For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change.
–Ingrid Bengis, Combat in the Erogenous Zone.
The buckskinners we knew wouldn’t have sent Christmas cards even if we’d known each other’s names and addresses, so our first task at rendezvous was finding out everyone’s news from the past year. Snort was out of work again and trying– again– to make a living as an artist while his wife worked full-time at the refinery. They’d rented out their house and were living in their tipi in the back yard. Fred was taking classes at the junior college while Mimi toiled at the packing plant. Iron Woman had lost a premature baby.
Red had gotten a promotion, and his wife Sandy still worked in the supermarket. That year, Red was club president, and booshway [buckskinner slang for the original French word for the guy in charge, the bourgeois]. The night was half over by the time he worked his way around the circle and sat down near me. I hadn’t yet seen Sandy at the fire, so I leaned over and asked Red, “Where is your devoted wife? Didn’t leave you, did she? I thought she was starting to act liberated last year.”
“She’ll be up tomorrow. Had to work this afternoon and then shop and get the food packed up.” Red grinned at me, knowing what my response would be.
“Gee, Red, I hope you didn’t strain yourself just driving up here.”
“She’ll get the kid from school and he can help her. I brought the lodge.” Red saw the look on my face and added, “I remember it when she’s not yapping at me.” His jaw tightened, but he was grinning as I laughed.
The year before, Red and Sandy had entered modern mountain man legends when he drove two hundred miles to a national rendezvous and realized–- as he pulled into the parking lot-– that he’d forgotten his lodge. Dumping his gear on the ground, he’d ordered his wife to wait and turned around. She sat on the food chest while hundreds of other buckskinners streamed into camp. As snow fell out of the darkening sky, she wrapped herself in a blanket and ate a couple of candy bars. Several people who knew her, and a few dozen who didn’t, offered to stand guard over the stuff or haul it to their lodges. Several men suggested she set fire to the pile and run away with them. Women offered her knives and pistols along with advice on correcting Red’s shortcomings if he ever came back. When Red drove into camp at two in the morning, after two flat tires and a detour around a snowstorm, Sandy still sat on the food chest, huddled in all the blankets they owned. Many of us were watching from our darkened lodges, but none of us ever found out what she said to him.
I shook my head. “I still think she made a mistake, Red. With your gear as a dowry, she could have done lots better.”
“That’s why I ain’t married to one of you liberated women. I trained Sandy right. When I tell her to jump, she asks, ‘How high honey?’ on the way up.”
“I’d come down with my knife in your brisket.” By now half the circle was listening to us, cheering for one or the other.
“Linda, you know women can’t handle complicated thoughts. You’re trying to act against nature. Probably why you’re grumpy all the time. Do it my way, you’d be happier.”
“Let me get this straight, Red. Women are so stupid they should listen to a guy who can’t remember his tipi when he’s planning to live in it for a week?”
Red handed me a wine bottle and patted my shoulder. “Men occasionally make little mistakes because we have to think of everything. Women have all they can handle just cooking and cleaning house.”
Without drinking, I passed the wine over my right shoulder. I never drank the wine after the first time I saw most of the camp hung over after one of these potluck sprees. Forty people “calling buffalo”– buckskinner lingo for throwing up-– is not an inspiring sight.
Then a fist clamped around my wrist. I turned and faced a stranger. He cradled a sleeping child; a big white dog sat in shadow behind him. “Hey, bitch, are you one of them liberated whores that made my wife run away?” the man said.
“I don’t know your wife, but if you talked to her like that, no wonder she left.” I tried to jerk away but my hand went numb as his grip tightened. The dog lifted his lip to show his fangs.
“He’s a new club member.” Red whispered close to my ear. “A teensy bit hostile to women just now.”
He raised his voice, enunciating carefully, “Frank, this is Linda. She’s George’s wife”–- he pointed elaborately at George, who had stopped talking and loomed across the circle– “and a friend of mine.”
Oblivious to Red’s warning, the man leaned so close he fogged my glasses. “Do you think women ought to have careers instead of taking care of their kids, you damned bitch?”
“I think women who have kids ought to take care of them, buster, but if you want to discuss women’s rights, you’ve already called me a bitch once too often. And let go of my arm.”
