Weaving stories in a world of make believe

Published 10:29 pm Friday, September 4, 2009

K. T. Valkyrie’s eyes light up and she gets “plum giddy” when she talks about her world of make believe.

She talks about being Miss Karen Sue Isbell, an old maid schoolteacher. She tells about making biscuits from scratch and rolling them out with her grandma’s wooden rolling pin and about clerking in an old country store.

She has the enthusiasm of one who loves what she does and believes that it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

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Valkyrie, a co-chair of the Pioneer Museum of Alabama Docent Auxiliary, loves the museum and knows what the museum means to Pike County and all Alabama.

“The Pioneer Museum of Alabama is a living history museum and an educational resource,” she said. “We have the most wonderful, passionate docents and volunteers of any museum. They are well trained, many of them by life experiences.”

Valkyrie mentioned volunteers, Ron Case, who is an expert in cotton culture and Stan Russell, who is a master miller and Alma Bodiford who is a horticulture expert. She talked about volunteers like Agnes Johnson, who learned to cook on a wood stove by watching her mother and grandmother in their log cabins and Marie Profitt, a quilter who tells visitors stories of how women used to put quilts on the floor as rugs to keep the dust stirred up by hogs rooting under the house from coming up through the cracks.

“We are all weavers,” Valkyrie said. “We weave stories together. That’s really what we do.”

The stories that the volunteers at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama weave paint pictures of life in the rural South 100 to 105 years ago. And, the stories they tell are catalysts for others to tell their stories.

Valkyrie never fails to jog a story in the mind of the old-timers who come to sit in on a lesson in the Little Red Schoolhouse.

“Around mid-afternoon on Pioneer Day and other special events, the older people will make their way into the schoolhouse and find a seat,” said Valkyrie, a.k.a. Miss Karen Sue Isbell, old maid schoolteacher. “They become eight years old again and begin to tell stories of when they were in school and I grow in knowledge from what they share. It’s so much fun to be a part of times of sharing like that.”

But it’s not just in the schoolhouse that memories are jogged and stories are shared.

“One of my favorite stories came from a man about 40 years old,” Valkyrie said. “He was visiting the Adams Store and I was the store clerk that day. He recognized a brand of tobacco that his granny used.

“I thought she was a witch,” he said. “She would be out in the backyard with a long black dress on and have a fire going under a big, black pot and be stirring the pot with a stick. I was sure she was a witch.”

The man, laughingly, said that he was about nine years old before he realized that his granny was just doing the laundry.

“Stories like that become a part of our story here at the museum,” Valkyrie said.

The Pioneer Museum of Alabama is a story resource center and the docents are the ones who bring the stories to life.

“The docents are vital to what we do,” Valkyrie said. “They bring the museum to life. All of our volunteers are vital to what we do. Without them, we can’t do the things that we do.”

And, right now, the museum is lacking in lifeblood.

“We have about 20 volunteers and we need more, many more,” Valkyrie said. “We need volunteers to mop floors, put out signs and feed the chickens and we need volunteers with specialty skills.

“We need docents who can sit and tell visitors what it was like to make moonshine or to plow a mule. We need volunteers who can help manage our 35 acres and the wetlands. We need volunteers who can mow the grass, re-establish the nature trails and volunteers with computer skills.”

Valkyrie said the museum has very competent, dedicated and dependable volunteers.

“But many of us are experiencing physical challenges so we need new volunteers of all ages, including young, energetic people who have a love of and appreciation for history and our home state.”

The museum has taken a financial hit and, in a cost-saving effort, is now closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Building the volunteer base will make it possible to continue operating five days a week and providing hands-on history visits for school groups.

“People walk in the museum and fall in love with us,” Valkyrie said. “They are in awe of all the museum has to offer. The museum is a precious jewel but it’s almost a secret around here.

Volunteers are our future and anyone who has a time to give in service to the community is encouraged to visit the museum and let us show you how your talents and abilities can be used to preserve the past for future generations.”