If there’s a place in the United States that is beautiful and idyllic, it really has to be Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. The rolling hills, the beautiful farms, the peaceful towns, the Amish people…..
Amish? Those people? Those people who adhere to a ridiculously strict religion? Those people who isolate themselves from society? Those people who don’t use electricity, who don’t embrace modern conveniences? Those people who wear unusual clothes? Those people who reject popular culture? Those people who basically brainwash their children into a lifestyle of self sacrifice? What’s so idyllic about that, one might wonder. What’s so idyllic about being stuck in the past like the Amish people are?
Maybe I am an old romantic. Maybe I am nostalgic. Who knows, but for some reason I am fascinated by the Amish people. I am amazed that they have been able to preserve their culture in our modern world, where little tolerance is afforded to people who don’t adhere to cultural norms. The pressure to conform is immense, and I can imagine that the temptation to adopt modern conveniences, such as the automobile and electricity, has to be overwhelming. How could it not be?
When I reflect upon the Amish lifestyle I do have to hearken back to my father talking about his childhood in Finland. They had no power or automobiles. The winters were harsh; the summer seasons short. He tells me that the only good thing about the “good old days” is that they were a long time ago. Maybe he is right.
Lancaster, PA is about as darling a town as you will find anywhere! Unfortunately we only have time to drive through town. The rain washes away our desire to get out and explore the town. We plan to do a driving tour of the countryside here, followed by, believe it or not, dinner with an Amish family! I am so excited!
I have in my possession a driving guide for viewing some of the most beautiful parts of Lancaster County, including many covered bridges and idyllic Amish owned farms. I got this from the EJ Bowman Bed &Breakfast in Lancaster a couple years ago when David and I stayed here on an anniversary trip. This beautiful house is just a taste of the many incredible historic homes in Lancaster.
Now, if you’re ever in Lancaster I would highly recommend this drive to you! It’s not google maps, to be sure! Yeah, it’s old school, as no GPS coordinates are provided, but it’s surprisingly easy to follow.
David is going to examine the internal structure of this old wooden bridge.
I have to say I adore the horse and buggies that the Amish people use!
Oh dear, what is happening here? A humongous animal carcass is being hauled around by a skid loader. The Amish kids are looking on in amazement!
Country road…… take me home…..
We stop at an Amish market for some fresh berries and other goodies.
From what I understand these bridges were covered so that the bridge would last longer in the wet conditions.
Many of the Amish homes are big and beautiful. It’s common for many generations to share the home.
Do you see what I mean? It’s so serene and peaceful, quiet and beautiful! It’s as though in such a beautiful place nothing could ever go wrong!
David shows his girls a covered bridge. David’s parents are from Pennsylvania, and they have told about the many picnics they went on in their childhood to parks with covered bridges. Somehow it feels like a part of us belongs here in this serene and beautiful countryside.
I love the rolling hills and farms.
Pretty sure it’s an Amish owned farm if you see this vehicle in the yard. If the buggy is all black you may be looking at an old order Mennonite.
Looks like this horse and buggy is causing a traffic jam!
This cart is off to the market, I think.
Today is a little rainy and as a result we don’t get to see as many people outdoors as I would hope. I do, however, feel inclined to include some of my favorite photos from our previous visit to Lancaster.
I absolutely adore these school kids playing baseball! Check out the barefoot ball players!
Notice the young man walking home from school barefoot.
The school children were super busy chatting with one another on their way home from school.
The highlight of our day is yet to come, for we are going to have dinner with an Amish family! David and I had dinner in this home about four years ago. I loved it so much I wanted to be able to someday bring my kids for dinner here. That someday has arrived.
I had saved the name and phone number of the woman who owns this farm, Annie (not her real name), and about 2 months before our trip I had sent her a letter by snail mail asking if we could come again. I told her that this time we would be bringing our kids, and I hoped that they could have dinner with some Amish children! Needless to say, Annie said we were most welcome to come for dinner, but since it’s a working farm her grandkids would be busy with barn chores around the time we would be there. I am bummed we can’t meet the kids. Oh well.
Of course. I understand. I can see why they might be skittish about introducing their children to worldly people, and truly I would hate to be of any negative influence in their life. Perhaps Annie feels like our worldliness might make the children long to part from their Amish lifestyle, and for this reason she may want to limit the children’s exposure to outsiders. Kind of seems funny to think that I, who consider myself to be quite unworldly, could be perceived as a threat of worldliness to anyone. Surely having children avoid contact with persons outside of the Amish culture would be an effective means to retain youth within the community.
We are a few minutes early for our dinner party.
When we arrive at the Amish farm my family is a little bit hesitant. Come on! Let’s go!
Are you guys coming?
I take a peek in the barn. Looks like the cows are in for a milking!
