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My View: Re-enacting opens a whole new world

By Phil Zimmer

Our door slammed and I heard a loud screech: “Who is baking their boots in my oven?”

I instantly knew I was in trouble. I left my computer and dashed downstairs and came eye-to-eye with my very upset wife, who had just arrived back from shopping.

“Well, uh, you’re home early. Welcome!” I said in my best welcoming voice.

She glanced at the oven and then back to me. I leaned over to give her a peck on the check as she turned her head back to the oven. This was not going to be easy. I had some ’splaining to do, as Ricky Ricardo would say.

“It is cold outside and the guy at the shoe store said the boots needed to be warm before applying the Finnish bear grease.”

“Bear grease? You have what in my oven?” This was not going to be easy at all.

“No, not yet. No, I mean no.” I stammered, digging myself in deeper.

Somehow I managed to extract myself from that situation, and even today it’s an inside joke when a visitor asks what’s cooking in the oven.

The life of a World War II re-enactor is not an easy one. Specially treated boots, old-fashioned baggy khaki uniforms and rather strange headgear are only a part of it. Loading the car with gear for a weekend outing invariably brings out the local kids while parents cast puzzled glances from their porches.

Re-enacting has opened a whole new world for me. Where else can a 70-year-old guy swap interesting war stories with another history buff who often is four or five decades younger?

Did you hear the one about the German submarine commander who sank his own vessel while flushing the toilet? Or how ’bout the captured Soviet pilot forced into slave labor at the top-secret missile testing center who stole a German airplane and flew to safety? Those and similar true but hard-to-believe stories are great when told around a campfire.

Then there are those present-day stories that elicit roars of laughter. Like a Soviet re-enactor who needed a cold beer following a hot, daylong tactical. Without thinking too much about it, he drove to a nearby convenience store and walked in with his World War II Soviet uniform, complete with a red star on his cap.

He put the six-pack on the counter and reached for his wallet as the cute young woman behind the counter looked up, batted her eyes and thanked him for his service! Yep, you can’t make that stuff up.

There’s also a special language that re-enactors develop. “Closet shrinkage,” for example, refers to a uniform that no longer fits apparently because of a damp closet rather than a bit too much food.

And there is the detested “farb,” short for fabricated, to scornfully describe anything that is an obvious fake.

Re-enacting of any kind is admittedly a rather peculiar hobby. But the camaraderie, change of pace, fresh air and exercise can’t be beat, especially for those with even a slight interest in history.

It can be a bit humbling, though, at times, especially when trying to explain to your wife that you don’t have a bear in the oven or when you attempt to determine why those 19-year-olds can seemingly run a bit faster each spring.

But reaching out and seizing the moment is all a part of being a re-enactor. So drop your inhibitions, get off the couch, grab the bear grease and give it a run. You have little to lose, except perhaps a few pounds, and you’ll gain some rather interesting friends and experiences.

Veteran Phil Zimmer, of Jamestown, recommends re-enacting for its camaraderie and exercise but cautions against bears.
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