Saturday, January 9, 2021

For Northsider Dave

 Northsider Dave (*waving wildly* "Hi Dave!") wants to know more about the Amish. What I know would not be all that much really. 

They are a closed group, but we've gotten to know Levi, who owns a gas powered sawmill. He gets large piles of logs dropped off at his property and he makes them into 'rough cut' lumber. He's done a lot of work for us, as we were building our garage, and he has been a real blessing to us this year. 

Levi and his wife have eight children. I guess the oldest is maybe 12. The youngest is a baby who has a pretty serious genetic abnormality. He matter of factly told us what it is, but I matter of factly have forgotten. She is pulled about the property in a wooden wagon by her older sister. The boys all work with their father in the sawmill and they are a quiet bunch of kids. I once commented, "We've got a grandson that we need to bring here. Maybe your boys can teach him to be still!" Levi laughed, and said in his German accent, "They're quiet because you're here. After you leave, they will not be that quiet!" 

When we come around, they help load the truck. Tim and I help, but let me tell you something, Tim and I can carry 3 12 foot long 1 x 8s, Tim on one end, me on the other. Then you have Levi, a smallish, wiry fellow in his leather apron, who grabs four of them at a time and slides them on the truck alone like nobody's business. The kids lift and carry as well, quietly and wide eyed. I told them they make us all look bad. Levi laughed. His children looked very solemn. 

One time a pile of boards fell over on against a little bare legged child, and I immediately gasped, "Oh hon!" and stooped to make sure he was okay. He skittered back from me without a word. The Amish men who helped my sister and brother in law build their log cabin had a young teen working with him. That boy was trying to do the work of a man, and he was struggling. I said, "Don't try to carry that alone," and grabbed the other end. Tim pulled me aside, and said, "Don't do that! You are shaming him in front of the other guys." My sister, a nurse, talks about the time that a child came to the emergency room with a very gruesome gash on her arm that required stitches. She was quiet and wide eyed at all the commotion around her, but at one point, her chin began to quiver and her eyes filled with tears. Her father, holding her on his lap, whispered something to her in German. The tone did not sound stern. My sister said that the little girl immediately turned her face into her dad's chest and when she turned back there was not one sign of tears or fear. 

So there is a great deal to be respected about them. I bought a lot of produce from them this summer, mainly sweet corn, from their garden stands. The produce is quality stuff. The farm I used this summer had the largest green peppers I've ever seen in my life, probably 5-6 inches in diameter (13-15 cm). I was so amazed by these that I did dry some seeds, proof them, and put them away for my own garden next year. 

You cannot lump them all together and say that "Amish are this" or "Amish are that". They are as different from each other as night and day. Amish have a very bad reputation for the abuse of their animals. They run puppy mills. They see these animals as commodities, or something that to be used, like a tool. If the tool is no good, you discard it. 

Is that reputation deserved? In some cases, yes. 

But I can tell you that Levi and his family have an old well fed dog who pads around the sawmill just as quietly as the wide eyed children. He stands at Levi's side while he talks, and Levi bends down to rub his ears as he talks. The dog has never been inside the house and Levi is a little amazed at people who allow that. His dog sleeps on the closed in porch. He is never chained. Levi said, proudly, "I trained him myself. He knows when I have the gun, that he is not allowed to go with me." They also have a puppy. The puppy is chained, but I watched one of the older boys bringing a bucket of milk from the barn. He stopped to talk to the puppy and to give him a bowl of the milk he was carrying. I have never seen their horses, but I can tell you that they are kind people. I would expect that their horses were as well cared for as their dogs and chickens. 

That is in direct contrast to some of the animals you see tied to a Walmart light pole in the middle of the hot asphalt on a hot summer day. They look miserable and thirsty and the flies buzz around them. Their boney hips make you want to cry. You see some whose dogs cower when they come near. We do not do business with those Amish.

My husband bought tin to side a garage once. The tin was cut crookedly. The man refused to make it right, and sent his kids out to say that he wasn't home each time Tim came to talk to him. He still is in business to this day. 

