My husband & I spent last Sunday night at an Amish family’s guest cottage. I had been there before because I buy beef and dairy from them when I am visiting a good friend of mine in Pennsylvania. I have always felt shy and wide-eyed when I am among the Amish, partly out of respect and partly out of fear that I might do or say the wrong thing.
We were very excited and felt privileged to be offered a stay at the guest cottage, and honestly did not know what to expect. I must admit that I did not know very much about Amish living. I was surprised to see that the guest cottage was fully equipped with running water and a gas-powered refrigerator and oven. The only thing missing from what I am used to was, of course, the electricity. So shortly after dinner we washed dishes quickly in the gathering darkness and then we drew pictures by the light of the gas lamp. It was a little strange taking showers in the bathroom with only a flashlight. The other thing I hadn’t anticipated was the quiet. With no electricity, there is no hum… I woke up in the morning to silence and a beautiful view out the window of cows grazing in a field.
On the way home Monday afternoon I was telling my husband how sometimes I wish I could be Amish because I love the simple lifestyle. I was telling him how I’ve always wanted to be a peasant from the old days, like Laura Ingalls, with 2 dresses; one plain and one fancy. As I was daydreaming about my new minimalistic lifestyle I received a text message from my sister Rachel: “I am at Ann Taylor–60% off–they have the purple hat you wanted!!” I gasped and my husband jumped, thinking it was an emergency, saying “What’s wrong?!” I furiously texted her back “Gasp!! Buy hat for me & I will pay you back!!” and then I started to laugh as I recalled my minimalism speech from only seconds before. After much thought I have decided that I tend to romanticize not only the Amish, but many different cultures, and in reality I am caught somewhere between princess and peasant.
What I think the Amish give to us, as outsiders, is a living history of our own past. They’ve preserved pieces of our ancestors’ daily lives, from horse-drawn buggies to bonnets to farming techniques and food preservation. If you would like to learn more about “plain living”, here are some great resources:
The Gift of Good Land: further essays, cultural & agricultural by Wendell Barry 333 BER: In these 24 essays, Barry talks about native agricultural processes and responsible stewardship of lands. In one essay he points out the differences between conventional and Amish farming. Farming uses more petroleum products than any other industry, but Amish use very little petroleum. They have more people at work in their farming communities in smaller spaces, but are very good about diversification and crop rotation, making good use of the land they have.
How to be a Perfect Stranger: the essential religious etiquette handbook by Stuart M. Matlins & Arthur J. Magida 291.3 HOW: This is a really great book for lots of different religions/cultures. I’ve used it many times. It’s great for any kind of ceremony you may be invited to. In this melting pot culture, it’s very useful since virtually everyone is a different religion or denomination of a religion.
Plain Secrets: An outsider among the Amish by Joe Mackall 289.777 MAC: What I like about this book is that the tone is much more respectful than other books about the Amish. This one is about an “English” (non-Amish) man who was friend and neighbor to an Amish family for many years. The book focuses on the loves and losses of this particular Amish family.
Amish Country by Ruth Hoover Seitz 917.48 SEI: Though the Amish typically do not like to be photographed, this is a collection of photos of Amish life, taken by Blair Seitz. The photos were taken in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which is the area I was in during my visit.
Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish by Sue Bender 289.7 BEN: Like Plain Secrets, this is an outsider’s view of the Amish. Sue Bender describes her months of living with two different Amish families in Iowa and Ohio. Her book centers around Amish quilting, which is what drew her to the Amish.
We have many more books about Amish living. You can peruse our catalog or stop by the blog table this week and check some out.
Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant at the Oliver Wolcott Library and is currently humming the song Dancing Queen off of ABBA’s Gold: Greatest Hits CD…