Annie has a 30+ year old son with Down’s syndrome, who rushes out to greet us when we arrive. There’s no worry about us having a worldly influence on him, I suppose!
I think you can read my girls’ expressions. “Mom, are you sure about this!? Why are we here for dinner at this Amish family’s farm? What are we going to do? Just stare at them like they are some kind of a freak show?”
I really don’t know why the girls are so unsure! This is supposed to be fun and interesting, and an awesome experience.
I ask Annie if she minds me taking photos at the dinner table. She doesn’t mind, although I limit myself to just a couple.
There is another family of four at dinner with us. This family consists of a mother, two teenaged children, and their aunt. The mother has Stage IV breast cancer and is wearing a scarf on her head, clearly having lost her hair from the ravages of chemotherapy. I guess all her life she had always wanted to visit Lancaster County to see the Amish, and getting to have dinner in an Amish home is the ultimate experience for her.
Faced with an uncertain future, the family had decided it was time to fulfill their sick mother’s lifelong dream. They had flown into Lancaster from North Carolina – their first time ever flying anywhere.
The son leads a dinner prayer, our hands all clasped together with our neighbors around the table. Annie busies herself serving the dishes. The daughter eats nothing. She just picks at her mostly empty plate sporadically, expressionless and silent. The rest of us make uncomfortable small talk.
Annie begins to tell of her own woes. About six months ago her own daughter had been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. She has five young children. She has been getting chemo, but things are looking grim. But yet they are putting their faith in God, that a miracle might occur, that the little children would not become motherless, and a husband lose his wife. She tells us that the Amish, while conservative in many ways, are willing to use modern medical services and treatments.
Annie remembers that I am a nurse. She looks to me for reassurance in the midst of her trial. I have little to offer.
“It’s good to have faith, to believe in miracles,” I hear myself say, “It gives hope in adversity. Having a positive outlook makes all the difference. Having a good support network and people who love and care about you also makes a big difference.” What I don’t say is that I hate cancer. What I don’t say is that Stage IV cancer is horrible.
I see everyone’s heads nodding in agreement. A lump forms in the back of my throat. I can scarcely identify what it is that I am feeling as I absorb Annie’s story about her daughter. I feel almost betrayed, that in this beautiful setting, in this nostalgic and idyllic lifestyle there is sickness and impending death….. just like there is in the concrete jungle where I live. Of course I know that Amish people get sick, but with breast cancer? How? Why? They have a healthy lifestyle! The grow their own food! They drink milk from their own cows!
The son of the woman with cancer accidentally drops his fork on the floor. He leans down, picks it up and sets it on the table. I see Annie’s son, the one with Down’s syndrome, stand up. He picks the fork up off the table, walk towards the kitchen sink, turns around and quickly licks the fork as though to clean it, and places it back on the table next to the young man’s plate. The young man continues eating as though nothing happened, but uses only his spoon. Annie didn’t seem to notice.
The topic has changed, although the aura of sadness continues to permeate the air. Annie is telling us about how low milk prices are wreaking havoc on the Amish families in her community. With prices so low it is hard to keep food on the table. Many people have sold their farms and have moved away. Many have gone to a community in Florida called Pinecraft near Sarasota. I sense that to Annie going to Florida is a bit risqué for an Amish person, although it’s perfectly acceptable to travel there, even just for a vacation. There are buses that take the Amish travelers back and forth. One of her sons has already moved there.
We learn that the Amish are not really interested in converting people to their way of life, and for good reason, I suppose. Annie relates of a young man who converted, married a young woman of faith from this community, had a couple kids, and then decided the lifestyle was too hard for him. He left her alone raising the children. “It’s too hard if you haven’t been raised in it,” says Annie wistfully.
Annie tells us about “rumspringa” to clear up misconceptions. She says that television shows depict rumspringa as a timeframe during which an Amish youth can break rules and get wild, and freely test the world. But that’s not true, she insists. The Amish don’t encourage their youth to try the world! Rumspringa is a time for young people to get to know one another better, to mingle with kids their own age and to meet new friends. They get together at a farmhouse on Sundays for singing of hymns, some games, maybe some volleyball, and maybe even a time for courting. This is their own time away from a busy life of farming. Perhaps they will get to meet their future spouse with whom they will start a family.
We ask about shunning of family members if they leave the faith. Annie tells us that after rumspringa the youth decide if they want to be blessed in the faith, or if they want to leave. If one chooses to leave the faith prior to baptism the person is not shunned. Its a different story if one accepts baptism and makes a covenant with the Lord, and then later decides to leave. Those who have betrayed Christ may indeed be shunned by their community.
Annie tells us that the Amish children usually attend a nearby one room small school run by the church. They study the three “R”s, and their formal education ends at the 8th grade. The school is usually built on donated land and operates with funding from the Amish families. I am not sure how they get around the law in regards to mandatory high school. Our kids would be considered truant if they didn’t go to school after 8th grade and I quite likely would find myself in jail, or my kids in custody of CPS.