My friends bought tin from an Amish fellow (a different one). Their neighbors (Amish) were putting on a front porch for them and directed them to the man that they needed to buy it from. 

Danny and Mary went where they were instructed. The fellow gave them the prices of his material. He explained to them that they could go on the internet to a site and figure out exactly what they would need. Danny and Mary said, "We don't have a computer." The man looked at them in astonishment. "You don't have a COMPUTER??!!!" He stood for a second (and I swear to you that this is the truth), he went upstairs and came back down a short while later with a computer printout. 

That is an interesting thing about them. Some construction Amish are quite handy with power tools. They may have quite a store of them carefully hidden away. Some just borrow yours. Some Amish have cell phones that they don't talk about. When I pulled mine out, the children gathered around to see the picture of the buck that Tim was so hopeful about (someone else got it first though). Levi would not touch the phone, and neither would his kids but they were all interested to see. 

Another friend had a Amish fellow staying with him for quite a while. The story was that the man worked for him. Probably some truth to that, but also the man was unhappily married. My friend said that you could hear often his wife screaming at him clear up at his house. 

One time, my friend asked, "Why aren't you allowed to have a phone anyway, or a tractor, or..." and the man said, completely deadpan, "Because I'm Amish, and Amish can't be happy. It's against the rules." Everyone laughed. He went on. "I'd have a truck if I was allowed, a shiny red one. I'd have a cell phone. And if they ever allowed an Amish man to have a divorce, I'd have one of those too."

As funny as it was, that was a very sad thing. The man had children. He was trapped. To leave the Amish would be to be shunned. He would never be able to speak to his children again. Another friend had an 18 year old boy who worked with him. The boy had made the decision to leave the sect. He lived with John and his wife as he was adapting to the world of the 'English' (which is what they call anyone who is not Amish). I was working for the county at the time. John and the boy pulled up and chatted for awhile as I loaded my truck up. I made some side comment to the boy, and he said, "That sounds like something my mudder would say." His voice was full of such longing that I just wanted to hug him. He saw his family out and about,  but a shunning means that they don't look at him, they don't speak to him, they don't speak about him. It is as if he is dead. 

So, I guess what I will tell you, Dave, is that they are as different from each other as any other group of people are. Some are good. Some are not good. Some men will stand around drinking whiskey and smoking and telling dirty jokes (not in front of women of course). My uncle was much surprised by that. Of course, he drank whiskey, smoked, and told his own share of dirty jokes. 

There are others who would never behave in such a way.

They don't believe in buttons, but they use safety pins.

It would be rude to photograph them.

They believe cars to be sinful, but will ride in them. 

They believe phones to be sinful but will use yours. 

When my friends were having a front porch put on their house, work stopped every day at a certain time. The men brought their lunch boxes in and sat in front of the television to watch Gunsmoke for an hour. 

Their children work with them almost as soon as they can walk. 

There are strict sects and other sects are not so strict. I am not sure how they reconcile the differences. But we know that Levi is a good man and a good father. We know that his wife makes good raisin filled cookies, and was pleased to be asked for the recipe. We know that the kids love chocolate and make sure to have some when we go. They are as good people as you'll ever want to meet. 


  1. This is the first entry of yours that I have read, and I've really enjoyed it. Thanks to Steve's blogroll (Shadows & Light) for bringing you to my attention. I'll be back! -Kate

  2. Thanks Debby for that. I don't really know what to say except we are all human and we all make mistakes. Like I have said before. You write very well.

  3. The shunning would be the worst of all - that is where it crosses the line for me. That is cruelty for having your own mind (or your child or loved one doing so).

  4. We had an Amish friend that cut down trees for people, he was a few miles from us but had a truck and saws. He told us he would not travel as far as our house for anyone but us. He left the stumps about 15 or 18 foot in the air. He had a friend that had a saw mill and he came and cut the tree stumps off to take to his saw mill. They were large pines. I had made friends with his wife in Sarasota where there is a large settlement of Amish, some year around and some winter there. They have the best places in town to eat. Like you said there are good and bad people in ever walk of life.

