Appalachia Museum

Published 6:38 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2017

NORRIS, Tenn. — The Museum of Appalachia allows one to step back in time and is a reminder that even today with all the remarkable technological advances that we are not that far removed from hardscrabble living and the necessity of making do.

The first thing that catches your eye is a quote which illuminates the life and times of these modest mountain folk of the early 1900s — “whatever we had, is what we made ourselves.” The most graphic confirmation of “the way it was,” for that era was that some enterprising mountain codger had made a bedpan banjo.

For our grandparents and great grandparents, who were making do when the turn of the 20th century came about, they would be astonished by the instantaneousness of e-mail and other forms of technology which boggle the mind. They would have been overwhelmed by putting a man on the moon.

Having grown up on a farm in the fifties, I could relate to much of what I saw: modest tools for eking out a living from the land, quilts which were “community” produced.    Women gathered at a neighbor’s house to collectively produce quilts. Hanging about in the museum were quilts with curious names:  “Bachelor’s Dream,” “Friendship Quilt” and one which left you quizzical and amused: “Murder quilt.” Perhaps that was one awaiting a carousing husband.

There were “log rollings” decades ago which I always heard about. The men would gather to cut down trees for sawmilling and build houses for one another. The cost amounted to little more than the nails which were required to fashion the studs together.

If somebody needed something store bought, it was paid for over time. Usually a long time. Barter was a way of life.  Several quarts of honey for a ham or a side of beef.

Whittler’s, craftsmen, masons, millers and farmers all bent on survival. Helping hands were for family, friends and neighbors.

The crude instruments of the original dentist in these parts, made you keenly aware that there was a time which it was best never to have a toothache.

You marvel at how our forebears of that era found a way to survive, under sparse conditions. You leave the Appalachia Museum keenly aware, putting in perspective a fear that looms over us today—that there is one thing the people of that era could not do.

They could not destroy themselves.

Loran Smith is Executive Secretary, Georgia Bulldog Club.