The Passion of an Amateur

The word amateur comes from the Latin base, amator, to love.

We’ve taken that word and turned it into a person who loves something so inaordinately passionately that they don’t care if it has any monetary value. Amateurs love something for the sake of loving it–and they usually want to share that passion with everyone they meet.

I thought about that word last week when I attended Civil War Days in Duncan Mills, California. As I’ve mentioned before, Tony Horwitz‘ book  Confederates in the Attic, had warned me of the lengths Civil War reenactors went for verisimilitude. He describes men who routinely diet so as to have the wolfish look of the starving when they played their roles on the field.

I didn’t run into anyone like that.

But I did encounter people who loved the Civil War and could wax lyrical on even the most minor of minutae. They were fascinating to listen to and to watch as they described their personal area of expertise.

Why else would they devote their weekend to working a Civil War era blacksmith shop, or drive horses around like an ostler?

Many looked their parts and lectured me with joy on their subject matter!

Their passion came out as they discussed their parts and as an historian, they were invaluable to me.

I’m finishing a novella, An Inconvenient Gamble, which takes place in 1867 Texas and features a cavalry man who rode with John Morgan. I needed some tiny details–what type of saddle would he have used?

An ostler for the northern side gave me a 20-minute tutorial in the types of saddles, 1865 McClellan no doubt, and how a cavalry man would have used it on his rides.

No saddle horn; they would have used leather straps to carry things on their horse. The black saddle bag is all they would have had to carry rations. My horsemaster source also demonstrated the different ways the saddle would be cinched to the horse, discussed how much forage a horse would need and the distance they could travel if necessary. (Morgan’s men did a 1200 mile raid in Kentucky in two weeks for example. You do the math and understand how tired the horses were!)

My husband drifted off, laughing. “You made that man’s day. You took notes while he gave you far more details than you’ll ever need.”

He’s right. I don’t need most of these notes, but it was so much fun to watch the pleasure in this man’s face as he told me everything he knew about saddles and the Union cavalry, I couldn’t stop asking questions.

Amateurs, lovers, with their infectious zeal will do that to you!

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