Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Running Off With the Amish

I'm staying home all day and doing laundry. At some point I might get around to scrubbing the tub and then I'm going to make a taco salad for dinner. If I can get my ass to the store for some buttermilk I intend to make a small chocolate cake and slather it with cream cheese frosting. I don't know how much of that I'll get done and I don't really care. I'd like to spend my last days of '08 relaxing and procrastinating. I wanted to tell you all more about my trip though, while I'm waiting for the laundry to dry.

My trip wasn't all bad, of course. One of the highlights was a visit to the Amish market. Outside of Millpond there is a thriving Amish community and the Amish have a big market that's open on Tuesdays and Fridays. For many years my mother's father, my Poppop June, owned a produce stand at the Amish market, so when I was growing up I spent a lot of time there. At the same time my grandfather lived on a road where an Amish family would drive through each week in their buggy and sell baked goods and each week we would buy pies and raisin bread that was covered in about an inch of white icing.

I grew up seeing Amish people fairly regularly. They would come to the grocery store periodically and you could always see their buggies with the big orange triangles on the backs rolling up and down the country roads. I've even seen Amish women at the beach picking beach plums to make jelly out of. When I was little I was desperately jealous of the Amish girls. More than anything I wanted to escape my life of white trash infighting to go off and live in what I imagined to be "Little House on the Prairie" come to life. I liked how the Amish girls dressed in dresses with wide skirts, just below the knee and little ankle boots. I don't know where the Amish get their fabrics. Maybe they make them themselves, but whatever they make their dresses out of is just beautiful. I've heard people say that the Amish just wear all black and that they're really solemn, but this isn't my experience of them. The women and girls wear dresses made of something that almost resembles taffetta, though slightly less shiny. It's some kind of very durable material, yet it has a luminous quality and looks oddly comfortable and the colors are these brilliant, saturated jewel tones like emerald, cobalt, violet and cranberry. They're really pretty, especially the blue. The only thing I haven't seen them wear are patterned materials.

During this trip I noticed that the Amish aren't exactly unhip. Many of their dresses were sporting the empire waist, pleats and a very pretty bell sleeve that's very stylish now. I could have put on one of these dresses and gone to school and no one would have thought I was dressed oddly or out of place in the slightest.

When I was little though, what I really wanted to wear was a bonnet. I also wanted to ride in a horse drawn buggy. It just seemed like the Amish really had it made. They only had to go to school until the eighth grade. The kids seemed to be able to have fun and they didn't have to deal with all the crap that I did like parents in jail, bitter custody battles, remarriages and strange patch work families. Plus, they got to eat all those delicious baked goods all the time. At one point I vaguely recall becoming disenchanted when someone told me that the Amish beat their children with sticks, but during this trip, when I visited the Amish market I felt a lot like I did when I was little. I wanted to run off with the Amish again.

It was partly the pretty dresses and bonnets, a little bit the buggies which they have all hitched up in a special buggy parking lot, and it also had a lot to do with the baked goods. Mostly it was because the Amish are just so nice and I happened to visit the market with BOTH of my grandmothers and they were ganging up on me. Naturally this would cause anyone to want to escape to the world of a nonviolent, notably quiet and isolated sect.

I noticed some interesting things that escaped me as a child. One thing that I never knew was that the Amish don't speak English to one another, but they speak perfect, nonaccented English to outsiders. I did some research and learned that they have their own dialect and it sounds very unusual, unlike any other language I've ever heard. It's derived from German but to me it didn't sound like German. Another thing I noticed is that people are always saying that the Amish shun outsiders and are unfriendly. Maybe certain groups do, but these Amish were incredibly friendly and outgoing and smiled constantly.

Teenagers work at the market. It's mostly girls but they have some boys too to do the heavy lifting types of tasks. The girls cook and serve all the food and they were right there making pretzels, cakes, cookies, pies and roasted meats. They all just seemed so happy and so satisfied doing productive work and knowing that they were creating products that were well made with lots of integrity. They acted like regular teenagers too! They were all laughing and joking and teasing one another as they worked and weren't stoic and serious at all, and all the girls were so pretty and blonde and rosy cheeked. At one point I saw one of them texting on a cell phone, which was quite shocking but then I realized what was going on. All the teens who work at the market must be there during their year of rumspringa, the year where they get to experience secular things before they make their lifelong committment to be Amish and give all that up. Well, they seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot and they seemed like really normal (just happier) teenagers.

