I have read a fair amount of Amish books, fiction and non-fiction, and have my own romanticized version of Amish life. A life I think would be wonderful. Off-grid, simple, community orientated, living for what matters, God and family. I had never met anyone that was Amish though. I had only actually seen an Amish woman twice in my life, once at the mall when I worked there and once at our friend’s farm for a festival. I was excited to finally go see the inside of an Amish home, visit with an Amish mother, and see the work of an Amish father. To live inside that world just for a moment.
My friend, Elizabeth, works at the library and requests books for me that she thinks I will like. Over the past four years we have talked, dreamed, went hiking for herbs once, and chatted on the phone. She is very similar to me in desires and dreams. She kept referring to her “Amish Friends” in Westcliff, and I was anxious to tag along with her the next time she ventured down that way.
Yesterday morning I donned my homemade skirt and slip, dressed modestly, and put my hair back in a bun. We began the arduous three hours to get there through canyons, and cities, and mountains, and just when I became quite weary of driving, we edged over a mountain top and saw in the valley a glittering expanse of land so majestic my breath caught.
We drove into the little town and visited the Yoder Furniture Shop where the pieces of furniture make Walmart and Oak Express’s furniture areas look like a landfill. Each piece is eloquently made, made to last, the craftsmanship is high and they take pride in their work. As I drooled over a rolling cart with the mirror, a place for a towel, and a vintage bowl and pitcher, Elizabeth spoke with Joel and Perry about a bed she would like to have. Joel is mid-thirties, his strawberry blonde hair cut into a bowl shape and a small beard shaped his face that held the most joyous brown eyes. Mischievous and fun emanated from him. His friend sat near him, uttering a word when necessary, early twenties I’d bet, tall and lanky, with blue eyes beneath his brown hair. His brown beard telling of an early marriage, no mustache. He reminded me of my son.
We headed eight more miles out of town to visit with Joel’s wife. Elizabeth swears that she is in her thirties, but Ruth looks ageless, a perpetual twenty-four. She had a fresh complexion, big brown eyes, and a curvy frame beneath her long blue dress. Dark hair was pushed back into her black wool handkerchief to protect from the chilling wind. We approached her as she took the laundry from the huge wringer washer in the barn. We shook hands in greeting, her smile sweet and secure. Heavy dark galoshes suitable for farm work and a long black wool coat covered her modest traditional dress.
We walked with her through the mud up to the back porch where stood her precious fourteen month old, Heidi, patiently waiting for her mother to return. She wore a long grey gabardine coat and matching bonnet over her ankle length beige dress, brightened with adorable purple galoshes. Her big brown eyes looking out, a tiny smile revealed two small teeth.
We looked out from the covered porch facing west over the miles of frozen white tundra glistening in the sunlight. The fields ran right up into the jagged mountains standing so boldly, so close. Icy diamonds and cool air created a peaceful expanse of valley.
The farmhouse was a small cabin, fresh with new wood. It shone with an understated elegance and rusticity against the snow drifted backdrop. We helped her hang her laundry on the ropes held snugly across the porch ceiling. I played with Heidi and their very excited Australian Shepherd pup as Ruth and Elizabeth caught up. Her tired son, just this side of three years old, woke up from his nap. After a few minutes, he joined us outside. Ruth set both small children atop a plastic storage box and they took to kicking it with gleeful smiles until they were reprimanded in German. ‘Twas not long before they were running around the porch holding personal garments snagged from the basket attempting to help their mother. Ruth looked exhausted as we picked up the two children and the two baskets. We took the empty laundry receptacles to the tack room and went to let the chickens out.
As I handed Ruth the basket through the door I caught sight of her shelves of preserved food for the winter. The jars of summer bounty in their jeweled colors were not the first thing I noticed. (I regarded later when Doug asked if that is what I noticed. For her jars of food look just like mine!) Nay, I noticed the hand hewn shelves of strong 2x4s. Shelves that didn’t dip in the center as mine do being cheap plastic garage shelves; mine are warped and bent and look eerily as if they will topple at any time. I complimented her on her shelves.
We walked back towards the house and as we approached the steps Ruth stopped to grab some apples and to show us her root cellar. 3×3 panels of wood were removed from the side of the house where beneath the house and porch lay bags of apples and potatoes. The mice had helped themselves to a few of the apples, and the potatoes along the ridge of the “cellar” were mushy, but the unique places that we homesteaders come up with for root cellars made me laugh to myself. If I ever found a farm for rent with a real live root cellar, I would probably do some sort of odd happy dance and lease the place right then and there. She gave us a few red potatoes to take home to enjoy. Elizabeth had brought her a few sweet potatoes.
We went up the stairs to the front door. It faced east and as we entered the quaint living room, we could look directly out the back door to the porch and the west mountains. The wood stove sat warm next to the front door and peeking around the wood stove would allow a glance into the small adjoined inlet kitchen. It did not look much different than mine, I noted. She uses propane to fuel her stove and refrigerator and the counters were devoid of a coffee pot (as mine is) and a dishwasher (we haven’t had one in years).
An oval table sat just outside the kitchen close to the woodstove where one could look out the large south window whilst sitting in the simple chairs around it to feed the children their peeled, crisp apples as we adults enjoyed homemade jelly rolls.
Opposite the kitchen, across the small living room was a sunny sewing room looking out at those glorious mountains. I nearly tripped over an extension cord. Her impressive sewing machine was hooked up to solar power. I told her about my old Viking from the 70’s. If I had to make all of our clothes though, I would probably want a slick model like hers, solar power and all. She dislikes sewing and waits for hand me downs. A girl after my own heart.
She removed her wool handkerchief and replaced her white, traditional bonnet over her secured hair. She changed the baby’s cloth diaper and showed us how her own dress was outfitted to easily nurse with secret buttons beneath the flaps. Elizabeth was certain she could see a bopoli bump. More children running about soon?
Two bedrooms rested to the right of the front door down a small hallway. Ruth hoped to have a larger house built directly south, still on her father-in-law’s thousand acres.
We all chatted easily as we took turns reading to the infants and catching up. Ruth offering advice to Elizabeth, I taking in the homesteading ideal. We got up to leave since she would need to start supper soon to have ready for Joel after he made his eight mile trek home by bicycle. We waved to the horses, the calf, the chickens, the donkey, the puppy, the barn cat, and the darling children and their beautiful mother, and began the drive home.
I realized that we homesteaders are the same no matter our background, religion, or choice of clothes. We all long for that low bills, high sense of achievement, fresh air, sunlight, and do-it-yourself lifestyle. We are creative with what we have been given to make our homesteading attainable.
I, like so many folks, am guilty of romanticizing the Amish but I realize I am not so far off. I felt at home there reading to a small child, visiting a fellow mother, finding a new friend that lives on a self-made farm that will continue to grow and change and burst with life…just like mine.