Our first holidays in our new house didn’t go so well. We ended up buying a "fixer-upper" in rural Hanover County. It had been built in 1927, right at the peak of the Roaring Twenties, by a robber baron who fancied a country house not too far from Manhattan. The previous owners had been involved in a protracted legal battle to demolish it and rebuild a garish post-modern mansion. Local preservation groups had filed four different lawsuits trying to stop the demolition. When Emma and I stepped forward to buy it, we had to sign off on four different settlement agreements, all of which meant that we had to keep the house in its historic state. Leland Campbell, our real estate broker and Hanover County Democratic Party county leader, assured us that this was a great way to help build my profile as a Congressional candidate. As a practical matter, it meant that we had to get special permission to install wi-fi from four different historical preservation groups and a Superior Court judge.
The problem was that, since we had just started on the renovation, it meant that we couldn’t do much in the way of holiday decoration or holiday entertaining. This was too bad. I had a menu all set up for a traditional Syrian Christmas dinner, to honor the Administration’s courageous refugee policy, but the only two Syrian families I could find in Hanover County were planning to go to Boca Raton for Christmas, and I couldn’t find any locally-sourced baharat mushakalah, so that sort of put the brakes on my plans.
We didn’t have the option of going to New Haven for Christmas; my parents were taking advantage of the new economic opening to Cuba to spend two weeks in Havana. My dad was busy trying to figure out how to use local shadow buyers to buy up beachfront parcels, and my mother was, for once in her life, actually taking a break from political activism, outside of trying to wangle a cocktail-party invitation with Raul Castro. Emma’s family was up in Northern Michigan, tending to her sick grandmother. Emma and I were flying up there the day after Christmas, but we wanted to spend our first Christmas together in the district.
So when Leland Campbell called me and asked me if I wanted to participate in the traditional celebration of Washington crossing the Delaware, I was available. Or at least I thought I was.
"You are not serious," Emma said.
"Why not?" I asked. "It’s good exposure, if nothing else."
"Exposure is the key word, here. As in dying from exposure, which is a thing that can happen, crossing a river in Colonial-era clothing. Are you insane?"
"I’m from Connecticut. A little cold and snow doesn’t frighten me. I figure we should enjoy it while it lasts before global warming ruins it anyway."
"At least you’ll be able to row the boat to keep warm. I’m going to have to go watch you do it, and I am worried about freezing to death. Are you sure this is how you want to spend Christmas?"
"Leland says it’s a good chance to connect with voters," I said. "We can get some social media mileage out of it, if nothing else. And it will put me in even better with the historic preservation groups."
"The same groups that won’t let me put heating coils in the floor of the upstairs bathroom?" Emma said.
"We all have to make sacrifices to win this election," I said.
"I will remember you said that," she said.
The nice lady from the Hanover County Historic Commission brought over my suit the Monday before Christmas, and I must say I looked very sharp in a tricorn. I had a homespun shirt that was kind of scratchy, but a nice velvet vest to wear over it, and the high-topped buckled shoes were a perfect fit once I acquired a pair of thick woolen socks. "You look just like a Founding Father," Emma said.
"It is a good thing Harold Zinn is dead," I said. "He’d let you know the real scoop on those guys. And we agree we don’t have to tell my mother about this, right?"
"We can tell her you’d been radicalized by Tom Paine, and that you were a fierce opponent of slavery," she said.
So we took the Prius east, crossed the Delaware over by Allentown, and looped south to Washington’s Crossing on the Pennsylvania side. I was herded into a boat and told by a red-cheeked volunteer to stay in character, to the extent I could manage to.
"And here’s your musket," he said, handing me a long metal tube with a thick wooden stock.
"I don’t need one of those, thank you," I said. "I’ll just use an oar and row."
"You’re playing the part of a young Colonial officer," he said. "Of course, you’d have a musket. You wouldn’t want to fight the Hessians unarmed, would you?"
"We’re not going to fight any Hessians, though, are we?" I said. "I wouldn’t feel right handling a gun. What if it went off?"
"It can’t possibly go off," he said. "It’s not loaded, and I don’t have the time to teach you all the steps to loading a matchlock rifle, even if I wanted to. There is no way you could shoot this gun without expert help."
"It’s still a gun," I said. "It is still a weapon of destruction, designed to kill people. I won’t handle one."
"It’s a prop," he said. "And you’re in a play; that’s all this is. Just carry it with you; I’ll grab it from you later."
Leland, wearing an improbable horsehair wig under his tricorn, wandered over to check things out. "What’s going on?" he asked.
"Pajama Boy here won’t take up arms for his country," the volunteer said.
"These are not pajamas," I explained. "This is what I was told to wear."
"Is there something wrong with the gun?" Leland asked.
"Of course there’s something wrong with the gun," I said. "It’s a gun. It murders people. The minute I get to Congress, I’m going to try to implement a national gun ban, so that murderers and terrorists don’t have access to deadly assault weapons like this for their mass shootings."
"You couldn’t do a mass shooting with a matchlock," the volunteer explained. "It would take too long to reload, unless you had a lot of practice. People would jump all over you before you got your second shot off."
Leland took a long look at the volunteer, then took the rifle out of his hand and motioned for him to shove off. "I’ll handle this," he said.
"I’m not carrying that," I said. "It goes against everything I believe in. I mean, unless we were using the rifles for a violent Trotskyite overthrow of the central government, in which case I’d go along with whatever the central committee of the proletariat thought was best. But that’s not likely, and they’d probably want to use more modern guns."
"Are you just a moron, or are you out of your God-damned mind?" Leland asked.
"Is there a third option?" I asked.
"You can’t think that you can come down here from Amherst and expect to win a race for Congress in Hanover County if you’re pro-gun control," he said. "This is rural America out here. People have guns, and they’re not about to give them up quietly. They’re going to expect you to stand up for their Second Amendment rights."
"The Second Amendment applies to militias only," I said. "All the prominent legal scholars say so. It’s a relic of Colonial times."
"I’m a Democrat," Leland said, "and a gun owner. Most people out here are. You want them to vote for you, you can’t alienate them before you even announce. People are watching you, and you’re making a scene, and advocating extreme anti-gun positions. You’d have to be a moron to do that."
"I am not a moron," I said, not for the first time. "I am a patriot."
"Putting on a silly hat doesn’t make you a patriot," he said.
"Fighting for your country makes you a patriot. Take the gun–it won’t bite you–and get into your boat and fight for your country, or at least pretend to, just for today. You do that, and I’ll take you out to the firing range later, get you used to handling a gun, so you’ll be better informed on the topic."
"And if I don’t?" I said.
"Then you just bought a big old drafty house for nothing," he said, "because you won’t get a single vote in this county. I’ll see to it myself."
So I sat there in the boat, an ancient assault weapon pointed high in the air (in case of accidental discharge), crossing the Delaware with a faux George Washington and a band of patriots, ready to make their way to Trenton to fight the hated Hessians. Carrying that gun was my first real sacrifice of the campaign, and I figured that it wouldn’t be my last.

Check out the previous installments in The Campaign Diary of Justin T. Fairchild: