Thursday, February 19, 2009

In which I pause........

It's been a while; I've accumulated some notes about the last week, which had in it my birthday (let's hear it for little old ladies), Valentine's Day, a taste of spring, the return of winter, I've made about 24 preemie caps (nuts, they're like potato chips, I'm addicted). But I got an e-mail this morning, and want to talk about this instead.

This man is Stephen R. Ratterman, late of Louisville, Kentucky.


I just received an e-mail containing a little notice from his local newspaper, announcing that last Friday, he passed away. This is one of those moments where I am pretty much awash in regret, because it was a long time since I e-mailed Stephen -- and guess what? I MEANT to, even the last few weeks. He lived in Louisville, which had a bout of some plenty serious weather, and I was going to write and ask him how he was faring.........but I didn't get around to it.

Stephen was a reenacting friend, whom I met at our online conference on Compuserve, these many years past. He portrayed an 18th century cordwainer, was actually in possession of the proper tools of the trade (some actual artifacts) and he made shoes in the correct 18th century way. He pointed out to me the difference between being a Cordwainer and being a Cobbler -- cobblers repair leather goods, and he said it was a skill and cobblers were really important in the 18th century world. But cordwainers actually built the shoes, and also other leather goods. It was an honest trade, and took skill and a technical knowledge.

And he was good at it - superior, in fact. He took pride in the shoes he made, rightfully. He often participated at the Fair at New Boston, a wonderful 18th century trade fair in Ohio which enjoys a reputation for excellence. On one occasion when we went there, I spent a fair bit of time in his little "shop", and enjoyed watching as he built a shoe, on a last -- and I felt proud to be his friend, when folks came in and he showed what he was doing and talked about 18th century construction of shoes and what it meant in those days.

But there was a lot more to Stephen. We'd met "F2F" on a few occasions: a bunch of us who got together online together regularly managed the occasional "Compu-voo" -- a sort of rendezvous of us cyber-buddies. The picture of him above was taken at a really fun weekend we had in Ohio on our friends' land. Ironically, the pictures of us who were there seem to have been taken BY Stephen, so he's not in them.

Here are the gentlemen, on that occasion - except Stephen's not in it, because he TOOK the picture. (Chap on the left is Mr Dearling; chap in the middle is Jen's husband, Mark - an excellent guy, may I say, who looks 17th-18th century to the life! - and the fellow on the left earned the sobriquet "Biskits"...allow me to say, that man can mix up some flour and stuff, put it in a cast iron dutch oven, slap the lid on and stand it on the coals. After just exactly the right length of time - he takes it up, removes the lid -- and you have to move fast, because the biscuits FLOAT right out. We all stood around with blobs of butter on our knives - and caught them as they rose out of the pot. Let me tell you, that is mighty-fine eatin'!)

I digress. (!)

In the name of equal opportunity, &c, I'll put a picture of we ladies who were there too, what the hey:

Here are the ladies at that event: Marjorie on the left came all the way from CALIFORNIA and is dressed as an early californio; Jen in the middle is the Seamstress Excellente who made my precious 19th century gown - and there's me in my guise of Acadian widow, circa 1800-ish. I was wearing a chemise, two petticoats, a corset, shortgown and apron .... really fat back then. Nevermind.

Anyway, Stephen also had a vast knowledge of the 18th century and a truly refined and polished DROLL sense of humor, that was also quick. He sang and played the guitar, entertaining us on several occasions with a bunch of 18th century songs.

Here's the one picture taken at the Fair at New Boston, and there, behind and to the left, is our friend the Cordwainer, Stephen.

One thing evident from this picture (and we really were having a good time, but it was pretty hot as I recall). Stephen was tall. VERY tall. And very thin. And he had him some knobby ol' knees too, and I believe it was HE who first referred to himself as "Ichabod Crane".

Speaking for myself (and I think the others would agree), Stephen was a good friend, a skillful reenactor, a very well-rounded guy. Besides the 18th century life we shared with him, he served years as a counselor in the prison -- and he'd always enjoyed dancing. These last years he'd taken up Swing Dancing, which he loved and spoke about enthusiastically every time I did talk to him. He was very proud to announce that he had gotten so good that he was teaching in the dance school he went to.

There was more to Stephen, much more - but I knew him as a humorous, intelligent, thoughtful and clever man, who had an unerring sense of chivalry and courtesy. It's been a long time since I had any contact with him....and now, even more than before, I realize that I missed him all that time (when I needn't have) - and I really do miss him now.

I imagine that he's been welcomed into the Company of Cordwainers beyond, and met by his brothers and fellow Masons, and I hope he finds himself in exalted company and relishing joy. For the many things you gave me, Stephen, thank you. And farewell, old friend.


MollyBeees said...

Awwww! What a loving tribute to your friend. I think you sit up nights just plotting posts that will make me cry! I always wondered what the fair Marjorie from Calif. looked like! See you tomorrow night? There's talk of Knit Night debauchery afoot already over on Rav.

CTJen said...

I'm sorry to hear about your friend. What a lovely (and fitting!) tribute for someone who you once knew through CompuServ (of all things!). ;-)

janna said...

An 18th century cobbler/Swing dancer! He sounds like an amazing man!

Alwen said...

I have a few of those unsent-letter/email regrets rattling around in my brain, too.

Reenactors are such interesting people, even at second and third hand.

MX said...

A lovely tribute Dale-Harriet, my condolences.

Duchess said...

Amen, my dear friend. Amen.

Marjorie said...

Ahh, Dale. We'll all miss SR, but he will be remembered well and warmly as an ornament to 3 centuries :) Can't say that about everyone!

Tell MollyBees I'd love to meet her, too, even though my hair is lots paler now than in the photo.

Hugs & scritchies to folks & kitties!

Jamwes said...

I am sorry to hear about your loss. He sounded like a great guy.