More Adventures in Amish Country: Of Dresses & Jeans, and Good Food & Fellowship (Part 3)

After we visited the water buffalo farm, Nate and Juanita suggested I have dinner at Rosemary’s. I agreed, on one condition. I would need to figure out how to work things out with Nicole, who was still at her friend’s house. Their family was going to leave for an evening social gathering, and Nicole needed to be picked up.

I didn’t have my car, which meant Nate and Juanita would need to drive several roads the wrong direction to get her. That wasn’t a problem, they said. This left one little issue.

“Nicole only has jeans to wear,” I said. “Is that going to offend anyone?”

Nate assured me that no one would worry much about it, and she was welcome to come that way. That arranged, I called Nicole to see if she wanted to join us.

A drawn out ‘Okay…. I guess’ was the answer, so we picked her up and returned to the farm.  I introduced Nicole to the people I knew and some introduced themselves. Rosemary introduced her to some of her granddaughters. When I introduced her to David Wagler, he chuckled and said, “And I’m the Grandpa here.” Nicole found that humorous.

Peter and Naomi, and Lester and Tina returned in the evening with their families as well. Peter and Tina, who married into the Wagler/Gascho family, both come from my Low-German speaking background and teach their children Low German. It is the cutest thing to observe little girls in their Amish attire, talking in my mother-tongue. I couldn’t capture their language, but I did manage to sneak a few shots of them, without getting caught.

Nate and Juanita posed for a short photography session as well, in front of the buggy. I could just picture them, travelling around the country side as a sweet Amish couple. Well, I could almost picture it….

The smell of ‘schnibbled grumbara’–which I don’t know how to spell, but is the Pennsylvania Dutch for cut potatoes–mixed with ham, filled the house. One whiff of that, and I was very glad they had asked me to stay.

One thing about the Amish and Mennonites… they know how to serve up a good meal to a crowd. By the time dinner was ready there were people everywhere. It was fun and fascinating.

Simon, whom I had met earlier, and his family came, giving me opportunity to meet his wife, Kathleen. She was sweet and a pleasant conversationalist. I told her that her sister Elizabeth and Simon’s brother, Ivan, who are married, live in my area and attend my youngest brother’s church, but that I have not met them yet.

Ruth and Robert, Titus’s wife and oldest son, who had been resting earlier in the day when I was there, came over. Ruth has beautiful blue eyes, and a great sense of humour. We talked for a long while about raising boys with ADHD. Both of her sons have it to one degree or another, and three of our children have a version of it. She shared how it plays into their school work, and that medication seems to be helping, but with some side effects, like fatigue.

I shared how, while our children’s ADHD is very manageable, it has challenges. One son is on medication during school, because he cannot tame his brain to study. When his teacher first suggested it, I cringed. I don’t like medication. But one trip to the psychiatrist changed my mind and it has paid off. His marks have gone from mostly ‘C’ grades, to mostly ‘A’ and a few ‘B’ grades. He is our quietest, tamest son, but his mind is hyperactive.

The psychiatrist said it always passes from a parent to the child. And since it clearly isn’t through my husband Tim, that only leaves me. Something that isn’t too surprising for those who know me. (No wonder Brother Paul Zehr, my teacher when I was about eleven, asked, “Trudy, do you have ants in your pants?” I couldn’t stop giggling!) When the doctor said this, three years ago, it actually helped me make sense of years gone by and why I remember some things (visually) in graphic detail, while I could never remember where I put my keys or school books etc. Anything with ‘system’ I retain and know where to find. Anything for which I have no system…. Well, good luck ever finding it.

Ruth and I compared stories and chatted until dinner was ready. I have a feeling if we were next door neighbours, we would have a very close friendship. She seems the kind of woman I would connect with at a heart level in relationship.

Dinner was as delicious as it smelled. Fresh corn, potatoes with ham, fresh bread and the most delicious deep red tomatoes I had ever eaten. What a meal! And that was followed with dessert. Blueberry pie, brownies, peach cobbler (I think that’s what it was called) and fresh peaches with blueberries. Such a meal!

