OK, this isn’t really an ode—I have neither the time nor the energy to produce a real ode—but I like the sound of “An Ode to the Amish.” And my appreciation for my Amish neighbors is equally profound no matter whether it appears in poetry or prose. I’ve seen bits and pieces of some of the Breaking Amish shows, and my mother has reported dire portrayals of Amish culture on Amish Mafia, and I’m concerned about the impression that they must give a lot of people. I’m no expert on Amish culture, but since my family is the only “English” (ie, not Amish) family on our winding rural road, I’ve had quite a few interactions with my Amish neighbors. I would like to use my experience to offer a different impression of Amish people—not one of meanness and repression, but one of perpetual kindness and a genuine willingness to help those in need.
I’m inspired to write this blog entry right now because of what happened yesterday: As I was driving to work on a snowy, windy evening, I hit an icy patch on a steep hill and slid off the road. My car’s front end was too deeply buried in the snow to get out of the ditch, so I had to stand helplessly with my cell phone and desperately make calls to my work, my husband, and my babysitter. Fortunately, I was in walking distance of home, so I was resigned to missing my shift and forcing my husband (already cranky because of the cold afflicting him) to come with a rope and try to haul my car out when he finally got home. Salvation appeared, though, in the form of a bearded Amish farmer who walked up and observed, quite accurately, that I was “stuck in there pretty good.” He then offered to fetch his horses and a chain and attempt to pull me out. Neither of us was sure it would work, but it was worth a try. I found an old ice scraper and went to work trying to unearth (well, unsnow) my front tires. The farmer reappeared with a chain and two plow horses. We debated the angle of the tires, settled for the status quo since they refused to be turned anyway, and the horses went to work. A few mighty pulls later, and my car was free. I thanked the farmer profusely and went on my way, arriving at work only half an hour late.
I had passed the house of my rescuer many times when I was walking my dog, but I’d never met him or his family personally; our interactions had been limited to the occasional wave from a distance. I don’t even know his name. Even though I was a stranger to him, and an English one to boot, he had no problem with stopping whatever chores he was in the middle of and coming to help me. It occurred to me later that maybe I should have offered payment, but upon further reflection, I think that would have just resulted in a denial that would have ended the encounter on an awkward note. He clearly wasn’t helping me out of a desire for gain; he just saw someone in trouble and realized he had the power to get me out of it.
To me, this encounter embodies life among the Amish: a constant knowing that although your neighbors aren’t intrusive, they’re always there to help, and knowing that although the neighbors wouldn’t ask for YOUR help unless it were a true emergency, you’d be glad of the opportunity to return some of their kindness.
I haven’t even started discussing the plethora of warm interactions with my next-door neighbors on either side—the frequent trading of garden vegetables; the informal book club my neighbor Jonas has created by hailing me when I walk by and handing me a new volume; walking down the road with his wife Emma as we held a bushel basket of apples between us—but I hope to describe those in more detail later. For the moment, I just hope that anyone reading this will take away the knowledge that there’s much more to Amish culture than meets the screen.