Nostalgia in Amish Country
Nostalgia locates desire in the past where it suffers no active conflict and can be yearned toward pleasantly. ~ Robert Hass
Several days ago when my husband David and I were in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania for the retreat I attended, we stayed an extra day so that we could meet up with our son, Tim, and his girlfriend, Niina. We ate our midday meal together at a restaurant that serves down-home cooking, and then we drove through Amish country together. Maybe it was because it was spring, or maybe it was because I felt like I was looking at the Amish “scenes” through the eyes of Tim and Niina who haven’t struggled with being torn between two worlds as I have, or perhaps as the opening quote suggests, nostalgia for the Amish life I’d left behind all those years ago comes without an active conflict.
I’ve felt nostalgia in Amish country before. Clothing flapping in the breezes on high-flying clotheslines on washday can bring on that feeling, as can the sight of a horse and buggy, chickens scratching in the dirt, or animals grazing in a field of green with grasses waving.
Being in Amish country reminds me of the days of my childhood when my sisters and I roamed the fields and woods that surrounded our farm. We picked buttercups, asters, daisies, and black-eyed Susans from the meadow behind the chicken house with butterflies flitting all around us, and we picked trilliums, spring beauties, and wild geraniums from the forest floor where wild rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks scampered about and the birds sang to us from the trees. When the family still fit in the buggy, we took long rides to see my grandparents who lived eight miles away. Traveling at this slower pace allowed us to see and hear the birds and other wildlife and observe the homesteads of other Amish along the way.
I miss the agrarian lifestyle at a time before technology ruled so much of my life. Some of these technologies have undoubtedly changed the lives of those Amish who have adopted the use of them, most notably Smartphones.
The Amish traditions that were passed down from earlier generations included harmful practices and beliefs, which I am still reckoning with and likely will be for the rest of my life. But there are also sound traditions and values that were mixed in with the the harmful ones. My gratitude for and awe of nature and my earthy approach to life comes from my heritage. The challenge for me is to unravel the traditions I grew up with so that I can examine them individually. I want to let go of those that are harmful to me or in how I relate to others, and embrace those that help me live up to the person I am meant to be. This is a challenge, especially since I was repeatedly warned in my growing up years, “You’re either Amish or you’re not. You cannot have it both ways.” Today I want to change that “or” to an “and” — I’m Amish and I’m not. I suppose the Amish preachers would be glad to know that you can take me out of the Amish, but you cannot take the Amish out of me. That part of me is too deeply ingrained.
Next time I go to Amish country, perhaps I can observe the nostalgic feelings that come up without resisting them. I can acknowledge that I miss aspects of my Amish life without denying that I had sound reasons for choosing a different life than the one that was marked out for me by my Amish heritage.
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Saloma, thank you for sharing your beautiful writing. For you, this is a comparison of your Amish & former Amish life, but it’s also about childhood and adulthood, about good & bad memories, no matter your culture or religion. Depending on my thoughts, I can be smiling or frowning. May you find pleasant travels ahead and behind. Sincerely, Jim
You’re welcome, Jim, and thank you for your kind thoughts and comments. I wish the same for you.
Thank you for your thoughtful and beautiful post. The idyllic outdoor scenes made me want to be there in the sunshine seeing wild flowers and animals but I also perfectly understood the dichotomy you are experiencing in trying to separate those lovely memories from the quite opposite ones.
It made me think of situations over the years in the church (and I use that in the wider sense of different faiths/denominations worldwide) where great and trusted leaders have done amazing work in bringing people to a personal faith and yet later in life are found to have done quite things quite unacceptable to the eyes of society in general. Those who joined the church after being introduced by a flawed person often find their faith challenged as a result and it’s so hard to separate the good bits from the bad bits.
Please do keep on posting your inspirational and thoughtful messages.
Thank you, Val, for your thoughtful comments. You’re right about how hard it is to reconcile dichotomies. I, too, have experienced church situations like those that you describe, even since I left the Amish. It had me deconstruct my faith, but over the years I’ve been able to reconstruct it to be more “native” so that it isn’t hinged on a spiritual leader.
I will keep on posting messages with readers like you. Thank you for your kind words.
I didn’t even grow up Amish and I feel “nostalgic” when I go to Lancaster. I live in NYC but grew up in rural CT with many of the same traditions—big Sunday dinners with family, clothes drying outside on a line, big gardens and homegrown vegetables, a close community, wandering in the woods and swimming in lakes, etc and so on… so I can only imagine what you feel. I also tend to blot out a lot of the bad of my childhood and hyperfocus in on the good—to the point where I often think about “moving home” despite most of my family being dead now and having lived in a city for 25 years and being thoroughly citified! You definitely could not have stayed Amish, Saloma. You are far too independent-minded, curious, and ambitious. But you can have warm feelings for the good parts. 🙂
Kensi, I can really relate to your sentiments. It sounds like you have a story to tell, and you tell it well.
Ha, ha. You sure do understand me. What you say is all too true. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.
Such a beautiful blog I live down under in Australia, and I am very interested in the Amish traditions. We could all learn from them. Can’t wait for your next writing.
Jenny, it’s great to see you here. I don’t know if you’re new here, but you may like to know about my original blog, About Amish, if you’re interested in Amish traditions. Also, on my author website, I have written about several of the Amish Customs.
Thank you for posting this.
I love what you write on here and in your books.
Thank you, Kathy. It warms my heart when readers let me know that. Thank you!
Salome, I put up a clothes line just so I can watch my bedding and towels flap in the breeze. And I love the sound of my neighbor’s rooster crowing. This post brought tears. I know exactly what you mean… the oxymoron we live with… I will forever be Old Order Mennonite and there are things that I dearly miss about being Mennonite, but yet I’m so thankful that I chose the path I did… the nostalgia of missing something with my entire being and yet not desiring to return…
Aleta, it is great to see you here! I did exactly what you did — or more accurately, David put up the clothesline so I can hang out sheets and whatnot and let them flap in the breezes. I often see hawks flying above me, as if they are wondering what I’m doing.
You described the dichotomy you and I live with so aptly and concisely – “the nostalgia of missing something with my entire being and yet not desiring to return…” So powerful.
I, too, am glad you made the choice you did. You are truly a kindred spirit. So glad you dropped by to share your understanding and wisdom.
One of my most fullfilling memories of being an editor is of working on your book for MSU Press some years ago. I learned so much and am so pleased you are still writing!
Bonnie, it is so good to see you here! Thank you for your sentiments. I enjoyed working with you. Are you still editing for MSU Press? How did you find my blog?
All the best to you, Bonnie.
I have found you! (Never mind- I should have kept searching.)
I know very well what you mean about nostalgia. I and my one remaining sibling often talk by phone about those days and agree that there were many good things about them. There were bad days too- which would be true even if I had grown up in a totally different environment. Nowadays I cherish the good ones although I never regret leaving that church.
Elva, I’m sorry you had to search. I didn’t leave enough crumbs along my way, did I?
I understand your feelings exactly about cherishing the good memories and yet being happy with your decision to leave the church. Me too!
So great to see you here!