I have always been fascinated with Living History Groups—groups of people that feel so passionate and connected to a time in history that they actually venture to recreate it. Civil War reenactors and their attention to details and authenticity. Jane Austen fans who pay thousands of dollars to live, for a week or two, in a secluded area of England, with no connection to the outside world. There is something romantic about getting away and experiencing a time so different from your 21st century life.
Getting lost in another world, another time, is something that is very appealing to me and I’d argue most people who join Living History groups would agree. If he was alive today, my Saba would agree.
Saba means grandpa in Hebrew. My Saba was a big man with a round belly, white hair, and a medium length white beard. He looked strikingly similar to Santa Claus, which probably would have given me a lot of excitement as a child, if it wasn’t for the fact that my family is Jewish. My Saba was a man of strong passion. He loved to cook and eat, which was apparent in his size. He loved Israel and was a dedicated Zionist. He loved storytelling and had a knack for telling tall tales about his life with so much chutzpah that you almost believed they were true.
My Saba, in addition to his many passions, loved Medieval times—not the dinner theater experience Medieval Times, but the actual history of 17th century Europe.
My Saba was an active member of The Society for Creative Anachronisms, which is an international organization dedicated to researching and recreating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Members dress in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes and workshops.
The society was established in the late sixties by Diana L. Paxson, who was a UC Berkeley medieval studies graduate. Paxson, as her graduation party, invited her fellow Medieval Studies classmates to a tournament in her backyard. Partygoers wore helmets, fencing masks, and some semblance of medieval costume. The night ended with a march down the main streets of Berkeley’s campus as Paxson and friends sang Greensleeves.
The graduation party must have been a success because Paxson and her crew came together to celebrate the anniversary of the first party the next year and, soon after, they decided to hold more than just an annual gathering. They started holding meetings and monthly events, such as tournaments, feasts, and medieval dances.
The Society for Creative Anachronisms measures dates within their society starting from the date of that initial party, referring to it as Anno Societatis Roman Numeral One—Latin for One in the Year of the Society.
Now, a few decades after one in the year of the society, the SCA has 20 kingdoms with over 30,000 members residing in countries around the world.
My Saba was a member of The Kingdom of Northshield, which is comprised of participants from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and both Dakotas.
Having heard so much about my Saba’s days at war, I asked my mother to let me accompany him to an upcoming event being held in a local high school gymnasium. She begrudgingly agreed. I met him at his home where he lived with his much younger wife, Priscilla, who we called Pete. Pete, my mother often reminded me, was "very much not my grandma." She opened a wooden chest on the floor of their bedroom. Inside the chest were dozens of Medieval dresses for me to pick from; I went with a light pink number with a matching circle headband adorned with fake flowers and silky ribbons that flowed down my back.
We arrived at the Gymnasium early to set up my grandpa’s booth—two plastic folding tables covered in off-white muslin fabric to give it a more Medieval look. My Saba sat behind his tables in a camouflage outdoor camp chair. Pete and I placed the items for sale out in rows. There were animals and scene from nature carved out of wood, metal tools, books on medieval life, and plastic figures of samurais' holding small animals.
Pete, who was very much not my grandma, offered to take me around while my Saba ran the booth. Together in our medieval dresses we curtsied to people who passed us. An older man who wore a dark red shirt made out of "halloween store" quality velour took my hand and kissed it; I wiped the kiss off on the back of my costume.
We went into another room, the cafeteria, where a tournament was underway. Men in fencing masks and costumes fought with dulled broadswords and one of the men held a metal cookie sheet in lieu of a real shield.
Later in the day, it was time for the feast. My Saba joined us in the cafeteria which had now been switched from the battlefield to a banquet hall. Members sat together eating food they had brought from home. It was odd to me, even as an 11 year old, how many families had brought KFC buckets for the grand feast. My Saba told me stories over dinner. We laughed, eating corn on the cob and mashed potatoes.
The feast ended. Pete packed up the booth and my Saba and I sat on the camouflage camp chairs. I held one of the plastic figures of a samurai from his booth. As my Saba laughed and told more stories, I turned the samurai in my hand. "Keep it," he said and I placed it in my backpack. Soon after, we loaded up the dodge caravan and left. I changed out of my costume, hugged my grandfather, and went home with my mother.
I never went back to The Society of Creative Anachronisms. I never worked at my Saba’s booth again. He passed away when I was in high school. And I always remember how happy we were on that day we went to War. And I romanticize, like my Saba did, the idea of losing yourself in a different world, a simpler time. But for me the simpler time I’d like to return to isn’t a grand feast or a medieval style tournament, it’s the time we spent in a gymnasium, selling medieval style trinkets and sitting on camouflage camp chairs.
About the author...
Anna Rose Wolfe is an writer / performer. She is the co founder of Scout & Birdie. Anna is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago, where she earned a BA in Acting and a minor in Gender Studies. She performs regularly with The LIVINGroom, a solo performance ensemble. Anna has been featured in venues and fests around Chicago, such as Life Line Theater’s Fillet of Solo Festival, Greenhouse Theatre Center’s Solo Celebration, Abbie Hoffman Died for Our Sins Festival, National Cool Shorts, Flat Iron Comedy, Greenhouse Theatre Center's SoloPerformance Lab, The Plagiarists Salon, and The Election Monologues.
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