Contemplating the End…

…of my life in living history. Not the end of this 1830’s living history museum itself, mind you; the museum is a wonderful place that will always be near and dear to my heart. However, I am considering whether or not to stay “employed” there as a volunteer.


Me, too…sort of.

You see, I filled out a volunteer’s application almost 5 years’ ago because a.) I loved the museum and thought that, as an herbalist, and a history enthusiast with a photographic memory, that I could make a positive contribution to the establishment, b.) I was hoping to eventually be employed there and c.) I wanted to learn as many of the antiquated practices as I could in exchange for 7 hours of my time every other Sunday. Unfortunately, nothing has worked out the way that I had hoped. Their pay scale is an insult to the many gifted and intelligent paid employees that also populate the museum and I have since decided that I would rather stay as simply a volunteer; I earn more part-time at a local dealership. However, while they still have my free labor for 7 hours every other week, I am not learning any of those antiquated skills. And I’m losing heart because of it.

I have been straining at the bit to learn spinning and weaving. These skills are typically delegated to just one house in the museum; I have also been straining at the bit for training in said house. When I first applied, I was told that I would have to work in the country store for at least 1 year before they would train me for any other station. Fair enough. I jumped right in and, I have to admit, the store is a lot of fun. There is so much to learn there about the economical, political and social climates of the times. There are also numerous and curious items, both on the shelves and in the many drawers, to enchant the history enthusiast. What is this? What was it used for? How was it made–or used? Of course, if we were really in 1838, the store would not be open on the Sabbath and I, being a woman, would likely not be working the counters at all. This was man’s work in 1838. But interpreters are needed in the store, so we simply work that in as we share what we know with our visitors. Finally, this past January, training opened up for the house where spinning and weaving are done. And I was pumped. After 4 years of working the store and, in the summer months, the Herb Garden, I was finally moving elsewhere–and not just anywhere–but this was the prize I had been hoping for.

And that’s when the bubble burst.

Yes, I did get training. Yes, I am now working in this house. But I am not spinning or weaving. I’m carding wool. That’s it. Yes, one of my all-time favorite books is “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth George Speare. And I love the scenes where Mercy and Kit spend the afternoons talking while they card wool. Nice. Peaceful. I think I understand though how truly dreary it was for Mercy, who usually did this work by herself. Granted, there are frequent visitors to the museum. And young children, especially, are eager to try their hand at carding. The way their little faces light up is a sight to behold and many of them come back later to try it again. It’s hard to resist this level of enthusiasm. This aspect of it is so much fun and so rewarding that sometimes I wonder what I’m complaining about…

…until I start talking about how carding was a step in the process of getting the wool ready for spinning and, possibly, weaving. There is typically no one demonstrating on either the loom or the Great Wheel. This is something that even the visitors lament, many of them expressing regret that they cannot see the whole process. And I cannot stop myself from gazing at both the Great Wheel and the loom with longing whenever there’s a lull in visitation. It’s not at all what I bargained for and I cannot help wondering if I will have to card wool for another 4-5 years before they will consider me competent enough to spin it.

Okay. So I did consider that maybe my lack of knowledge and skill here is why the hold up but a fellow docent and friend just quit the museum for the same reasons. She, however, did have experience with working fiber; she, too, was only allowed to card wool.

As for other skills?

I would love to learn how to cook on the hearth. Not sure how long it would take before they would give me training. I’d love to learn to interpret in many of the other houses, too. Of course, the rebel in me would dearly love to learn pottery and tin smithing but these were strictly male-dominated fields in 1838 and everyone pretty much just scoffs at the idea. The same narrow-minded chauvinism that afflicted our many-times-over-great-grandmothers also afflicts the museum even in 2016. Funny, though, how the rules can so easily be broken in places like the country store, where women interpreters are used–despite this not being “woman’s work”. Funny, too, how some volunteers have moved right through, learning everything and anything without a hitch…but that’s another story altogether…

Another factor that has me re-thinking my tenure there, one I learned about shortly after I started but, never really faced fully, is that the museum slaughters the livestock that calls this museum “home”. They strive to be as period correct as possible, or so they claim. And I suppose farmers who neglected to work with their oxen on a regular basis in the 1830’s would also slaughter that pair if they became unruly due to that neglect. Such was the fate of Doc and Blue. Though, in this case, Doc and Blue were sold at auction. The end result was the same. Yes, I know. People eat beef, steak. I know how this works. And I’m at least grateful that I didn’t have to see the roasts and racks of ribs that ultimately came from their demise. It doesn’t make it any easier to accept. I know I’m in the minority but I can’t help thinking that the museum is in a place where they can make a difference, where they can demonstrate a more humane practice and allow these wonderful beings to live out their lives in peace but, again, I know I’m in the minority. However, the magic that was living history for me has been broken with the loss of Doc and Blue. And I can’t seem to get it back.

And so, while I lamented in my previous posting about being laid up due to a rib injury, a part of me is happy to take that step back and really reflect on how important volunteering at the museum still is to me. I think of having my Sundays back and how much I could accomplish at home with that time. I think of the many projects I have planned–both here, or in Maine, if that’s where we eventually end up. Of course, if we do move to Maine, I won’t be in a place geographically for the museum to be practical for me anyway. So maybe it is time to sever the ties, so to speak…especially if I’m not learning all of those things I had hoped to learn. I mean, I know I tend to be impatient but it’s been 5 years; how much more patient do I have to be? Especially with an hour’s commute each way. The pros and cons are being weighed. And the cons’ list is growing longer than the pros. Many of these skills could be learned elsewhere, either for a minimal fee, or by bartering some Reflexology or Reiki in exchange for the lessons. Where there’s a will, there’s way.

Yet another factor that is weighing on my decision is how much is my time there taking me away from the path to my dreams. I have been working with a career coach, whom I adore, and who has opened my eyes considerably to all of the “distractions” I have created in my life. These are distractions that are taking me away from the things that I really want to do in life: writing, homesteading, goat wrangling, and training Border Collies in both agility and herding. And living history is starting to look like one of those “distractions”.

God bless you & keep you!


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