A lot of folks idolize the Amish, and envy their way of life — even wishing there was some way they could live like that. It is a good life, but one that requires long hours of hard work, with many less conveniences than the rest of us enjoy. It is possible for any of us to live very simply, but the Amish lifestyle is so intertwined with faith and community, that to truly live like them would almost require joining them or a similar group. The Amish are devoted to a lifetime of living by the Bible and the obeying the rules of the church. Living in community and helping each other is one of the prime factors of their culture — both a blessing and a deep commitment to the group.
The community of Amish around here, particularly the Swartzentrubers (the strictest group in terms of lifestyle), don’t make a big deal about anything. They just go about life, keeping a low profile, and doing what needs to be done to make a living and keep food on the table. Farming is their preferred vocation, but large families and dwindling available acreage makes it difficult for a lot of the upcoming young families to remain in the home territory. For this reason, many families have moved to other places and other states to find farmland where their families can expand and stay nearby. Others remain in the home area and figure out different ways to make a living.
Logging, carpentry, large truck patches, furniture building, and numerous cottage industries help provide for the family’s needs. Amish entrepreneurs abound, and many are very successful. They graduate from grade eight, get busy working and learning a trade, and by the time most “English” (non-Amish) young adults are graduating from college with a large debt, the Amish young men will have mastered their trade, and often have their own business. They have fewer options, but are very industrious, and the world still needs the services they provide.
The women help with the income, too. You can go for a drive in the countryside and find any number of primitive signs at the ends of driveways advertising baked goods, eggs, brooms, rugs, canned goods, hand-woven baskets, quilts, comforters, wall-hangings, maple syrup, sorghum syrup, strawberries and vegetables in season. The entire family is involved in much of the work. Their prices are great, and in most cases, the quality is excellent.
There’s a Swartzentruber Amish fellow by the name of Eli who sits out at the end of Kidron Rd several days a week when the weather permits. He sells high quality products made by himself and others. He’s a friendly guy — always a smile and a wave if you’re driving by — and good conversation if you stop. He makes woven baskets in many different sizes and shapes, and his wife makes wall hangings and quilts.
One day I stopped to talk with Eli and asked him how the sales were going. “A little slow for a Saturday,” he replied, “A couple rugs and some jars of canned beets, but no basket sales yet.”
I was looking for an item he didn’t have on display—a straw hat made in a Swartzentruber Amish home. Local stores sell them, but it’s always fun to buy direct, and speak with the person who made the item. At first, Eli was hesitant to suggest where I might find them. Then he told me of a family who “might sell me one.” Since I am “English”, he wasn’t sure if they would sell me a hat.
The barn raisings paint the most graphic picture of how the Amish community comes together to help each other. It was fun to observe the next best thing in June, when an old barn belonging to neighbor Jacob, was enlarged and given a complete face-lift. First, all the old roofing was torn off, as well as the roof rafters and runners. Nothing left but the side walls, and the main frame—a skeleton waiting to be rebuilt.
The project began way back in late winter. I noticed that Jacob and his son Henry were cutting large trees in their woods, and dragging the logs out to the saw mill located in their pasture.
In the spring, the saw mill was up and running, and they were cutting many different sizes of beams and boards. Later, as I walked down the road past their farm, Henry told me about their plans for barn renovation. After learning the planned date, I made plans to be there and watch from a distance.
It was exciting to see nearly two-hundred men all over the ground and crawling on the barn, rebuilding and reskinning it.
By day’s end, the barn looked like a new one. Can you imagine tackling a job like that with family and a couple friends. Or hiring a crew to do it with a crane? This is one of the best ways the Amish look out for each other, and it is heart-warming to observe how they cooperate to accomplish a large task.
In our area, there are scenes every day that bring a nostalgic yearning to those of us who love doing things the old-fashioned way. The Amish aren’t doing it for fun. It is their way of life, and we are privileged to observe. Much can be learned from them. Come our way when you can, and enjoy a pleasant drive in the peaceful, colorful countryside.