We had the good fortune to have had two "Amish Experiences" while Deb was here. The first was a daytrip we all made to Adams County, Ohio, where there is an Amish settlement which was founded in 1976. There is a small town, and an Amish business place with several shops including a large furniture store, a delicious-smelling bakery, a bulk foods store, and a little ways down the road, an Amish smallgoods store where the locals purchase their fabric and patterns and books and games and kitchen items. This is a place worth visiting, if you live not too far away.
Later, Deb and I and the two babies took a road trip up to Wayne/Holmes county in the north-east of Ohio. We really had no idea what to expect, except for what I'd gleaned from the very helpful Wammy who had recently traveled up there.
After a very long drive, made a bit longer with a stop at Bob Evans for America's Worst Breakfast, (which was very yum indeed, and Deb, here's a link for you if you wanna try it again at home ;-) ), we found our way to a famous Amish/old-world/non-electric supply shop called Lehman's.
It was quite late in the day when we arrived, and the babies were tired, but nevertheless we did manage to more-or-less take it all in, from the oil lamps to the hand-cranked washing machines.
Oh, and we had our first pie of the week (it turned into a bit of a pie-fest by the end, but what else would you expect?) I don't remember what kind it was, for those who are dying to know.
I made the best purchase of the trip at Lehman's -- an Amish Highways and Byways map which clearly showed all the little routes between the main roads, along which the Amish farms and schools are located. That good buy was purely serendipitous, as I happened to see the map on the way out of the store, and on a whim, decided to pick it up. :-) Also picked up the local version of The Budget, an Amish/Mennonite newspaper locally produced in Sugarcreek, Ohio, and shipped worldwide, to update Amish and Mennonites on distant families' news.
Saw our first horse and buggy trotting by, on the road that went past Lehman's. We knew we had entered Amish farmland when we saw the cornstalks all set up in cone-like shocks. It was touching, in a way that I can't explain, and it took us a while just to absorb the atmosphere.
We did enjoy driving around, as the countryside was so beautiful, and eventually found our way to Guggisberg Swiss Inn, near the Guggisberg Cheese Factory.
It was quite late by the time we checked in, on a Thursday night, and so we opted to eat dinner nearby, at the Chalet In The Valley.
The dinner was fantastic, and the atmosphere was...well, quiet. It was so very dark, and so quiet, out there in the middle of Amish farms and countryside. We didn't have much else to do, naturally, at that time of the evening, and the babies were tired, so we went back to the room to put babies to bed, figure out what we would do with our limited time the next day, and eat the three slabs of pie from the Chalet (peanut butter, cherry, and peach, for those of you who are dying to know ;-) ).
The Inn puts a snack out in the evenings, in the sunroom, for the guests. A platter of Guggisberg cheese and tasty ham, with crackers, and of course tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. There are books and games available to borrow, if you have nothing to do, and the place was very, gently, homey-feeling. The next morning was just gorgeous. Sunny and crisp. We were so happy just hanging around at the Inn, and looking at the countryside, that we got a latish start. But it was delightful. We ate more ham and cheese, and pastries, and drank lots of tea, and wandered around the grounds with the babies wrapped up in the nippy air.
We made our first stop that day, at the Guggisberg Cheese Factory. It was Swiss-looking, and there were a good crowd of tourists already. We wandered around in there for a little while, watching the cheese being made; and bought some cheese and a few other trinkets to take home.
But what we really wanted to do, and eventually did, was talk to the crinkly old Amishman with a folding table set up along the road on the edge of the field across from the Cheese Factory. Nearby, a little girl with two small children, and a buggy, and two or three horses tied to a tree, was selling baskets.
So we made our way over there, to the elderly gentleman's table. His was sort of a yard sale, with a few jars of jams, jellies and pickles his wife had made and sent along, and a box full of handpies, which naturally, we had to try. So we purchased from the Amishman, two handpies (grape, and cherry, for those who are dying to know,) and a jar of pickled beets, and three second-hand matchbox cars ("Tree Quaters," said he, with a thick accent I had trouble deciphering).
Then, and this was possibly the highlight of the trip, for me, anyway....we went and talked to the little Amish girl. Well, we looked like we were looking at the baskets, but really truly -- wanted to speak to her.