With a definitive air of regret Annie tells us that technology is infiltrating even their lives. The business men in the community now may have cellphones so they can take calls from customers, or they may have webpages on the internet. Their sect allows the use of electricity if the power is generated by yourself, such as by a gas generator. In fact, their own cows are milked by machine.
Perhaps a time will come when the Amish can’t stop the infiltration of technology in their lives. I really am amazed at how their culture has survived in the midst of this world, but I think that with the advancement of the digital age their traditional lifestyle may come under increasing pressure from outside influences.
When we compliment Annie on the many beautiful Amish farms in the area she tells us that everyone wants to have their farms look nice. In some ways, she says, it is a bad thing, because it can become a matter of pride, and the Amish must never become prideful.
The dinner ends with dessert, of course! Last time we were here Annie served whoopie pie and apple pie. This time the dessert is not as good. That’s just as well, since I shouldn’t be eating dessert anyway!
After dinner we head outside. Annie must have had a change in heart about allowing her grandchildren to interact with us, for she tells us that she will bring the children to meet us. We catch a glimpse of the their mother working in the barn.
Initially we get to meet the grandkids in the loft of the barn. They have a little shop in the loft where Annie sells framed artwork. Since the milk prices are so low they had to come up with a new income source, so Annie’s son builds picture frames and they sell them here for extra cash. The grandchildren are so darling. There’s seven of them. The oldest six are girls, and the baby is a boy.
I am trying to be a minimalist and don’t see anything to buy that really catches my eye, but the children are running the cash register and I can’t resist them. I pick out a picture. I add a $10 tip to the price for the girls, and their faces radiate from happiness.
My kids are shy about talking to the Amish kids. The oldest girl is Annika’s age, although she is much smaller in stature. No one is talking or asking questions, so it’s up to me. I ask the children about school. What grades are you in? What do you study at school? How old are you? I ask if they have any pets. Indeed, they have a dog that recently had puppies. They kept one of the puppies, but he has a floppy ear. Soon we go down to the barn to meet the puppy. The puppy is so energetic it’s hard to get a good photo.
The girls are so adorable. I love how they are working in the barn barefoot. I hate being barefoot because I hate getting my feet dusty or dirty, and I can’t begin to imagine how grungy my feet would feel walking around in a barn full of cows!
When we part I tell the Amish children they are beautiful, even though I know they are supposed to be modest and not pride in their outward appearance. I tell them to keep the faith, to keep their customs and traditions alive.
I turn to thank Annie profusely for allowing us to dine with her and her son, and especially for allowing us to meet her lovely grandchildren. I shake her hand sincerely, and upon doing so I press a fresh $100 bill into her hand. I don’t know if it’s too much or too little, but to me this experience has been invaluable.
The opportunity to learn firsthand about the Amish lifestyle has been beyond incredible, and I hope forever my children will see persons of minority status in a new light, for indeed these gentle people are definitely a minority. Perhaps they will see that it’s okay if a person doesn’t adhere to every social norm and the demands placed upon them by the culture at large. Perhaps they will have an appreciation for a simpler “alternative” lifestyle. Maybe they will develop a tolerance for different cultures and religions and heritage, especially for religious minorities that often are scoffed at. One thing is for sure, our world could use much more of these traits among its citizenry.
And so it is that our moment that we share with “those people“, the ones who are seemingly stuck in a bygone era, who are often accused of shunning their non-Amish neighbors, the plain people who don’t embrace new technology….. the moment in time that we shared was beautiful.
As we head down the driveway I look back wistfully. Could a person go back to that lifestyle? Would it not be beautiful in so many ways? How much simpler things would be! But alas, I should miss my car, and flying across the world to faraway destinations. I would long to be connected on the World Wide Web. I should so long to flip a switch to turn on the lights, and what of air conditioning….. all the creature comforts of our lives. It’s truly a lifestyle of self-sacrifice.
“Keep the faith!” I whisper to myself as the Amish farm fades away in my rear view mirror. And I mean it. It’s a strong people who can keep such traditions and faith alive, and a testament to the incredible religious liberty that we have in America. Somehow in my heart I doubt that the lifestyle will sustain another 100 years, as the immense pressure of financial, technological, social, and political forces bear down upon them.
“Keep the faith!” I whisper again. Maybe 50 years from now my children will bring their children here to this very farmhouse for dinner served by one of these beautiful girls that we just had the great privilege of meeting. And my darling grandchildren will lock eyes with Annie’s great grandchildren and they will know…. they will sense that we share an inexplicable bond…. a moment in history…. and each will wonder about the lifestyle of the other, incredulously examining their differences, only to find out that neither is that different from the other.