misiones Province, Uruguay.

PS: To KJ, first article should be there soon. Second article on the works.