I got really hungry at the market but most of the foods I couldn't have, which made me a little sad. Still there was the wonderful meat and one of the Amish girls, who had these enormous blue eyes, excitedly asked if she could get me something. I explained to her that I can't have wheat and guess what. Amish people certainly know what wheat is in, unlike the servers at Red Lobster and Panera, ahem. And you know what else? It didn't give the Amish girl a moment of pause at all. She didn't start commenting about how awful it must be to not be able to eat wheat and she never said she'd just die if she couldn't eat wheat and she never asked me what on earth do I eat, like most people do when I tell them.

Now at the roasted meat stand they put the meat on sandwiches (which look insanely good) so when I said I couldn't have wheat the Amish girl said she would find me a container to put some meat in and that she would get me a knife and fork and that I would still be able to enjoy it and off she sprinted to get it done for me. A few second later she came back with a container and utensils and even a napkin and then she gave me extra pork loin to make up for the lack of bread. Then she smiled this gigantic, bright smile and said she knew I would love my lunch and that she hoped I had a really Merry Christmas. I hadn't had anyone be so nice to me in so long, especially while eating out or shopping, that I actually got all choked up.

Isn't that sad though? When I thought about it later I thought how sad it is that because someone showed me simple kindness and compassion, which should be customary everywhere, that I was so moved by its unusualness, that it made me cry. People in service positions, in stores, restaurants or wherever should always be that sincerelely sweet and friendly and accomodating, but they aren't at all. I

think living down here someone is rude to me at least once every day, and I understand why and let them get away with it. Most people in service positions are rude because their customers are rude and mean to them. They're rude because they have bosses who are unfair, impatient and unsupportive. Customers down here are rude because they're from New Jersey. Just kidding. I'm not sure why the customers down here are so rude. I might explore that in its own post one day.

I find myself so fearful of being a rude customer that I go way far out of my way to be really nice to service people, but even that doesn't usually work, and when I find a server or a clerk or someone in a store who is genuinely kind and offers me good service I usually make a big fuss and compliment them to their boss if I can because I want to reward this. But then I think, isn't that how they're supposed to be? Shouldn't the rude employees be the rare, strange ones, not the nice ones?

In the end I managed to control myself and not run off with the Amish. I resisted the forbidden allure of cinnamon raisin bread with white icing, horses, farmhouses and bonnets. But if one day I disappear suddenly, the first place they should look for me is Lancaster County (nowhere near where I was, but if I run off with the Amish I don't want to live in Millpond).

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another stellar piece of writing from my favorite author. You have the best blog on the whole internet!

Kate said...

I always love your writing, but this one especially resonated because I grew up in Lancaster and had a secret Amish crush in childhood too! Did you also know they are allowed to run around and party during their teenage years (their parents turn the other way, too) before they're baptized and become real Amish? One time I saw a whole truckload of them outside a movie theater, sharing a single (tobacco) cigarette.

Rich said...

When did you get diagnosed with Celiac? A friend of mine has it, but he wasn't diagnosed until they had done some extensive tests on him, and biopsied his small intestine. I didn't know you had this done. It kills him that he can't drink beer. The sorghum - brewed beer they make for Celiac people is, uh, awful.

Ordinary Housewife said...

I've been trying to glean clues from your blog about where "Millpond" is and I've long suspected it's my hometown, because you grew up with the same insane people I did and your visits back home are eerily like my trips back home. This Amish tidbit gets me closer to the truth . . . ;)

I wanted to be Amish, too, when I was little. I also wanted to be a nun, but I wasn't even Catholic. It was all about the outfits for me.

Wide Lawns said...