After dinner on the back deck, while adults continued conversing, the children started with games. There were shrieks and shouts of delight as a giant black garbage bag of colourful light-weight plastic balls were tossed in the air, to rain down on the yard full of children. It was just a few at first, and then the other children caught on. A flurry of activity and the yard was suddenly full of children, scrambling about, throwing these balls at each other. I worried they might get hurt, until I got my hands on one. There was literally no weight.

Nate was a good sports, getting in there and chasing the children, and being chased. It turned out to be Nate against the world of children out there, and the world of children against Nate. It was soon evident that Nate is no longer in his twenties. He dragged himself onto the deck, huffing, panting and sweating, as the children continued to bombard him.

Next it was Juanita’s turn. Thomas and Robert, having established a solid relationship with her, were determined to draw her in. And they did. It wasn’t long before Juanita had the fence and small shed as her dugout, and it was her against the gang of children. Nicole joined in as well,  jeans and all, engaged in the flurry of activity.

The time came to go. We said good-bye, thanking our host and hostess. Tina gave me a bag of beautiful deep red tomatoes before leaving. And as we got to the door, Peter asked if I’m sure we won’t stay for coffee. He had just poured some steaming cups of black energy. It was tempting but it was already almost 8:00pm and I still had one more friend, my cousin Helen, to meet for coffee before starting the ninety minute trek home to Elmira. Regretfully, I declined.

Nicole, who had been hesitant to go, fell in love with the children, the people and the culture. As we left, she said, “They were all very nice! They didn’t even seem to notice I was wearing jeans.”

I was thinking to myself, Oh, they noticed. But I said nothing. That kind of innocence is best preserved.

She added, “Because they accept me in jeans, just the way I am, I wouldn’t mind wearing a skirt next time to go see them.”

There is something in us, as humans, that desires to be loved and accepted, just as we are. We went into a culture very different from ours and received that from them, and offered the same to them.

The rich heritage, the community, the fellowship…. The beautiful culture…

I am not so naive as to believe that nothing bubbles below the surface… that volcanoes don’t form below the beauty of what we see. Every culture has strengths and weaknesses. Still, to find myself in the peace and simplicity of the Amish is a touch of heaven. I don’t have to deal with the volcanoes that brew, from time to time so I will indulge in the memories of a pleasant visit to Amish country, knowing that one day I will return, God willing, to see my friends there again.

© Trudy Metzger

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More Adventures in Amish Country: Milking Water Buffalo (Part 2)

The little excursion through my old hick town of Corinth was secondary to my real purpose for being in Aylmer, but I was glad I did it. And I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t impact me more negatively, and make me jittery or even a bit emotional. Nothing. I was good.

I drove west, down the back roads I had discovered that morning, memorizing paths from Corinth to Carter Road, where I would again visit my Amish friends. I parked my car, and walked toward the house.

Nate and Ira greeted me at the door, offering bear hugs and a warm welcome. Nate hasn’t shrunk and inch, still towering over me, making me feel petite, at 5′ 10″. And Ira is as warm and friendly in person as he is on the phone and in the virtual realm of Facebook. (That is, when he’s not all riled up talking politics and such.) It was great to see them both and to meet Ira for the first time.

When Ira asked a while later where we should get our pictures taken, I said, “In front of a buggy, of course!” He groaned. And obliged. At least I didn’t make him sit in it, or give me a ride.

Inside the house was quiet. Rosemary, who bustled about the last time I visited, sat quietly with her leg elevated. She developed an ulcer and needs to take it easy–something she does not do easily, or naturally. Her eyes twinkled with that same warm welcome I felt the first time I came.

Her daughter, Edna, sat in a chair across the room, nursing a very sore back. One of those back pains that shows on the face, the kind I have not had in many years, but can still feel when I see it. In spite of this, she was pleasant and enjoyed pleasant conversation.

In my previous visit I met Magdalena and Ray Marner and delighted to meet their daughter Janice, from Phoenix Arizona. A beautiful red-head with a ready smile, looking very ‘English’, it took me off guard when Pennsylvania Dutch flowed smoothly from her lips. Even though I knew it is her background, to hear her speak so comfortably made me smile.

