Our Place in the World

“Food is the one central thing about human experience that can open up both our senses and our conscience to our place in the world.”  Alice Waters

It’s easy to forget that every choice we make (as family and community members, as students, teachers, parents, citizens, and consumers) affects not only us, but also our species as a whole. We form our environment, and we are a part of it. There is a give-and-take between our physical body and environment that unites the health and vitality of all living things. Revitalization requires commitment, summons endless enthusiasm, and it keeps on giving.

We-the-people define our roles in our world by who we are and how we live. Close-knit communities are vital because the energies of daily life and history are regularly shared and consciously nurtured. When they opened the General Store ten years ago, Jeff Barney and Cameron Ratliff knew they wanted to provide for the local community as warmly, as sustainably and as efficiently as possible. They wanted to live their own dreams and help revitalize this beautiful riverside spot using their talents and diving in to unearth all of the creative possibilities along the way. Jeff is an epistemologist (look that one up!), butcher, chef, partner, father, foodie, co-proprietor, and of course, much more. Cameron is a stellar student, popular teacher (Hawbridge!), mother, baker, partner, strategic thinker, and co-proprietor who once thought of going to law school to focus on city-planning. Think of the choices and possibilities! Our choices and histories matter, as we have been reminded in powerful ways this week on our national stage.

Last week a couple came for lunch, took a tour of the Rivermill apartments and decided to move to Saxapahaw. We all love a place where we feel at home, where we are welcomed, and where we can almost always find what we’re looking for: gas, batteries, motor oil, diapers, snacks, coffee, beer, wine, water, specialty drinks, good food, and friendly people.

The Saxapahaw General Store is entering its 10th year, and this anniversary prompts thinking about the American tradition of General Stores, along with the history of this particular General Store. Every day people come into the store and exclaim over something they remember from “back when,” before so much had changed in this little village. We love to hear these comments and stories, and we are delighted that there are qualitative researchers among us, and far-flung, studying incubators, small-town entrepreneurs, and communities where people are drawn together to build, support, and grow a collective. Talk to anyone in this village, and you will find people who grew up here, with generational roots, and every kind of “newcomer” with gifts, talents, and appreciation for what this village is, has been, and what it might be. Leaders help to guide the growth by living their dreams. They are people who choose to engage a community that is interwoven and interpenetrated by history, memories, tradition, intention, motivation, research, support, strategic planning, and a real appreciation of community history and culture.

The General Store has an old and beloved place in our culture. The American General Store flourished throughout the 19th century but declined rapidly in the 20th century, particularly after the 1920s. It was mostly succeeded by specialized stores. Before General Stores there were trading posts, which “popped up” at crossroads, the confluence of rivers, and the center of villages, where settlers and travelers congregated. Seasonal needs were made known and people rose to meet them.

Jane Cairns

Saxapahaw, too, has a fascinating history of settlers, Sissipahaw Indians, and travelers drawn to the riverside, including the Jordan family whose visions and efforts have been the impetus behind revitalizing the area into the lively community they remember from years ago. I visited the Store’s neighbor, the Saxapahaw Museum, for the first time this week. Its director, the lovely Jane Cairnes, showed me around, pointing me to places on maps and mounted pictures, vintage and new, with stories that she’s heard from other visitors. I encourage everyone to visit. There is a timeline of the area, artifacts, and pictures of residents, star athletes (several Olympians included!), veterans, mill workers, the early Mill, the old dam. The list goes on. Our General Manager, Marc Smith, was a key player in showcasing the displays in the Museum. We can always learn more about who we are and our place in our community. Change happens. Everyone matters.

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