I wasn't officially diagnosed with celiac like your friend. I had blood tests which were inconclusive, so the doctor told me to stop eating gluten and then my stomach problems dramatically improved within about a week. I also have an autoimmune disease which goes with celiac disease, so the rheumatologist told me that even if I don't have official celiac disease that following a strict gluten free diet will improve the symptoms and inflammation caused by the disorder. So far, so good. Both doctors were right.

KT said...

I didn't grow up around the Amish, but now I am way jealous that you did! I've always been kind of fascinated by the lifestyle -- and I really enjoyed this post :)

sallyacious said...

Your writing tends to go right to my core somehow and pierce me with this gorgeous, wistful honesty.

I've often wondered why people are so rude and grouchy to each other when it's just as easy to be polite and kind. And you feel better after being nice to other people. So do they.

JoeinVegas said...

Sorry, but I like my Ipod and Iphone and computer way too much. I can see where going to a simpler life might sound nice though.

Sinclair said...

You've got to be kidding me! When hubby and I want to go for a ride we drive to Intercourse in Lancaster and shop at the Amish Market. Then we keep driving and buy cheese and veggies at the homes with produce stands.

Their food is so fresh, inexpensive and they are incredibly friendly - so much I've wondered if when they get dressed they also choose to put on their best smile.

Enjoy procrastinating and thank you for another year of great writing. I silently envy your writing skills and sense of humor. Happy New Year!

Deneen said...

Thanks again for another excellent piece of writing. It was especially enjoyable since I had just come back from competing with the entire county for a parking spot at Publix, and the Amish market is the total opposite.

I live in South Florida too, but I came here for grad school and then I'm gone. I ask myself the same questions about customer service that you do and have come to the unhappy conclusion that in SFL being nice, or even just polite, will bite you in the ass. Every time. Between the culture and the sheer number of people piled on top of one another, people mistake kindness for weakness and will try to take advantage of you if you're nice. (Try to let just one car in front of you in traffic and see if I'm wrong.) And when someone treats you like a person, yeah...it's kind of shocking.

Just a little bit of sociological theory from a chemistry student (which explains why it's probably totally off base). Keep up the good work, your blog is one of the highlights of my week.

Purple Hydrangea said...

I don't think it is silly to have gotten teary eyed at all.. Just reading about it made me choke up and tears welling... I am new to your blog and have to say it is quite enjoyable. Happy New Year!

Modern Philodoxos said...

i know exactly what you mean. i have always told people i wanted to be amish. it has nothing to do with the religious element. it's the fact that how they live seems so simple and pure and civilized. here in indiana, up north, the wal marts have hitching posts for their buggies! there's even a tourist racket some places where you can stay at bed and breakfasts and be among the amish and get tours of their farms and such. i want to do it.

Mattie said...

As always, I love reading your stories.

But, I have a question so I've come out of my lurking corner.

You said, "seen Amish women at the beach picking beach plums to make jelly out of."

I have NO idea what a beach plum is!

If you have a moment, could you enlighten me?

Michelle said...

I hear it isn't all peaches and cream in Amish communities; they can have serious problems with crime, child abuse, drug abuse, incest, and a host of genetic diseases. And they're not against all technology, just what they consider unnecessary or "fancy"; they may be allowed to have a telephone for business purposes if it's in a separate building, for instance.

Still, they do make the simple life look idyllic. I could never give up my precious Internet though.

eitgc said...

I was teary-eyed reading your post too. That girl's act of kindness has had an impact on so many people ...


Thanks for your excellent writing - I always enjoy reading your blog.

Happy New Year!

ty-ping said...

As an ex service person I always tried to be nice, or at least decent to people. I think the rudest thing I've ever done to a customer was refuse to put up with their shit and I called a manager and went on a brake.

I can, to an extent understand why many of them can be rude. A lot of them are being under paid and over worked. It's hard to not look tired, bored or angry when you're on the 8th hour of your shift, or 15 min. before closing and someone comes into your section and all you're thinking about is how much your feet hurt and how little the table you just bent over backwards for tipped.

