Possumhaw: Seeking the simple life


Shannon Bardwell



Picking up the phone, I dialed the 800 number. I knew, even as I did it, I was headed down that slippery slope.  


It had started with another book. Standing in the bookstore, I was instantly drawn to its cover. I slid my hand over the photo of a woman's torso wearing an apron; she was holding a basket of bread. Her fingernails were painted bright red and a clunky ring adorned her finger. The title read, "Almost Amish, One Woman's Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life." It had me right there. 


I'm in awe of the Amish and their "cousins," the Mennonites. The current Catfish Alley magazine features Mennonite girls on the cover and an article inside. Michelle Classen's story there resonated with me, especially when she says, "I didn't want to look like them, but there was something they had I wanted." I don't think she was talking about homemade bread. 


For me, I'm unwilling to give up my closet, though modesty attracts me. But on the cover of the magazine I find myself running my fingers over the photo of the dress fabric. When I see a Mennonite woman in public, I restrain myself against this insane desire to reach out and touch the thin fabric. I wonder, do they get cold in winter? I look at their skin and think how beautiful it is, while every night I'm slathering my own skin with products that contain Retin-A.  


A half dozen books sit on my bookshelf telling me how to live a simple, more sustainable life. I'm like those people who continually purchase expensive books on how to manage their money. 


While every group is different and there are certainly no perfect groups of people (where two or more are gathered there is disagreement in their midst), the lifestyle seems so simple, so wholesome, so real.  


In "Almost Amish," some seeming inconsistencies are explained -- like those groups who have no electricity running to their homes but use generators to run electrical appliances. Author Nancy Sleeth says they have no desire to be dependent on someone or something else, like government or big business. Sometimes I wonder about that myself.  


My formative years were in an era when neighbors installed bomb shelters. I had a friend who saved water under her bed (we didn't have bottled water then). Sometimes I entertain a fleeting thought, could I survive? But more often, it's not fear that draws me; it's simply being simple, healthy, and taking care of the planet.  


My favorite comment in "Almost Amish" is when, at a speech on sustainability, a heckler from the back hollers, "What are you, Amish or something?"  


Sleeth admits that, though fielding the question often, she was agitated and thought, "Open your eyes. Am I wearing a bonnet? We arrived in a Prius, not on a pony." 


So I continued dialing the 800 number and a real live person answered the phone, "Lehman's Non-Electric Catalog." 


I ordered one.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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