Titus sat in his wheelchair at a table, resting. It was a pleasure to meet him and his son Thomas. (I didn’t meet Ruth and Robert until later, after supper.) Thomas is a handful of mischief and a delightful young lad! He was quite taken with Juanita and did what he had to do, to keep her attention. It was fun to watch. What a gift Titus and Ruth have given these boys! And no doubt they feel very blessed as well, to have these little lives trusted into their care.
 
We visited for a while, and then went up to see Edna’s room, which is almost more like a little bachelor apartment minus the kitchenette. It’s a cozy space, with a china cabinet dividing her sleeping quarters from the sitting area. An open Bible is displayed on the coffee table, and a hymnal lies beside it. Juanita sang ‘Tears are a language..’ as I massaged Edna’s back, attempting to give her some relief from the pain. It probably comforted me more than her… but watching her in pain like that, the least I could do was try, and hope I wasn’t going to make it worse. When I finished she said it wasn’t worse, and it felt okay while I was working on it, so that was a good sign. 
 
Ira, Nate, Juanita, Janice and I went for a drive around the countryside. The mission was to find an ‘Aylmer’ sign and take some pictures. We had so much fun!
 
Nate decided it would be a great time to tell everyone how we met. One day, he said, I had knocked on the door at a mutual friend’s home, where he was staying. Upon discovering that Ron and Cindy were not home, when he showed up at the door, he claimed that I practically pushed 5 children into his arms and tried to make him babysit for me. He demonstrated my deep, demanding tone of voice, and how it left him feeling intimidated and helpless. At least that is how I interpreted it.
 
That was not how I recalled the story at all. So I told my side of the story. I showed up at Ron and Cindy’s late one afternoon expecting to find her home, and intending to ask if my children could play a few minutes while I ran an errand. I was horrified when this big, burly, mean-looking stranger towered over me and asked me what I want. Clearly trembling and traumatized, I, in the most reserved and bashful tone, asked if Cindy was here. He snarled some unintelligible jargon, demanding I leave my children. They would be fine in his care. Fearful that some great harm had already befallen my friends at the hands of this giant, I didn’t want to leave the premises, but fearing our own demise, and out of desire to protect my children, I reluctantly left, carefully counting my children as we drove away, making sure he had not snatched one. Following a restless night, it was a great relief the next morning, when I finally managed to get hold of Cindy and discover that, while big, mean and burly looking, Nate was a friend and more of a teddy bear than his gruff voice let on. And that was how Nate and I became friends.
 
Ira, Juanita and Janice were far too discerning to believe either tale. They concluded the truth must lie somewhere in between. Just where, one cannot know for certain. And Ira did tell me, “Trudy, let’s just say the Waglers are not the only ones who can spin a good tale.”
 
I’ll take that as an honour, “Thank you very much, sir!” 
 
And just about the time we had finished spinning tales, we came across an ‘Aylmer’ sign. Poor Ira! Three women squawking, “There Ira! Pull over!” as he slams on the breaks and pull over. He grumbled a bit about the stone and it not being a ‘real’ sign, but was quite cooperative about having pictures done.
 
 
No more had we jumped back in, driven a few hundred feet and the squawking started all over again. A ‘real’ sign this time. So Ira again whipped over and got some pictures of the ‘real’ sign. 
 
 
 
That’s when Nate started talking about the water buffalo. Simon and Kathleen have some. They milk them… “Trudy, you’ll go with us to watch them milk the buffalo, right?” 
 
“Of course I will!” I said. “What are we talking about anyway? And what time?” Nate explained and I agreed to go.
 
I have a song for everything, so that little conversation started the Veggie Tales, ‘Silly Songs With Larry’ Water Buffalo song playing in my head. From time to time throughout the remainder of the day I would start singing, “Everybody wants a water buffalo, yours is fast and mine is slow, where do you get them, I don’t know but everybody wants a water buffalo….
 