She initiated the conversation, wanting to know about our babies. Deb and I were both toting the babies around in our hand-made wraps and the little girl was concerned that my baby Katy was unhappy in her wrap. Which was true, at that particular moment, because my baby Katy was being a little fusspot, but that had nothing to do with the wrap.
So, then, when we explained the wrap to her, she had about a million other questions for us. Like, did we have any more children, and were we going to have any more besides the five that each of us already have. And, why I was wearing pants while Deb was wearing a skirt. And, why didn't we use bottles to feed our babies. And, how old our children were.
Of course, we had plenty of questions for her too: but we limited the q's and just let her talk -- she is one of 10 siblings, Mamma just had a baby a week ago, which is why she was out selling baskets; the siblings along with her were 5yrs and 3 yrs old; her Mamma always feeds the babies with bottles; "they" make the baskets, (after which we realized she meant a collective "they," as in "the Amish" make the baskets, not she and her siblings.)
The little brother and sister were as cute as could be. They were sitting on stumps behind the buggy, with the back doors open, eating a packed lunch of fried chicken and I don't know what all else, but their faces were messy and sticky, and they looked very content. The weather was sunny, but it was cold too, and the older and younger girls wore black bonnets and "shawls", which were black woolen capes. The little boy wore a shirt with suspenders and a straw hat.
The Amish girl was a good budding saleswoman, asking me if I liked to "soo" (took me a minute to realize she was saying "sew") and trying to sell me a slightly damaged sewing basket for $60, which I wanted to buy, but didn't...
Anyway, I had strangely mixed feelings about the whole exchange when we were done. It had to be a big responsibility to sit at the edge of that busy road, for what turned out to be a LONG day, with two little children and a couple of horses, selling baskets. For all I know, she does that every day. It was chilly and had to be boring for the little ones. You get the idea that the Amish children have a very busy but idyllic childhood...but I wouldn't want my own daughter, just a year or two younger than that little Amish girl, to be standing at the side of the road for hours on end, trying to make a living.
Turns out there were a few other times I had this same mixed feeling as we went through the day.
So, we drove on towards Berlin (BER-lin, the Amish call it,) and stopped at Hershberger's Truck Patch and Bakery, where we looked at more pies, and more pies, and more pies, and bought some whoopie pies, and a birdhouse gourd fresh off the truck.
In the parking lot, an Amishman had a stall set up, with a fire and a big iron pot hanging over it from a tripod. Oh, the smell was heavenly, and we headed over there to see what he was doing. "My wife is usually here to help me do this," he apologized as he bagged up huge bags of freshly popped kettle corn. One taste of that, and we were hooked. Bought a bag and asked directions to the flea market near Berlin, which he gave.
On the way to the flea market, we stopped in at Coblentz Chocolate, because we hadn't killed ourselves on the food yet and weren't about to stop trying. Watching the girls in the factory, primarily Amish teens, who were dipping marshmallows in rich, fragrant chocolate, I had that same sort of small, sad feeling -- that I wouldn't want my daughter with an 8th grade education, to have to stand there hour after hour on the marshmallow assembly line, until the day she married or not. As heavenly as being around chocolate all day might seem. And taste. Mmmmm.
The flea market was a little disappointingly like the old Midland Markets, except for the fact that Deb and I started to feel like a tourist attraction, ourselves, toting along our little babies in the wraps. I don't know how many people, Amish included, who stopped and commented about the babies and the wraps. Or how many asked if they were TWINS (??), I suppose because the wraps were made from the same fabric?! We had a nice chat with one Amish lady in a gorgeous little Americana shop, who said she had been one of 13 children (I think) but had none, herself. She was awfully sweet, and when we said Deb was visiting from Australia, she hesitated for a second, and replied, "That's across the ocean, not?" :-)
Deb and I were pretty tired from all the walking, toting the babies, so we decided to pull out the Highways and Byways map and drive around for a bit.
That was the best. Those backroads, many of them unpaved, gravel roads, were the Amish community roads. The farms alongside were closer than most farms are to each other, I suppose because they are primarily old-world farms, not worked with big machines. So we could see that the Amish had the advantage of farming with neighbors. It was like a picturebook.
