T’is a gift to be simple,
T’is a gift to be free,
T’is a gift to come down
Where we ought to be.
Art and Bea McKnatt have taken the words of that old Shaker song to heart and have dropped out of the "rat race" and opted for a "simple life" in rural Montgomery County.
When they married 25 years ago, they agreed a simple life was what they wanted to live. But first they had to shed the shackles holding them on life’s fast track.
Art was principal of a county school and Bea was the secretary for a bank vice president. They knew leading a simple life would mean living with less. They also knew living a simple life would improve the quality of their lives.
A pastor friend provided the couple with a scripture that directed their path, I Thessalonians 4:11.
"The scripture says ‘That ye study to be quiet and to do your own business and to work with your own hands,’ and that’s what we decided to do," Art said. "We left the rat race for a simpler way of life. It’s not possible to get completely away from the ways of the world, but you can live on the fringes. That’s where we are."
Actually, where they are is tucked snuggly away in Macbea Holler in rural Montgomery County and they are as happy as bees in honey.
"This is the life we want to live," Art said. "It’s the life we dreamed about. We’ve made a concerted effort to live simple lives and we’ve learned to live with less. Why, we don’t even have a working television any more since digital TV came in. And, we’ve found we are sitting at the kitchen table and talking more. We do have an old television set with a VCR and we said when we got bored we’d watch a movie. We’ve only watched one… I’m afraid that TV is going to go bad."
The McKnatts get their news from WTBF in Troy every morning and they find that’s all the news they need to know.
"I get up before sunup and go for a two-mile walk," Art said. "Usually, Bea goes with me. That’s a real special time — waiting for the sun to come up.
"We both like walking in the woods and we’ve got trails. Being out in the early morning —well, there’s nothing like it."
The McKnatts spend their days doing what needs to be done and what they enjoy doing.
"Some mornings, I go down to the store at Dublin and drink a soda with whoever’s around," Art said. "Then I’ll go home and Bea will have dinner ready. I’ll take a nap and then I’ll do what needs to be done. Something’s always torn up and something always needs fixing, so there always some work to do."
But most days, Art and Bea are fast at "work" doing the things they love to do.
He restores "old" cars, trucks and gas pumps. She is a quilter.
"We’ve never been bored and we’ve never been caught up," Art said, laughing.
The McKnatts have a small garden and eat "mostly out of the freezer." Most of their social life is centered around church and most of the other time they are involved in their "hobbies" or rocking on the porch.
But life at Macbea Holler has not always been that simple.
The couple built "almost everything down here." And that’s a lot, a house and several outbuildings, one down by the pond they call a "hangout." The logs for the house were brought in and erected, but the couple did all the other work necessary to make it their home in the "holler."
"A friend had worked with subcontractors and found he could mess up a lot cheaper than he could pay the contractors to mess up and we decided we could do the same," Art said, laughing and adding that a man and his wife can get a lot of satisfaction from knowing they put a roof over their heads. "It’s a good feeling to know you did that."
Art has a shop where he brings old things back to their natural beauty. Bea has a quilting frame in the house that is never "wanting" long.
"We stay busy all the time and we love every minute of it," Art explained. "When we’re not working, we’re reading. Bea has always been an avid reader and now I read a lot, too. She likes to read books about the Amish and I collect National Geographics going all the way back to the 1930s. Some days I’ll go down to the ‘hangout,’ and kick back with my magazines."
The couple has great admiration for the Amish and has developed a deep friendship with a couple and their family in Tennessee.
"We go up and visit with them. We admire the commitment of the Amish people to stick to the old ways," Art said. "As a people, they are so content with their lives and so committed to family and family values. When we go up there and are in their company, I can just feel the pressures of life slipping away. They have a wonderfully simple lifestyle. It’s hard, but so rewarding."
The McKnatts have found leading a quiet, simple life means letting go of the stresses that come with life in today’s rat race world.
"A friend gave me a book titled ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,’ and, when you get to thinking about it, so much of what we sweat is small stuff," Art said. "When we’re here at Macbea Holler — me piddling in the shop and Bea working on her quilts – it’s all small stuff."
And, when the couple takes a quiet walk through the woods and stops to watch the sun set, that’s the big stuff and that’s why the simple life is the life for them.Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.