At the 2007 Fair at New Boston I was interviewing Colleen “Hester” Gilbert for Re-Enactor of the Month. After the interview was over Hester and I talked for over two hours. We talked about everything. We said everything there was to say about re-enacting, the people that take part in it and the places that they go.
We talked about Martin’s Station, Manskers Station, Fort Boonesborough and The Siege and Women on the Frontier which is held at Fort Boonesborough. We discussed The Painted Stone Settlers Long Run Massacre held every year in September and many, many more events.
When we got around to discussing Koh Koh Mah and Foster - Hester lit up like a Christmas tree in December.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I had hit upon an event that she truly cared about. Her dirty cherub face was grinning from ear to ear. It was 15 minutes before I could even get a word in edgewise. I told her I had never been able to attend this event because of scheduling conflicts. Man, I thought to myself, she really loves this event at Koh Koh Mah.
Well I told her it really sounded great but as much as I might like to, I can’t be in two places at once. So it was “sorry, Hester, not this year.”
As it turned out the scheduling conflicts worked themselves out for 2008. When I realized this I immediately let her know. We met up again in December of 2007 at the trade fair held by The Salt River Long Rifles. I was calmly taking photos at the trade fair when into my view finder popped a dirty, chubby little lady with a tri-cornered hat with a fancy plumed feather, a broken parasol, a striped petticoat and red vest - and a face that looked like it had never met a drop of water - none other than Hester Purefinder.
I chuckled to myself - well she made it. It was 180 miles in December for a few hours of shopping and visiting with friends. To make a long story short - we went into the restaurant for lunch and began discussing the 2008 season. I scarcely noticed how the other restaurant patrons were staring at us. It only made Hester laugh out loud. “If only I had my fart machine” she said. But never fear -she could still cause a ruckus. She turned to a 50ish man with his wife in tow and said boldly, “do you fool around. I’m free this evening!” Well the man was taken aback, as was his wife. There was a long pause and then someone started to laugh and soon everyone was laughing - including the man and his wife.
It was Hester at her best. It was her trademark - making people laugh.
But soon the conversation turned back to 2008 events. We agreed that if Hester came to Women on the Frontier at Fort Boonesborough in June and The Long Run Massacre in Shelbyville in September we (Kathy and I ) would be at Koh Koh Mah in September. We made it a solemn promise to each other. We shook on it and then of course we hugged on it.
As we re-entered the trade faire she looked at me and said “A promise is a promise” and I looked right back at her and said, “A promise is a promise.” After the trade faire she was getting ready to fly to Arizona to visit with her mom and family for the holidays.
And time marches on. Soon it was June and on Saturday morning at Women on the Frontier I looked up to see that beautiful smile under the plumed hat. It was Hester. After a quick hug I said “you’re taking that promise very seriously!” “And you better too,” she told me. Hester wasn’t staying the weekend. She didn’t want to leave her dog Toes too long. She was boarding him later the week for a long awaited trip with friends to an event at Fort Ticondoroga - so she had just come for the day.
As she left she quipped’ “Do you think the folks at Fort Ti are ready for Hester?”
Well. as we now know, Hester never made it to Fort Ti. She was found packed and ready in her car, dead of an aneurysm. Colleen “Hester” Gilbert was a true friend to so many of us in the re-enacting community.
And a promise is a promise. Two weeks ago Kathy and I rolled into Koh Koh Mah ready to take pictures. All of Hester’s friends were there. There was a ceremony for her on Saturday morning. Her friends had set up her camp in the spot she always favored. There was a new memorial to her placed there by Bob Auth and friends. And I have to hand it to Bob. The event was everything Hester had promised it would be and more.
The tricornered hat with the plume and the broken parasol were there. Her dog Toes is sitting at my feet as I write this piece. He seems perfectly at home here now with our other dogs. And my last promise to Hester - is that we will meet again someday, my friend!