Most places had mailboxes at the end of the driveway, with handlettered signs: Yoder, Miller, Bontrager, Raber.
We could have driven back there all day. Wish we'd had two days there so we could have had more time to do that.
In the afternoon, we made another serendipitous visit, to the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin. It was staffed at the time by an old order Mennonite man and an Amishman, who appeared from nowhere to get a look at the "Australian lady." It was another one of those strange experiences where they had as many questions about us as we did about them.
We did not opt to see the Cyclorama tour, as it was expensive and we had pied-out our funds, pretty much, but there was a fantastic book store with all sorts of Amish religious books, as well as books written by people of the area. I purchased a booklet on modest dressing, and a book about the award-winning Dr. Lehman. Deb purchased a Pennsylvania Dutch Amish Bible, and a few other books as well. When we went to pay, the Mennonite man commented that my book was about "his" doctor. :-)
In the back of the center was a small display of Amish clothing -- various hats and dresses of the different Amish groups, with descriptions and explanations. There were even a few Amish Kapps to try on, because they KNOW you want to, and we did, and we did. :-P
It was getting late in the day but we had time while it was still daylight to stop in at a quilt shop. That was a true feast for the eyes, and made me actually want to finish my quilt, so I can start on one I saw there, which is too hard to explain here. So much talent and hard work in one little area. We sat on the front porch in the rocking chairs for a little while, just taking it all in, and rocking, rocking with our babies as the horses and buggies trotted by.
It was getting too late to see much more, and we had a long drive home, with not very good directions (oops). So we headed out towards Sugarcreek (Sugarcrick, the locals call it), aiming to stop at whatever restaurant we could find on the way, for our last chance at Amish cooking. We drove past the Budget publishers, and through the very small town of Sugarcreek, and happened upon a restaurant called Beachy's Country Chalet. At the very same time, we noticed across the small street an IGA and Dollar General side-by-side with a parking lot FULL of buggies. We had inadvertently found the shopping place of the local Amish. LOL. So, since the babies needed fed, we parked in there for a bit to watch the Amish buy stuff.
It was a natural curiosity for two fairly frugal girls who like to cook and like to eat and do most stuff the old-fashioned way. So, we nursed and watched and nursed and watched.
Then, we shopped. Yep, went on into that old IGA and Dollar General to see what was for sale. Well, it was just the usual stuff, plus some locally grown produce and Guggisberg cheese. And the Amish buy clothes detergent and flour and hot chocolate mix and Doritos. And their children beg for stuff they can't have, in Pennsylvania Dutch. Now you know.
There were many times I was tempted, and wanted, to take pictures on this little trip, but didn't because the Amish don't like to be photographed, and it's embarrassing already to BE a tourist without acting all touristy. Having lived as a local in a tourist area, I didn't really relish being that outsider. Anyway, I couldn't resist trying to get a pic of the Amish shopping, but this was the best I could do, because it was dark, and I was trying not to be seen with my giant camera.
When it was well and truly dark, and getting late, we went on over to Beachy's for dinner. The parking lot had several buggies in it, which we took as a good sign, and there were several large Amish families eating dinner inside. We ate a good meal while the waitresses kidnapped our babies and took them around to meet all the regulars. We truly felt we were in some alternate universe by the end of that day, and that meal.
So....that was our Amish trip, but the fun was not yet over, because we still had a 4-hour drive home, with no real directions....which involved a slow drive through Millersburg while zillions of little non-Amish children were trick-or-treating in Halloween costumes, and getting pulled over near a loud Halloween emo teen party in the town square, by a very nice deputy who only gave me a warning for not following traffic signs (oops), and then miles and miles of pitch black roads, for a couple hours...turning around once or twice...finally making it to somewhere near Columbus, but not knowing where...driving into Columbus and following a random line of traffic, thinking that at least they were going somewhere, and not in circles, and sooner or later we'd hit a freeway (and we did:-) ), and finally making it home somewhere after 1am -- very tired, very weirded out, and very happy :-)
What a great trip. Can't wait to go up there again.