Seventy-three year old Tom Pacyga began going to the rendezvous twenty years ago. A retired ophthalmic optician, Tom is a member of the Forest Park Historical Society and an enthusiast of all things in the past.
A rendezvous is a gathering of people who live pretty much like American pioneers in early periods of our nation’s history. You’ll find a rendezvous in places like Bloody Lake, Wisc., or Franklin Grove, Ill. They are usually held on weekends.
Pacyga’s favorite era is the late 1700s in our nation’s colonial times.
Pacyga used to sleep on the ground—until his arthritis got the best of him—but he still spends the night in a canvas lodge. He cooks his meals over an open fire which he ignites with flint and steel. He wears period clothing and shoots a musket he calls his Brown Bess. There is no running water at his campsite, and he can’t recharge his cell phone because there is no electricity.
Pacyga tells a story to explain why a city boy would enthusiastically time travel regularly to a much simpler way of life. He said that when his first wife died in 1985, he was naturally hurting and lonely. When he went to church the Sunday after the funeral, he was longing for support and comfort, but no one approached him to even say, “How are you doing?”
“It was like I was invisible,” he recalled.
A sensitive neighbor dragged him out of the house and took him to some of the bars in Forest Park. He liked the people he met, but somehow that scene wasn’t able to fill the hole in his soul. He went to a cooking class at Triton College. He remembered with a smile, “There were four of us men learning how to boil water and four women looking for men.” He took a dancing class—eight men and eight women looking for men.
Then two things happened which helped him recover. One was meeting his second wife at a small church on the north side of Chicago and the other was being introduced to his first rendezvous by people in a black powder gun club in Marengo. From then on he was hooked. “They really welcomed me,” he said. His second wife and their daughter also got into time travelling with him.
That is the main reason why Pacyga keeps dressing up like a colonist and attending every rendezvous he can find. It’s all about the community he experiences.
“Kids will stop in front of my lodge and talk to me!” he said. Pointing to pictures, he said, “These are all friends of mine.” He reminisced about the evening campfires where everyone would gather around and sing along to music played on acoustic instruments.
“You see that boy,” he said holding up a picture. “He used to help me set up my lodge. Now he’s grown up and brings his wife and children to the rendezvous.” He talked about sharing the experience together on the same footing, rich or poor, in good weather and in bad. At a rendezvous, it seems, whether you drive a Mercedes or an old Astro van, the cars are left in the parking lot. It’s a great social leveler.
Another reason Pacyga will be going to his third rendezvous this year is the work of living that way. It takes four hours for him to set up his lodge and everything he needs, not to mention the work of building fires and cooking over them. Somehow that kind of work energizes him.
Printing the old fashioned way is one of his specialties at the rendezvous. “You see that picture?” he said. “I made the table and the printer and the chase and the dabber.” He has to ink the press for every sheet. It’s a lot of work, but there’s a satisfaction in what today would be called “hand crafting” a product.
The Printer, as a lot of his rendezvous friends call him, also said that he does his time travel thing, because he can. “Living that way,” he said, “I like it because we can still do it. We’re still tough enough. We’re not namby-pamby. We’re not marshmallow.”
If children are in school during one of the rendezvous, sometimes teachers will bus their students out to the camp to get a living history lesson, which brings up another niche Pacyga in his alternative community. “I’m an actor,” he explained as he describes the role he plays for the children as they help him print a page the old fashioned way.
He’s also the community’s historian. By keeping a journal of each rendezvous in which he participates he’s able to answer questions like “what year was it that the big thunder storm hit us” or “when was it that we helped Forest Park celebrate its centennial .”
Pacyga admits that he wouldn’t want to live that life style 24/7. He said that it’s fun partly because he knows all along that he can return to the comforts of his 21st Century home in Forest Park. “I’m not stuck there,” he said. “It’s time travel with a way to come back to 2013 technology.”
Still, he wishes he could bring some things back with him from the 1700s. “Sitting around the campfire talking to people,” he said.
“That truly says what I do.”
And even though he sends messages by email and is on Facebook, he added, “I think technology gets in the way of connecting with people. You see people walking around looking down at their iPhone or iPad instead of stopping to talk to the people they see.”