A trip through Amish country
You’ll have to slow down – way down – when traveling along the scenic, winding country roads of Tuscarawas County, Ohio, because horse-drawn vehicles have the right-of-way. Driven by the Amish, the black, square-shaped buggies can be spotted all over town: In fact, most grocery, hardware, and farm supply stores have designated parking spaces for them.
The Amish movement, founded by Jacob Amman, began in Europe in the early 1800s. A stricter version of the Mennonites, members wanted to preserve and restore the basic elements of rural culture while keeping their religious freedoms. The first groups that migrated to the United States originally settled in Pennsylvania, but later branched out to Ohio, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri. Many continue to speak in a dialect called Deutsch, or Pennsylvania Dutch. Their children learn English in one-room schools that are most often owned, financed, and operated by their parents.
Amish people choose to live simply and self-sufficiently, without such modern conveniences as automobiles, electricity, television sets, or personal computers. Although more progressive groups will accept rides in cars when needed, or keep phones for emergency (as long as they are remote from the house), they shun the worldly ways of modern society. Also referred to as the “plain people,” they can be recognized by their, dark, unadorned, homemade clothing. Men will usually dress in simple, black or blue suits, while women wear dark dresses along with bonnets and aprons.
Believing them to be sources of vanity and pride, they neither take pictures nor allow pictures to be taken. Marriage to someone who is outside of the faith is not allowed, but teenagers (over 16) are often given a period of independence known as “rumspringa” during which they are free to visit the outside world, wear jeans, and date others. In this way, they can make certain what they want before becoming formal members of their community.
Because the majority of the Amish are farmers, several generations of one family often live under the same roof, and everyone within the unit has responsibilities. Parents and grandparents believe in the value of setting good examples, and chores are assigned based on age and gender. Husbands and sons, for example, do the heavy work (chopping wood, baling hay, building fence, and digging ditches) while mothers and daughters tend to the milking, sewing, gardening, and canning. In addition, neighbors help neighbors, especially during planting and harvesting seasons, using sturdy teams of Belgians or mules to draw their field equipment.
Talented craftsmen as well as hard workers, Amish people also work outside the home as carpenters, wheelwrights, leather crafters, furniture and buggy makers, housecleaners, or bakers. (The women make amazingly intricate, hand-stitched quilts and delicate lace curtains, doilies, and tablecloths, too.) Most of these items can be purchased in roadside shops and markets in addition to such wonderful, edible items as fruit butter, apple “snitz,” pot pie squares, yogurt cheese, homemade breads or “shoofly” pie.
Thousands of tourists head to Amish country each year, if only for the opportunity to drive by and admire their exceptionally well-kept, clean properties; their white-washed homes and wooden fences; the lush fields; and enormous gardens. Keep in mind, however, that it’s important to respect their safety and privacy. Don’t tailgate their buggies or shout as you pass by, since it could spook the horses. Don’t ask them to pose for your camera, and don’t barge into their yards. If you’re really curious, just pick up a book about them – nearly every store in the territory carries a selection – or sign up for a public tour of a participating farm. And when you see an Amish person up close, just smile and say “hello” like you would anybody else.
During a recent visit, returning towards the car outside a market in Sugarcreek, I was stopped short at the sight (and sound) of an incoming buggy. Pulled by a briskly-trotting, long-legged, bay Standardbred gelding, it surged by and then halted at the nearest hitching rail. Moments later, a stout, matronly woman with flushed cheeks, dressed entirely in dark blue, pushed herself out from the driver’s seat and literally marched toward the automatic doors. From the flour marks on her arms, it was clear that she’d been right in the middle of making supper before realizing that she was out of that one, final, important ingredient. I couldn’t help but smile discreetly as she went by, for in that moment I was thinking, ‘Maybe we aren’t that different after all!’
Additional information: for maps, dates of upcoming events, or general lists of Amish country attractions, please contact the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce at 35 N. Monroe St., Millersburg, Ohio, 44654, phone: (330) 674-3975 or E-mail http://www.OhioTimelessAdventures.com.
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