We returned to Rosemary and Joe’s farm, visited a while longer and then it was time for the big adventure. We would go to the farm and watch them. As we pulled up to the farm, having travelled a long and winding lane, a thought occurred to me. I knew I shouldn’t…. But I couldn’t miss it for the world… So I gave in to a tiny little temptation. 
 
I grabbed my iPod and carried it discreetly in front of me, having it turned on and facing out. I wouldn’t be able to focus it properly, but I could snap random shots and hope for something good to show for. I confess, I pushed aside the teensy bit of guilt that threatened. The thought was entirely too appealing, and I didn’t think God would mind nearly so much as they would. As long as I could keep it looking innocent, I’d not really be doing any harm. 
 
So it was that I wandered about, taking a total off 117 pictures. A few were close up shots of my fingers, many were fuzzy, but a sprinkled throughout were decent shots of the barn, Simon’s young son, and the farm. Now little waves of guilt wash over me as I contemplate posting them here…
 
Once again, the thought is too appealing to resist and if a family member kindly asks me to take them down, I will do so. Until then, it is all too sweet not to share. With not seeing the screen and focusing properly, and with no light in the barn, the quality is poor, but gives you a feel for the water buffalo farm.
 
 
 
Simon clearly loves his animals. His rainbow eyes sparkle like no one else I’ve ever met. When he introduced us to the buffalo, he placed his arm around the head of one of the huge beasts, placed his face right against the animal and said, “They’re almost more like pet. Like a big dog. Very affectionate.” 
 
 
Ivan came out minutes later and demonstrated the gentleness of the animals by jumping on the back of one and jumping from back to back. He was quite pleased with being able to perform for us, and we enjoyed the show.
 
While Simon gave us a tour, several of his children set up to do the milking, and having come full circle, we stood and watched awhile. “My mother taught me to milk cows,” I said. “This sure brings back memories.”
 
Simon chuckled, “Would you want to try milking a buffalo?” he asked. 
 
I lit up. “Oh yes! I would love to!” I said.
 
He looked almost startled at my answer. Nate looked to be headed into full-blown panic. “You’re not serious!” he said, more than asked.
 
“Of course I am!” 
 
“But you’re wearing a white skirt.”
 
“Meh, what’s a white skirt? It’s washable.” It isn’t every day you get to milk a water buffalo.
 
And so it was determined that I would milk the most gentle buffalo. Ivan would get it washed up and primed, and then I could have a go at it. 
 
“We have to get a picture of this!” Nate said. And, coincidentally, I had a camera! How handy was this? I showed Juanita how to use it, and I sat down to try my hand at it.
 
 
 
Teeny, tiny little streams of milk came out. And I didn’t get kicked. That, I decided, was the definition of success in this situation. I would have been there a day trying to get all the milk so I turned it back to Ivan, who produced rivers of milk in place of my teeny tiny streams. Not a career path I’ll pick up just yet, but a very amazing experience!
 
 
A little more wandering around and it was time to return to Rosemary’s farm…. 
 
To Be Continued…. 
 
© Trudy Metzger
 
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More Adventures in Amish Country: Milking Water Buffalo

On July 8  I wrote Adventures in Amish Country. I had visited Aylmer Amish Country the previous day and fell in love with the people there, having been warmly received by them all. Rosemary Gascho was the sweet hostess then, who allowed us ‘English’ women into her home and welcomed us as if we blended right in.

While quite aware of the difference, I felt comfortably a part of their world, a world that is really quite delightful with its sense of community and simplicity. I would be lying if I said it does not captivate me and draw me in, making me long for the country, the animals, the food grown in the soil of the farm.

There is something about the simplicity of the Amish way of life, about living off the land that makes me think of Eden, of what we were originally created for… minus the clothing. But that would just be awkward now… Not to mention gravely inappropriate.

It was with great delight that I returned this weekend. My friend Ira Wagler, author of Growing Up Amish, messaged me some time ago to say he would be coming in August–would I meet him, if I was free. It took no time to decide. If my schedule was not clear, I wrote back, I would find a way to clear it.

I ‘met’ Ira through his brother Nate, with whom I have been friends for quite a few years, but had never met Ira in person. We’ve been back and forth about writing–him being a New York Times best seller, and me working at writing and building a platform. He has graciously allowed me to pick his brain on the ‘stuff of writing and publishing’, for which I am grateful.

