An Old-New-World

“I failed to mention in my last letter that Christina L. Miller had a sore foot for a few days. Their cow got out, and she got a little upset with her. Wonder if she will again kick a cow?”         – Actual quote from Sept.. 12, 2012 Amish newspaper “The Budget” –  submitted by Mrs. Eli Borntreger from Wadena, Minnesota

On the slow back-country roads through Lancaster County, Pennsylvania,  a man waved at us – he was plowing his fields, not with the usual tractors common to big farms – but with horses – big brutes that moved his plowing machine forward with his gentle coaxing. His straw hat, blue-shirt, long white beard and suspenders gave him away as belonging to the Amish. A few minutes later, we parked by a convenience store and a horse-drawn buggy pulled into the parking lot – an Amish man and three young girls, barefoot and dressed in long blue dresses walked into the store.

Amish Horse and Buggy

For people living in this part of the eastern U.S. – the Amish are a common sight as they live in and among “English” folk. For many other Americans, to witness people driving horse-drawn buggies alongside SUV’s and compact cars; wearing clothes that look like great-grandma’s and grandpa’s  (well, maybe from a century or two ago) and refrain from using cellphones, computers or any form of electricity, is a startling (and for us) refreshing sight.

Simple Amish Clothes

There are Amish communities in 28 states, in Lancaster County they number around 30,000. The Amish emigrated from Switzerland in the 18th century, and continue to speak Pennsylvania German in their homes. Curious about their lifestyle, we visited an Amish Village – an authentic view into the Amish world – a world where the Bible is the standard-bearer and guide for everyday life.

In their spartan homes nothing can be put on the walls unless it serves a purpose since the Bible says “a picture is a graven image.”

“So the Amish have a lot of calendars on their walls,” our tour-guide informed our small tour group.

Amish Kitchen with Propane Light

The home centers around the kitchen since it is the only room they heat. “Amish are not against using electricity,” the tour-guide continued, “but they don’t want too many “worldly” things in their homes that come with electricity, like TV’s, computers, music players and such. Since the 1930’s  they have been using propane gas to cook, refrigerate and light lamps and some use solar panels to charge batteries. About half the Amish are farmers, mostly dairy farmers, but the rest do other work, like construction. Since they don’t drive, they have to pay or get someone (they call non-Amish “the English”) to take them to and from work.”

The Amish are Anabaptists, they do not take baptism until they are 16 or into their early twenties, as they feel that baptism should only be given to believing adults. We learned ten percent of Amish have chosen to leave the community. After baptism, should a  member break his/her commitment to follow and practice Amish ways, they may be subjected to shunning – ignored and avoided by the entire community, including their own family. Ouch.

Leaving the home, we visited a one-room school house and met Mary who is an actual Amish school teacher. We learned Amish children only study till the eighth grade – all in one room together, seated in desks with attached chairs that increase in size to accommodate age and size differences.

I asked Mary (who wore the traditional Amish long black dress and bonnet to cover the hair she is never allowed to cut), “What would happen if a child wanted to study beyond the eighth grade?”

Mary said, “No one would want to.”

School Teacher Mary and Closed Eyed

Really, I thought, do they think education is prideful too? That means no one in their community can become a doctor, so the Amish are dependent on “the outside” medical system for their health needs.

Before we left the Amish compound we visited a barn and learned about cows. We also stopped at the store that sold  Amish products – stunning hand-made quilts, dolls, jams (we bought their pumpkin butter), pickled foods, cheese, etc.

Cow Facts

Close-up of Amish Quilt

Before leaving we picked up “The Bulletin,” the Amish newspaper that has accounts written by people from numerous Amish communities throughout the U.S. and other countries. The following extracts give a small window into Amish life:

 “Recently Jake Shirk wanted to go across the river to a neighbor’s to get some pears from a tree they have, so he put his shoes and 2 bottles of drinking water around his neck to keep them safe and rode their horse into the river When the horse couldn’t wade he started jumping out of the water as high as he could, but soon gave up and swam. By then, Jake was alongside, hanging onto his mane and the water bottles were floating down river while the horse headed upriver. Joseph Troyer was watching and went after the bottles with a canoe.

Jake and the horse turned to go across and made it safely ashore, while Joseph deliered the water bottles. On the way home the neighbor brought the pears down to the river and Jake swam the horse across again with not much trouble, then took the canoe back and got the pears.”  – submitted by Orey and Magdalena Schwartz from Hestand, Kentucky

“Our Sam was in a stew last week. He’d heard that Obas’ Samuel was also ruffed out with Miss Cynthia Gingerich, daughter of Ivan Gingeriches. He said he doesn’t know her well enough to marry her, and one of the last times he saw her was down here in our living room planning on going to Wooster, Ohio to a gluck’ n with some other females. And he kind of hoped she had better shoes and a better fitting bonnet to get married in. He did find out that he was not the Samuel mentioned, which really calmed him down. Oba and Betty Yoder are his parents.”  – submitted by Oba from Sullivan, Illinois

Amish Children


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1 Response to An Old-New-World

  1. Jayashri Fairclough says:

    This is wonderful! Beautifully written, and I love the newspaper clippings about the local Amish folks. There is a wonderful film documentary worth seeing as well. Amazing that their culture can still exist in this crazy world! XO J

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