Betty Duffy

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Cure for Amish Moods

The Amish mood came upon me earlier in the week, when my baby wandered out towards the street, and my imagination did a number on me in terms of what could have happened to him in a worst case scenario. And in my heart of hearts, I felt a flourishing sense of resentment towards the vehicles passing my house.

Why do there have to be cars anyway? Why do they have to be on my road? Why do I have to live with anxiety about teenage drivers and children on bicycles and babies who can walk but cannot discern inherent danger? All the important things about my life, like keeping my children safe and alive, would be easier if the world weren’t so darned advanced.

I realize my stance is full of flaws and naivete. I realize that I have benefited in a number of ways from modernity, for example in the blanket effect of mass vaccination, and in the light bulbs and electronic devices which enlighten and enable these words. Still, I called my friend who has her finger in every pie, the one who knows how to purchase raw milk and cheap organic chickens on the invisible market, who can find cleaning ladies and mother’s helpers who only charge 8 dollars an hour. She’s my Amish connection, and she had mentioned a piece of real estate buried thick in the heart of Amish country, just about twenty minutes from my house.

“It has a natural gas well,” she said, which I have since learned costs about 45 K to dig, and insures, alongside a water well, a lifetime of self-sufficiency. Also the house sits on five fully fenced acres with three outbuildings. “It is Amish,” she went on, “So you’d have to wire it, which would be an expense, but they’re only asking 150K for it.

This conversation took place several weeks ago, and I hadn’t thought much about it, because what’s not to love about where we’re living? Our house is the house that the three little piggies built—brick walls that are at least a foot thick. It’s not going anywhere, and we have five acres and outbuildings and we’re close to town, which is convenient. But close to town means traffic, and people and danger—which is precisely what’s not to love during this interval when the baby doesn’t know what lurks just one toddle in the wrong direction.

So I followed my friend on the maze of roads, past rivers and woods, and giant combines kicking up dust as they bring in the corn and tidy fields for the winter. We passed double-wides with many cars parked in spacious yards, and came to a settlement of tidy, white clapboard houses on acreages with no cars in the driveway. The roads narrowed so that the very few cars passing had to slow down and pull to the side.

We pulled into the driveway of her friend, Pauline’s, and I waited outside while she went in to ask for directions. The curtains parted on the window, and a little Amish boy stood there staring, alongside his little dog. I suppose it’s not every day that two mini-vans full of English children and women in sunglasses park in his driveway. My children stuck their heads out the window of the car and waved. The little boy waved back.

Down the street a group of children played baseball in the skirts, suspenders and bonnets that set them apart from the world. And further down the road, Amish men in straw hats pushed logs through the sawmill.

In the summertime, a couple of Amish had set up a strawberry stand at the local Denny’s. They sold large baskets of berries for five dollars apiece, and when I asked for two baskets and took out a twenty to pay for them, the man took my twenty, not even attempting to make change, and said, “For twenty dollars you get five baskets.” He had such a friendly smile and shrewd business acumen, I couldn’t say no. And when I got in the car with a crate full of berries, my husband said, “You just got taken.” But I didn’t care. The guy was Amish.

My friend has said that it takes time to earn the trust of the Amish. They will want to know your business. They will watch you from afar for a long time, and slowly, they may become your friend. But even then, it will be a long time, if ever, before they enter your home socially.

If I already feel isolated from my friends and civilization by virtue of my vocation and its limitations, what would it be like to be an alien in a community like this, even more isolated by distance? I hate the feeling of being watched and measured. Second to unconditional safety, it’s unconditional community I’m after. It would be foolish to imagine that the Amish would treat me like one of them.

My friend came out from Pauline’s and approached my car window. “The house sold yesterday, for 75K, to a niece of the owners. Can you believe that? It’s HALF of what they were asking. I knew they did that—ask a lot of money if you’re English—but they come down if you’re Amish. We can still drive by it though. Do you want to?”

Of course I did. It was around the corner. We’d come this far.

Picture, if you will, Green Gables; a white clapboard house with a pitched roofline, gingerbread trim, and a green tin roof. Picture a post and beam barn of rugged hand-hewn pine. Picture horses drinking from a spring, a porch swing among the lilacs and free range chickens crossing the road with impunity because cars never pass. Picture white fence lines and an uncluttered horizon that will never sparkle with the lights of a Walmart or the twenty-four hour surveillance lanterns of an apartment complex. Picture perfection with a gas well (something I never knew I wanted) and a price-tag to make a poor woman swoon. That, my friends, is what I'm not getting.


NC Sue said...

We live in North Carolina now but used to live in "Amish country" (Lancaster County PA). Their farms are the most beautiful on earth.

Erika said...

Oof. I was hoping the story had a surprise ending!

Rae said...

I love this. I felt like I was right there with you.

That said, I'm not sure it is entirely fair to characterize all Amish as standoffish and judgmental, any more than any stereotype is ever correct. It makes sense to be a bit careful of strangers with whom one has little in common. And if my niece wanted my house, I'd sell it to her for half of what I wanted and not consider it unfair at all!

Maybe you'll get your Amish house with English neighbors yet. :-)