"Do You Miss
by Jeff Hendershott
Sitting around the fire at night. Good conversation. Crystal clear evening with the stars out. Fireflies popping all around. Perfect night for camping!
Nope. The above introduction wasn't describing an evening with pards at a Civil War reenactment. This was in my back yard after a swell family picnic, swimming in the pool, and going to our local outdoor band shell to hear an orchestra play patriotic tunes over the 4th of July weekend. The blazing fire was a perfect way to cap off the evening.
During the conversation, my mother-in-law, who, along with my father-in-law (now departed, but a huge Civil War buff), asked me if I missed Civil War reenacting. You see, my in-laws would often travel to my events with my wife in tow. And not just locally either. They loved to go to the ones out of state. So my mother-in-law was there when I was seemingly in my Union blues more than my regular clothing. But her question - "Do you miss it?" - sort of startled me.
For the longest time, the unthinkable had happened. I actually QUIT thinking about Civil War reenacting, much less missing it. When I did leave the hobby, there was a "cold turkey" factor in play for me. I'd assuage the craving once in awhile attending our unit's annual boot camp or doing a school presentation in uniform. After all, once a reenactor always a reenactor!
Now, I no longer feel like one.
Oh, how'd I answer my mother-in-law? After my wife chimed in "I think he misses it once in awhile," I was brutally honest with her, so I may as well be with you. I told her I didn't miss the "bull$%*t and the work that went into being an active reenactor, but yea, I miss the atmosphere and the friends once in awhile........" Then my wife went into an accurate account of the "words" I'd use when I'd return home from a reenactment, stinking, tired, worn out, and faced with three hours of gear and gun cleaning. Yea, nothing sucked worse about the hobby than cleaning that damn musket!
Lots of mixed emotions crept into my mind when that particular conversation ended and I went back to zone-out by watching the fire flame into the night. Had not thought about it in awhile, you know? Great memories and not so great memories popped in and out of my head. But I didn't dwell on it for long. I guess I've finally "recovered!"
And really, that answer pretty much sums it up.
I had retired once before but like I said, I'd occasionally have to get a "fix" here and there. But once the hobby - in my mind - became too numbers-oriented and the membership turnover became more than I could keep up with, it was time to explore other avenues of being a history nut. I wrote an article for the Camp Chase Gazette when I retired the first time about the experience of retiring (retiring from a HOBBY! - what a concept!). And it met with pretty good reviews because many people don't actually think about the day when they can't do it anymore, for whatever reason.
It is something to consider, really. If you are as passionate about the Civil War and reenacting as I was, it's tough to just turn it off. I tell people thinking about this may seem depressing, but it may help you enjoy what relatively little time you do get to spend in such a neat and unique hobby.
I guess I just look back at it now as a chapter in life, one that I don't regret. But I don't regret leaving and I don't think I ever will. I had to in order to keep the love of history alive in me, strange as that may seem to say. And I don't want to dwell on the details. But I can say that when the reward is not in line with the investment of time, money and work, it's time to consider a change.
I was lucky, because I found other eras of history (and not necessarily American History) just as fascinating as the Civil War (probably a tough sell for you who are so fixated with it as I was). I've found that I'm not a single-issue person, so leaving was good for me, tough as it was at first.
I've written about my likes and dislikes about the hobby in other articles, and they pretty much stand. No need to re-hash them here. But I got to say that toward the end, it became a job trying to juggle real life and spending my weekends trying to make the 20th Century disappear.
So enjoy your years in blue and gray (or both, if that's your thing). Hopefully, when the time comes and someone asks you if you miss it, you can look back with more good memories than bad.
I'm happy to say that I can.