So you see, since my mother left the Amish when she married, I never grew up in an Amish home. Everything I know about the Amish comes from my close friendship with my Amish aunts, uncles, and cousins. And stories from my mother, of course!
The Amish that make the TV series these days are not what all Amish are like. I have known many Amish who are good citizens, have high morals, love God, and live clean lives. That makes for boring television, however, so they find the worst stories – the worst examples to try and shock people. I know there are many Amish who are like that – I just want people to know that not all Amish are like that. My relatives were of the upright variety. Not that they were perfect, and it certainly doesn’t help you ‘get to Heaven’. But it was nice to go to their houses and never hear a curse word, never have drinking parties, and the young people’s idea of entertainment was board games and ‘singings’.
My uncle is an Amish bishop, so if there was something church-related going on, they were there. Since we visited them a lot, we ended up going along. It gave me more opportunity to get in on some of the Amish community events. I always enjoyed it. For one thing, since we were Mennonite instead of Amish – we had some status among the younger set. We had our own vehicles, and could wear brighter clothing – we could even listen to cassette tapes! 😉
I remember going to visit my cousins and hearing my aunt tell my cousins that they had to ‘stand up’ at 4 am. ‘Stand up’ is the way you say ‘get up’ in Dutch, if you translate exactly. They spoke Pennsylvania Dutch all the time unless they were around worldly people or someone who couldn’t speak Dutch – like us.
My mother can speak Dutch, obviously, but since my father wasn’t raised Amish, he didn’t want my mother speaking it in the home. Of course, he didn’t care if she spoke it to her friends and family, but he wanted to be able to understand what was said in his home. So us kids knew a smattering of Dutch – just enough to be dangerous, I like to say! But I can’t carry on a conversation past the: “What is your name? My name is…” stage.
So, of course, we would snicker at their English translations because some things you have to say differently in English – you can’t just translate verbatim! They were so used to talking in Dutch, that I am sure they thought in Dutch. I remember my cousins trying to think how to say something in English…they couldn’t always find a way to translate perfectly.
My cousins would have to get up at 4 a.m. to go milk their dairy cows. (yes, dairy cows and carpentry are the main Amish businesses it seems!) I loved getting up to go with them! When I heard my cousins getting up – I would jump out of bed and hurry down to go with them. I liked to watch them bring the cows in, feed them, and hook up the milkers. I would peek into the milk tank, mesmerized by the swishing, creamy milk. I was fascinated by the milking machines and their weird sucking noises. I was scared to death of being kicked by a cow, (still am!) and for the life of me couldn’t figure out how they could be so fat if they weren’t going to have a baby calf soon! 😉
Then I would crawl up into the hayloft with my cousin and watch him pitch hay down. It was very much like Farmer Boy. Once I climbed up into the silo with him, fascinated by the perfect layer of silage he was able to fork off and throw down the chute. The sweet, slightly sour smell of aging silage will stay with me forever.
I would beg to ride a horse, so they would put a bridle on their oldest, gentlest work horse, and I would bounce around on his wide back till I was covered in horse hair and sweat. Looking back, I am amazed at the patience they had with their horse-crazy little cousin!
Mealtimes were always a delight! My aunt was a great cook – as most Amish women are. The meal would start with a silent bowing of the heads – a prayer to ask God’s blessing on the food, they said. It ended with another silent bowing of the heads – this time to thank God for the food we had consumed. But I never remember an audible prayer spoken at that table. And to my disgrace – I don’t remember praying silently even once. I was just waiting impatiently for the quiet clearing of the throat by my uncle – signaling that the prayer was over and we could dig in.
In between the prayers was a feast. Sometimes simple – but always plenty of food and delicious. Mashed potatoes, gravy, meatloaf or chicken, jello salad, baby peas from their garden, homemade bread- fluffy and wonderful, with strawberry jam. For dessert was a chocolate sheet cake with sliced, sweetened strawberries from their strawberry patch – and thick cream! I would watch my cousins tuck away massive amounts of food. I was always amazed at how much – and how fast!- they ate! But to their credit – they worked their tails off between meals, and none of them were even close to fat. I have heard disparaging remarks about the Amish and their carb-laden foods. Well, in my experience – they needed those carbs for some serious energy! Most people I know these days don’t work nearly as hard as those Amish guys did!
My aunt and her daughters were also up before dawn. Usually, there was a couple loads of laundry washed and flapping on the line by the time breakfast was ready. They did mounds of laundry – all through a gas-powered wringer washer. I don’t know how the Amish do it these days, but in the 90’s that is what they used.
They also had gas-powered refrigerators and gas lights. I’m not sure how they got away with it – but I’m pretty sure my uncle had an electric freezer in the milk barn. They had to have electric in the dairy – to keep the milk cooled properly. So sometimes they would have telephones, etc, in the milk barn! 😉
Well, this is getting kind of rambly…. Hope you enjoy hearing some of my memories about the Amish in my life! If you have stories and experiences, please share! Just keep the comments family-friendly and kind.