Sounds and Reflections from Pennsylvania Amish Country
I should write, “from Pennsylvania Amish and Mennonite Country.” Until I moved here, I had no idea how many Old Order Mennonites live in the county. On the road one can tell the difference by the buggies. The Amish in this county have gray (or open) buggies, while the Old Order Mennonites have black ones. The one above and the two below are all Amish buggies.
I can also tell the difference in the women’s dress whether they are Amish or Old Order Mennonites. And there is another giveaway. If you see a Plain person on a scooter, that person is likely Amish. If the person is riding a bike, they’re likely Mennonite.
Then there are the “Black Bumper Mennonites” who drive (black) cars and dress plain. There are Mennonites of every stripe living in this area. I have not learned all the distinctions.
Having so many Plain People around feels both familiar and unfamiliar. We always thought of the Amish in Lancaster as being “different” from other Amish, not only in their dress, but also in their way of life. Back when I was growing up in Geauga County, the elders used the Amish of Lancaster as an example of what they did not want. The feeling in my home community was that the Amish in Lancaster had sold out their religion for “the mighty dollar.” Though there were requests from “the English” for tours in our area, they were turned down. As a result, the Amish here are more affluent than those in my home community.
In this way, it feels unfamiliar to live among Amish I’d only heard about when I was growing up. But there are also aspects of living here that feels very familiar. Seeing high-flying lines with their sold colors billowing in the winds like kites. Seeing and hearing horse and buggies traveling along country roads. Hearing their accents when they speak English. Seeing the typical poses of Plain women. Seeing the colorful well-kept gardens at their homesteads. And seeing the homemade signs of goods for sale at this farm or that one.
One thing I’ve been surprised by is how the Amish and Old Order Mennonites here seem to be embracing suburbia. Some live right in towns, with their horse and buggy sheds in their back yards. I don’t know if they have had to get exemptions from the towns to be allowed to do that, or if this consideration is already embedded in the town ordinances. We live right on Main Street in Ephrata, a very busy thoroughfare through town, and we frequently see buggies going past us, sometimes to visit the gas station next door.
Whenever I maneuver our car around a buggy, I’m always aware of what it feels like to be riding in a buggy and vulnerable to car drivers. In fact, I can easily put myself in a buggy to see the sights and sounds from a slow-moving vehicle, feel the summer breezes on my face, and hear the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves and the rumble of the steel wheels on the road. I know I’m sounding nostalgic here, and that is because I do miss those aspects of my Amish life. And yet just today, I have verbalized to David how grateful I am that he and I got together (those who have read Bonnet Strings know that we almost didn’t). Had I stayed Amish, I would not be living the life I have. So those buggy rides that used to transport me from one place to another are a thing of the past. I’m glad I have those memories to cherish.
I thought I would share some sights I captured with my phone over the past weeks. Here is a peaceful setting with horses grazing in a field. In the foreground there is that bare spot, and I wonder if this field isn’t used as baseball field when the horses are in the barn or grazing elsewhere. It was common for fields like this to be used like that in my home community, and I wonder if they do that here as well. I’m thinking that bare spot might be home plate.
I took this photo of a buggy on a road a ways off. Just beyond the cornfield you can spot a tour bus that was out looking for Sunday afternoon buggies.
David and I have been exploring Lancaster County and have discovered numerous creameries in the county. They rival one another in terms of goodness, but my current favorite is Hayloft Ice Cream. They have a new flavor each month for their soft ice cream. August was peach, and it was ambrosia. I savored every bite. Then I stocked up on hand-packed quarts so we can enjoy it a while longer.
One of the times we visited Hayloft, there was this wagon hitched to the hitching post. Later I saw five young women get on the buggy, and off they went, down the road into the open country. I remember well what that was like.
While I’m on the subject of wagons, here is a photo of an unusual one. It looks like it was adapted from another purpose. It looks like a horse-drawn golf cart to me. But maybe it was one of those garden cart type of wagons. Whatever the case, I think it is Amish ingenuity at its best.
We have been frequenting the numerous fresh fruit and veggie stands run by Amish and Mennonite families in this area. It is divine to have such fresh and juicy peaches in season to eat plain and to make pies with. David and I took a pie to the young family whose two young sons we’ve adopted as our grandchildren. We now have nicknames for them. Our favorite five-year-old is Boy Chap, and his younger brother is Little Man. Once when we took a pie to their house, Boy Chap ate two bites of pie, and then he put his fork down, came around the table, and thanked me for making the pie and told me how much he loves it. Of course I needed to make another pie after that, especially while the peaches are still so yummy. Here is a photo of the pie made of peaches, red raspberries and black raspberries that we took over to their house.
I hope to post again before long. Now that I’m living in Pennsylvania among the Amish, I ask you this: What questions do you have about the life of the Amish or of the “Amish-once-removed?” I will answer your questions as best I can in future posts.
Also, if you are someone who grew up Plain with an eighth-grade education and have managed to find your way to college, will you consider writing your story to be published on this blog? Or do you know of someone who fits this description? If so, please pass along this invitation to that person and have that person be in touch with me. I hope to add to the series I started of stories of those who have found their way to formal education beyond the eighth grade.
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