Making the Pioneers Proud

Yon House

I found myself wandering through Walmart last Friday night in search of a blanket. That’s not because I’m suddenly concerned about the color choices in our bedroom, but because I was in Marianna and my sleeping bag decided to stay behind in Pensacola.

As I walked through the store, three words kept running through my mind: Cheap, disposable and wasteful. I passed aisle after aisle of mass-produced items that were designed to be used, thrown away and replaced. The sheer volume of merchandise was overwhelming. It seemed like they had everything anyone could possibly need and then some, but I have no idea where the items came from or who made them. It was just tons of generic “stuff.”

Just a few days earlier, I had been at the Panhandle Pioneer Settlement where Mary and I got a tour of the Yon House. Though the home and most of its contents are more than 100 years old, there’s a story behind nearly every item there. Its owners were certainly not poor by the standards of the day, but I was fascinated by the simplicity of their lives. Very little in their world was wasted, be it food, furniture or even space.

Deer hides covered a bare wood floor and I’m sure the meat provided several good meals. A quilt was suspended from the bedroom ceiling so that it could be lowered and worked on when there was time. Dresses were hung from the backs of doors. Almost everything there was made on site or nearby. Each item had a purpose and a place.

The two contrasting images – Walmart and the Yon House – left me wondering: In an age when we can have everything, do we really want it? Is the highest and best use of our knowledge and technology simply to fill our space and our lives with more stuff?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been grateful on several occasions that I was able to buy shotgun shells or a turkey call at 4 a.m. And one look at some 19th century dental tools ought to make anyone appreciate modern medicine. It’s not that I’m pining for the past so much as I’m hoping that we might preserve a bit of that pioneer spirit of simplicity and self-sufficiency even as we reap the benefits of 21st century life.

Jessica and Natalie in front of their store.

Jessica and Natalie in front of their store.

The very next morning, I realized that two young ladies in Bainbridge, Georgia were way ahead of me with that thought. Liberty County native, Natalie Bristol Kirbo and Jessica Grace Allen have created a business selling items made or re-purposed by local craftsmen and women (including themselves.)

Their store, Maiden South, is also a showcase for vintage goods as well as old-made-new items. Natalie told me, “Everything in here has a story behind it.”

She showed me a knife made from recycled steel by a local craftsman. The wooden handle was cherry from stock Natalie’s grandfather had stored away. There was also a beautiful cutting board made from antique slats used to hang tobacco leaves. Old, high-quality shirts and boots lined one wall, waiting for a new owner to get more good out of them.

Even the store itself is a testament to their vision. Formerly a small beauty salon, the ladies pulled out the sheetrock and scraped through the plaster to restore the original bare brick walls and high wooden ceiling.

Being authentic takes a lot of work.

Being authentic takes a lot of work.

I was at Maiden South because Natalie graciously invited me to do a book signing there. But the whole time, my thoughts kept returning to the Yon House and to the Walmart. I came away with the feeling that the early pioneers might well have envied a lot of the modern conveniences we enjoy today. But they would certainly be proud that their resourcefulness and craftsmanship are being remembered and honored by a new generation.

Maiden South is located at 123 N. West Street in Bainbridge. It’s on the web at www.maidensouth.com. You can also read more about the store and Natalie’s experiences on her blog, www.oystersandpearls.net.

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