I straightened up, aware of the Green River knife sheathed against my backbone. Across the fire, George’s blue eyes were cold; I knew if I got in real trouble, he’d be there.
“I’m gonna put my boy down,” Frank said slowly, “then I’m gonna kill you. Guard, Snowy.” He released my wrist and turned to tuck the child against the dog’s white belly fur. I heard a nervous slurp as someone sucked from the wine bottle. When Frank turned, I was holding my knife blade up in front of his nose.
Leaning past me, Red performed one of his duties as booshway. He closed one big hand on Frank’s arm, and one on mine, and spoke firmly. “Linda, I can’t let you kill him because he makes me look good. Frank, let me repeat– Linda is George’s wife. You know George.” He pointed with his chin, without letting go of either of us. “The big guy over there in the bearskin hat, watching you. Linda and me are friends. We argue as a joke. She’s really not too bad as liberated broads go.” He winked at me, and released his grip.
“I’m very sorry your wife left you,” I said slowly so my voice wouldn’t quiver. “Do you plan to raise your boy alone?”
Frank slumped. “Gonna try. She wasn’t doing much for him anyway. Spent all her time in the bars. What do you do?”
“I don’t have any kids, but I’m a darn good stepmother. I’m a rancher.”
“You believe in women’s lib?”
“I believe women ought to make up their own minds about how to run their lives. But having kids changes your life, permanently. You can’t be as independent as a woman alone. And I don’t go around telling women to leave their husbands.”
The big dog leaned forward and licked my face. Frank said, “Well, if Snowy likes you, you must be OK. He generally don’t care for women.”
“You base your judgments on what your dog thinks?” I said.
Red groaned and mumbled, “Good Lord woman, quit while you’re ahead. George,” he yelled, “can’t you shut this woman up?”
George shook his head. “No, but you’re welcome to try, Red,” he hollered as conversations resumed in the circle around us.
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Copyright 2008 Linda M. Hasselstrom
Rendezvous Stories: Afterword
Reading this narrative thirty years after it happened brings the memory vividly back. I haven’t seen Red in twenty-five years, and never saw Frank again, but their faces are as clear in my mind as their words, because I recorded this entire incident that night in my journal. I probably didn’t advance the cause of women’s liberation much with Red and his friends, but I’m glad to have spoken honestly. I hope Frank was able to raise his son well, and I hope the lad grew to have a little broader outlook than Frank displayed that night. I was glad to have survived the encounter, and that George didn’t have to bring weaponry to bear on the situation. I still prefer to settle hostility with negotiation if possible, though I also favor having access to weapons for emergencies.
An explanation of Rendezvous Re-enactment from Land Circle
Rendezvous was the annual trappers’ meeting during the fur trade days [1824 – 1840]; a few days in summer when trappers brought in their pelts, were paid, and bought their year’s supplies. . . . The muzzle-loading weapons of that age, either cap and ball or flintlock, are still intriguing . . . In modern times, people interested in the weapons have extended that interest to the way of life of the mountain man, and instituted dozens of such rendezvous in the United States, Canada, Germany, and other countries. . . . Everyone’s objective is to reproduce, as nearly as possible, the look and feeling of a rendezvous camp of the period. A place is set aside for the primitive camp, with running water [a stream] and firewood. Those who have authentic clothing but modern camping gear must camp in a spot reserved for modern tents and tin tipis: campers. “Pilgrims,” inexperienced participants or visitors, are sometimes allowed in camp if they make a serious attempt at dressing in period style.
The insistence on authentic attire and accouterments is not mere whim; the camp’s primitive look enhances photographs, paintings, and research, and adds to the enjoyment of people who truly live the period. The mood would be ruined by seeing someone in blue jeans, scorned by modern mountain men because Levi Strauss didn’t start making them until 1851. The rule keeps away folks who aren’t seriously interested; those who are will be treated with friendliness, and almost any buckskinner will take time to help a newcomer learn how to participate. When you put on buckskins or a long dress, you put on a different mood; . . . The whole tempo of the world changes.
— from Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
(Fulcrum Publishing, Golden CO; 1991; Anniversary Edition 2008)
excerpts taken from the chapter called “Rendezvous!”
pages 35 through 37 (Anniversary Edition)
For more information:
see the rendezvous page on www.windbreakhouse.com
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota
© 2016, Linda M. Hasselstrom
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