And then I learned that Nate would also be in for a visit. He and my friend Juanita (his girlfriend) would also be in Aylmer over that time. I was ecstatic! I had not seen Nate in several years and wouldn’t miss it for the world!

On Saturday our sixteen-year-old daughter Nicole, and I, packed to visit Aylmer Amish country. We would stay the night at my friend Helen’s, and Nicole could spend some time with her daughter, Shelby. If she wanted to, I said, she could come with me to my Amish friends’ home on Sunday. Out of respect for the culture she would need to take a skirt along.

Nicole wrinkled up her nose. She has never liked skirts a day in her life. Not even as a little girl, when we were Mennonite. “I’ll pass,” she said. “I don’t even have skirts I could wear. And if they can’t like me the way I am, well, then I don’t want to go. And, besides,” she said, “it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Would you make them wear jeans to come see us?”

I tried to explain that ‘it’s different’, but there was no use pushing it, I thought, since she has no relationship with them. I was quite sure she would enjoy it, but am don’t want to teach her to pretend to be what she is not, so we decided she could stay at her friend’s house. With her sense of truth and justice, for me to force it would only serve to frustrate her and would do nothing for our relationship.

Nicole wants to be a lawyer–family law, she thinks. At 9 years-old she decided this, and I think she will do well, given her passion for truth and justice, and her compassion for children. But it makes for interesting parenting. Good, but interesting. She thinks of everything.

Nicole packed jeans and a few tops to wear. Since my selection of skirts is sparse, because of my preference for jeans and slacks, I took four of my best ones along and several different tops to choose from. I would decide on an outfit in the morning.

Sunday morning Nicole headed to church with her friend and I decided to revisit Corinth, a little ‘hick town’ where I lived from age six through nine. Things change with time, as they should, but it was hardly recognizable. I parked my car, grabbed my camera, and took some shots of houses on our street.

My childhood home. (formerly grey)
Mr & Mrs Wolfe–next door neighbours
The Kline family
The Smith family

Several minutes into this photography session, a door opened and a couple stepped out of their house to observe. Some things obviously had not change since we left. In small towns, everything is everyone’s business and it was just as well. Otherwise rumours would have had it that someone in town was selling and a real estate agent was in taking shots of the community.

I introduced myself and explained the real purpose of my photography session. The woman lit up. “My name is Angela–I was Angela Smith.” Her husband introduced himself and we shook hands. A little reminiscing and I learned that her cousin, Christine, who came to visit in the summer, moved to Alberta. Christine loved me. Truly, deeply. She is the only person who hugged and kissed me all those years of childhood. The one person who absolutely adored me and made me feel secure in friendship, leaving a lasting print on my heart.

“Could I take your picture?” I asked, before leaving.

“Oh my…” followed by a few awkward laughs from both. A flustered Angela ran her hands through her hair. Her husband chuckled and joined her. “I’m not even dressed for it,” she said, tugging at her shirt, but then agreed to pose.

I assured her she looked great, and snapped a few photos before saying good-bye.

There is something about returning to childhood homes, past communities, and the memories of days gone by that make the  mind wonder, ‘What if…’

What if we had stayed? I shudder. Life was hard here. It’s where so much abuse happened. Where Dad threatened to kill us when I was seven. Where I ran to the Wolfe’s to get Mom, on his command, when she fled, leaving us younger children asleep in bed, because he said he was getting his gun. It’s where I saw him whip my sister ruthlessly for breaking curfew at age fourteen. It’s where I had countless nightmares, where every shadow at night was Dad coming for me. No, I don’t regret that we left.

I thank God that, though the years that followed were hard, He did not leave us in that place. Through ‘hell and high water’, and a few painful church experience, He carried us through, to get us where we are today. I feel nothing but wonder and awe at His kindness in the hell of what this world had to offer.

One last look around and I was on my way. It was time to visit Amish country and meet my friends, both old and new…

To Be Continued…..

© Trudy Metzger

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