But just think, you being a good customer makes them remember you like you remember good service. And in the name of McWorkers, Waitresses and Walmarter's everywhere I thank you and hope you will continue your kindness.

Also.

I've never seen an Amish person in my life, but I'd like to, they seem interesting.

kerry said...

I react the same way some days to those tiny kindnesses from someone. Amazing, how one tiny thing can turn your day *around*. I agree that kindness ought to be the rule instead of the exception, but that seems to be backwards from reality. Maybe that's why I like Disneyland so much- the kindness seems to be more widespread.

Michelle said...

A few years back I bought the entire series of Little House books for my oldest daughter. I ended up reading them all myself and thinking the whole time how wonderful it would have been to live in that time period. I understand it was a harsh life for them but the possibilities for them were endless. It just seemed like such a pure life. I totally get your draw towards the Amish.

Steph said...

I worked in the service industry (waiting tables and bar tending) for 10 years, and I can tell you, it can turn you into a bitter, angry person. Some people are just so rotten, it gets to you after awhile... It was always so refreshing, though, when I would get one of the genuinely nice people (like yourself)at my table or at the bar. It used to make my day..

Happy New Year to you, Wide Lawns, and thanks for sharing your stories with us. I always look forward to your updates.

Living said...

The Amish are some of the most amazing people... I have family who live in Lancaster, PA and the surrounding area and everytime I go and vist them I'm amazed at the hospitality that the Amish give when you go to their stores... I lived out there for about a year and became pretty good friends with a family out there and still to this day 11 years later I remain in contact with them...

BoB said...

It's Pennsylvania Deutsch or Pennsylvania Dutch or a host of other similar sounding names. i was in the army with a guy who had a tape of people singing in it. Maybe he was born amish?

Sauntering Soul said...

This was a totally lovely post.

Happy New Year to you Wide Lawns!

nicrogers said...

I live near Amish and you are correct that when you visit their markets they are very nice. You are after all helping to support them. But otherwise when we see them around town they are just a tiny bit rude. They shop in my grocery store and even walmart. But they love yard sales the most and look out cause they love them some baby clothes! They will run you over for a onesie! lol But i have no gripes about living along side of them. My vegetable stand I frequent is owned by an Amish family and it is awesome and so cheap and completely organic. Who can complain about that?

Deb said...

I grew up in Iowa near a small Amish community. On Saturday mornings they would sell baked goods, canned goods, quilts etc out of their homes. We would go and stop at each one as well as their general store. It was an amazing journey back in time, and everything we bought was delicious! Next time I get back home, we'll have to take my daughter to visit the Amish. Thanks for taking me back to my childhood.

Books & BS said...

I grew up a county away from Lancaster in PA. It sounds a lot like the Amish market there. I always loved the Amish to the point where I made my parents buy me a bonnet that I wore all summer. We still go out there from time to time now. I even bought my dog from an Amish family which I know there has been a lot about the puppy mills and the Amish in PA but the family I went to get the dog from had both the parents running around and I was greeted at my car by 5 cute Amish kids plus the three Boston Terriers. They were so friendly and the kids sat with me and chatted until their father came in from the fields.
I think the language they speak it Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German. My grandparents were able to speak it but they were not Amish. It was the language of the Germans who settled in PA. The Amish have held onto it though. I do remember my grandfather telling me it's not actually the same dialect of PA Dutch they speak though but some sort of what he called "high German".

Sadi said...

Deb, was that community near Ottumwa by any chance? I have a great aunt in that area, and we always visit the Amish community when we go see her.

I remember reading Little House as a girl and wanting a gingham dress and a white bonnet!

Thanks for another great piece of writing!

Heather said...

I am not a naturally nice person, but I take great pains to be polite and friendly when dealing with anyone in the service industry. I realize their jobs are often boring, underpaid, tedious, and that customers can be rude. South Florida sounds like it's a lot like Baltimore in terms of rudeness -- I don't go as far as giving the person a compliment to their boss, but I will definitely return to a business with nice employees again and again. That's why Trader Joe's is my favorite grocery store. Everyone there is nice. Everyone. I can't say that about any other grocery store in Baltimore.

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