Monday, January 9, 2017

A most creative reuniting

Social media can be a wonderful tool when wielded properly and in the right hands. Seriously, think about finding long lost cousins, uncles, aunts and friends. Think about how cool it is to type a name in a search engine and find someone you knew from way back when.

In the early nineteen-eighties, my mother and father owned a small Mom-and-Pop grocery store in my old hometown of Ambridge, Pennsylvania. During their few years there, they met many interesting people and rekindled friendships with people from their past. One such lady stands out head and shoulders above the rest.

Her name was Norma Jean and she and my mom knew one another from childhood. I had heard of her, but hadn't met her until the Eighth Street Dairy (the Mom-and-Pop). Norma and my mother became as soul mates. Two kindred spirits who'd found one another again and spent countless hours gabbing and laughing when there was down time in the old store. Norma was one of the most witty ladies we'd ever known. Her humor was deadpan and clever. She also had a heart of gold. It still warms me to think of her, though she'd passed away many years now.

Norma had several sons, and I later wondered what had become of them. I eventually moved from my town, and lost contact with so many people. Enter Facebook: that wonderful social media tool. I found one of Norma's sons, a chap who is close in age to me. Through cosmic magic, we began chatting and formed an online friendship. His name is Vincent and I can certainly see a lot of his mother in him: Intelligent and witty, with heart. Yes, he is certainly a testimony to good parenting.

I found out that friend Vincent is a Living History Primitive Pre 1840 Rendezvous encampments & Heritage Education for the Public, in period correct dress & using period correct accoutrements, camp gear and cooking re-enactor. Phew, I know. That's a lot of words. But to properly explain the wonderful thing he did for me recently, you need to know what he does.

Vincent has helped edit and critique several of my writing projects, and for that I am grateful. But when I saw another talent of his recently, I couldn't believe it. You see, not only does he dress in the clothing of a bygone era, but this man has a gift to recreate period piece items. And I just happen to be totally enamored of a certain period, owing it all to Ms. Diana Gabaldon for coming up with the most wonderful world of "Outlander" and Jamie and Claire Fraser.

"Outlander" is perfect escapism for me and so many others. It is well-written, well-acted and just darn good. I have a small bracelet from the show, but I spotted my old friend making Sporrans. What, you may ask is a Sporran? Well, I am going to show and tell. Jamie Fraser and his band of Scottish rebels always have their trusty Sporran aka "man pouch" belted 'round their kilts. They carry precious items, or perhaps weapons, but all I wanted was to own one of these beautiful items. To feel more kinship with these imaginary, but totally real-in-my-mind characters.

So I kindly asked Vincent, and he kindly obliged. I'm not sure any arm-twisting or begging went along with it, but as you will see by the pictures below, and hear in his own words, the painstaking process of recreating such a fine article.

Ah the joy of anachronisms, that ever enjoyable search for the charming artifact, accoutrement or trinket from what we intuitively feel is a reminder of the romance from a bygone era!

Well, in reality in those bygone days, life was harder, shorter (on average across all ages of people), more dangerous and survival depended upon being able to make any article quickly and made to last.  In fact old worn items we consider charming heirloom are affectionately known as "antiques."  Way back when, the folks of the olden days ALSO called their great grandma's old beat up articles "antiques," but they used that term derisively, synonymous with "antiquated!"

Enter my reproductions of good old leather bags and pouches from 300 years ago.  I make these to last, I have methods to make these articles quickly but well constructed to last at least two or three generations.  I don't sell them, mainly give them away at reenactor rendezvous gatherings as prize donations or occasionally in trade with friends in exchange for their own skills or transfer of knowledge. 

The sporran (Celtic for "purse" ) was just a simple drawstring pouch worn over a kilt belt in Scotland, to contain a few coins, some food, and other sundry supplies. 300 years ago no one had pockets (except the lady who wore a cloth bag tied on her apron, actually  termed a "pocket!"), let alone a kilt wearing Highlander!  So the sporran was a necessary accoutrement if said Scotsman wanted to travel or even go out in the windswept heather in polite company (sporrans also held the kilt front from lifting up!).

I try to re-create these items using original methods, darkening the leather with iron acetate made from vinegar and chunks of iron as has been done back to ancient Roman times.  I stitch only with hand waxed linen or hemp thread. 

Having said all that, I still maintain, "Get over the charm, People!  It's just a drawstring pouch!  Waxing poetic over it is the same as getting excited over a DSW shoe store paper bag or one of those cloth environmentally friendly shopping bags!"  (Well maybe 300 years from NOW!)

I'm certain that a little eyeball rolling may have gone along with this project, for you see, my friend patiently listened to my Outlander-inspired fanaticism. I must admit. . . I did ask for Jamie Fraser's name to be stenciled or burned into my own Sporran. Check it out.

  But being a good sport, he had this to say:

 While the maker jokingly disparages what he calls the romance of bygone days, yet there is a magic and a continuity to looking back, having a tangible reminder of those who've gone before us, cementing a bond and a bridge from their lives to ours, that keeps us on a level footing and allows us to carry on our lives with an honor and dignity that we believe they'd approve of.

Here's to social media then! For bringing friendships back together. For letting us reconnect with truly amazing people. Raise a glass the Scottish way! Slainte!



  1. Yes indeed, I do remember the deep friendship between Norma Jean and Karen's Mom who were close kindly friends hanging out together in that Mom and Pop store most days until THE DAY that Charles Bronson himself stopped into that little Ambridge store (he was in town for a friend's funeral at a nearby parlor). Karen's Mom said, "Norma look, I think that's Charles Bronson!" Norma Jean said, "Are you sure? Oh my my God, that IS! It's HIM!" THEN the two dear friends clawed and stomped over each other like a couple of Beatles-crazed teenage girls!

    1. Ah, yes. . . I remember it well. Thank you for commenting. And hey, everyone: this is indeed THE one and only Vincent!