In the southeast corner of Pennsylvania is Lancaster County. The County is famous for its population of 45,000 of the states 65,000 practicing Amish.
Pretty as a Postcard
I come to Amish Country this first day of Fall seeking the postcard version of what I think it to be. There is just the first hint of coolness in the air. The apple trees are bursting with Gala and Granny Smith apples. Pumpkins, gourds, and haystacks are dotting the landscape. I’m not sure what to expect or even what I’m looking for, but I just head to Lancaster seeking a lunch spot to start. Finding a Dutch Amish buffet named Dienners sounds perfect. While noshing on beef stroganoff, buttered noodles and shoo-fly pie I see a flyer for Amish Buggy Rides.
The Buggy Ride is a couple hours long and after a brief stint in city traffic, we are soon in the Pennslyvania backcountry. We head to a tour a working dairy farm. The farm has 56 head of cattle that produce about 1600 gallons of milk every 2 days. This milk is sold to the Land O Lakes company for butter. As it turns out, the dairy is just a destination the ride and conversation is the event.
Linda is our buggy driver. Being with a 16-year-old driver make me cautious enough, but being an Amish girl, I best be on my best behavior and careful what I say. Unsure of even what to talk about or questions to ask. I quietly watch the scenery effortlessly pass by while enjoying the clopping of the horses’ hooves on the pavement. She easily manages, Kate, a Clysdale mix horse.
On being Amish
Linda is a pleasant young lady and unapologetically Amish. With the turning of 16 weeks earlier, she is now experiencing Rumspringa, a rite of passage during adolescence, translated into English as “jumping/hopping around”. Along with other similar age members of her church, this rite allows her a little more freedom and priveledges. It’s also an opportunity to reflect and decide if Amish life is what she wants. She could now date but is in no hurry to do so. Her indulgence of choice is an iPhone. She anxious to text and Snapchat, but her older sister warns her about Instagram and FaceBook. These Amish might be on to something.
Education in the one-room schoolhouse stops after 8th grade, but she is seemingly very well rounded and capable of engaging in conversation on many topics.
Once the ice is broken and a few laughs are shared, the conversation becomes much easier. She shares aspects of her Amish way of life with pride and ease.
When talking about the manner of dress, she explains it is meant to remind one of their humility in life. It is considered more modest, meant to keep believers away from wasteful, sensual dress in order that she may concentrate on the more productive or worthwhile things of life. As an FYI, It is better to use the expression “plain dress” instead of “costume” though the Amish understand us tourists can be a bit ignorant of their ways.
Watching the tourists seemingly gawking and constantly photographing of the Amish, I ask of proper protocol. I’m reminded that one of the Ten Commandments states that “Thou shalt not make any graven image unto thyself.” It is, for this reason, that most Amish folks don’t pose for pictures. Most Amish are not too sensitive about pictures from behind or at a distance.
If you have doubts the “neighborly” thing to do is ask. Interestingly, Amish businesses will give away calendars with pictures as a business promotion usually without people in the pictures. Though Linda eagerly agrees to pose for pictures, I play by the rules the remainder of my visit and refrain from taking photos of others.
Mules and Cows, oh my
The dairy farm tour is just a bonus. Besides being a dairy farm, it’s practically a petting zoo. With cows, horses, baby calves, goats, pigs, mules, dogs, and kittens all around. As an added treat a ice tubbed of homemade root beer and cookies await us after the tour.
Not only did I get the postcard version of Amish Country that I sought, but I also received a much greater understanding and appreciation for those that choose a simpler life in the service of God.