  5. I hope that I have not made you think I'll of them, Dave. There are commendable things and not so commendable things. But there are some very fine people. I could tell you stories...the time I was checking a mosquito trap when I worked for the county. I heard just the wildest clattering you ever was a runaway horse pulling a wagon. There was a woman standing, hauling on the reins. I did not know what to do. I caught a glimpse of her face deep in her bonnet...she was not at all afraid. She was purely exhilarated. It was so different from the quiet expressions you usually see. There was a lovely Amish woman who used to come to the farm store. She was loud and talkative and had the best laugh. I meant to make the point that you would be just as wrong to stereotype them as it would to stereotype any other group.

  6. That was a full and interesting report. Apparently, some Amish have a gap year for the young when they leave the clan and can go wild if they wish. I wonder if these follow that practice. It doesn't sound like it.

  7. With every religion I've encountered I've come across people who follow rules to the letter and others who don't - they simply feel culturally attached to something they grew up with. I guess this applies just as much to the Amish.

    I've never come across them. However, I spent a couple of weeks in North America in my youth. I remember the person we stayed with pointing out some people with a horse and cart and telling me that they were Mennonites.

  8. Mennonites are an off shoot of the Amish, I believe. They are still agrarian based, but some sects are allowed to own cars (they are always black) and the women have very nice kitchens with modern appliances. They worship as the Amish do, and they grow their food, have their farms, etc.

    AC, what you are referring to is rumspringa. I'm going to guess that they do, although I know nothing at all about it. I do believe that is how John's 'son' came to live with him and his wife.

    But if you look at it head on, you are looking at kids. 16 or 17 year old kids. They are told that they can dress as english, work at english jobs, run around with english.

    Here is my question: Imagine your children at that age. Imagine them leaving home and going out into the world. They have a chance to dress differently, watch television, ride in cars, work at English menial jobs (they don't have training to do much else). They could help people out on their farms. They could work in stores. They know nothing about computers. About answering the phone. How to turn on a light even. So they get a menial job and living is going to be very difficult because menial jobs do not pay the rent.

    Are they going to be afraid? Are they going to step out into that new world in confidence? Or are they going to long for the safety of what they have known all their lives?

    John's 'son' had a support system. He chose to remain in our world because he had someone who would teach him to navigate it. If an adolescent does not have that, they will almost always scamper right back to the safety of what they've always known, I would think. When you couple that with the idea that if they choose to stay, they are shunned for the rest of their lives, it is a huge price to pay.

  9. Fascinating post! I know little about the Amish and feel like I've learned a lot. Mostly not to stereotype.

  10. Our farm is situated between a huge colony of Amish to the north and west and a huge colony of "black bumper" Mennonites to the south and east. So I'm familiar with everything your wrote and then some.

    I often get asked about the Amish but it is hard for me to respond because everyone always thinks of them as one group when they are actually dozens of different sects, all with different rules. The ones closest to our farm are really old school all the way but the ones to the north all have telephone "outhouses" on the edge of their property with answering machines if you need to get in touch with them.

    One amusing story different than any you mentioned is that a neighbor hired an Amish crew to put up an outbuilding on his farm and told them that he would take care of lunch when they were working. The first day he took them to McDonalds and said they about broke him because most order two or three meals to eat. For the rest of their time putting up the building, he took them to an all you can eat buffet and after the first time or two, the staff always gave him a sour look when he walked in with his Amish crew because they really packed the food away.

  11. Your post was delightful to read. Yes, there are good and bad people in all groups - we are all human! Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog :)

  12. Gosh what a marvellous storyteller you are. You drew a picture of lives so different to the main stream. Thelma

  13. Fascinating personal reflections upon "The Amish". I think that the main thing I take from this blogpost is "You cannot lump them all together and say that "Amish are this" or "Amish are that". " Perhaps that's the same with any religion or indeed any nation of people. Generalisation is easy but rarely accurate.

  14. Yes. Except for the folks from Yorkshire. Those people are all alike.


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