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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: June 27, 2019

Jane Thibodeau Martin

On Friday night, my husband and I attended an Amish dinner at a farm, a 15 minute drive from our home. Mike was told about this dinner by an acquaintance who raved about the food, so we set off, not knowing exactly what to expect. I was a little concerned we'd be jammed in a small farmhouse with strangers, in a hushed and maybe uncomfortable atmosphere, but as is often the case I couldn't have been more wrong.

The first hint we got was when we saw a large number of cars parked just off the gravel road we were traveling. We found a place to park in the grass, and followed the crowd to a machine-shed like building. Outside the building was a roofed pavilion, filled with bearded men and boys in collared shirts, straw hats and blue trousers, grilling chicken at multiple grills and churning ice cream while the hum of generators powered the kitchen inside the shed. Inside the building we were greeted by row after row of long tables, almost full at 5 p.m. Mike estimated the crowd at more than 100, and we joined a long line for the buffet.

For $10, it was all you could eat baked or grilled chicken (the grilled chicken I had was excellent, moist and smoky,) mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade bread and jam, butter, vegetables, dressing, and a salad made with pasta, ham chunks and broccoli that was delicious. There were several choices of beverage, but the lemonade looked too good to pass up. And for dessert, that yummy ice cream with your choice of pie " rhubarb, strawberry rhubarb, strawberry and cherry. Once we found seats we asked our dining companions how they found out when such dinners were offered " since there was no signage or advertising we were aware of. These regulars clued us in to a book you can sign up in and the community will send you a postcard when dinners or breakfasts are scheduled. They could do this mass notification so simply on line, but they eschew computers as a part of their culture. And judging by their turnout, they are probably getting close to the amount of customers they can handle already.

After we ate we hurried to the line at the bake sale tables, because I feared missing out. Yes, FOMO, (Fear of Missing Out) hits me when I see a good bake sale. We picked up a big cherry cobbler, two fried pies, and a loaf of wheat bread before we left. We shared the cobbler with Mike's family, and it was more than seven of us could eat. From the aspect of food and eating the dinner was a huge hit with us.

But to me, the more interesting part was the chance to observe up close a people who live among us but value their privacy and culture so much they choose not to engage with the rest of us often. This dinner, jointly hosted by what looked like eight or more families, was that opportunity for me.

The Amish hosting us were friendly and welcoming, but they do not modify their ways for this income producing activity. No outside electricity, no telephones, no computer utilization, no advertising or signs. There is no "decorations" on the walls, or table adornments. No one talks on cell phones, there is no TV's hung on the walls, and no music. This alone would make this dining experience unusual. The shed is light and bright with natural light, but without overhead electric lights. Everything is simple, plain and clean. The women all wear long, unadorned dresses and caps; some with aprons. Even toddler girls of 2 or so wear this attire. Younger girls serve drinks or bus tables; middle aged women handle the serving line, and a peek into the kitchen area reveals matrons cooking those big ample portions and doing dishes. They go about this work without any unnecessary chatter that I observed. The men grill, make ice cream and handle the money. Only kids of about 10 or younger are not participating in the work. I would make the observation, without judging, that an Amish lifestyle lends itself to a fit physique for men and women. Kind of remarkable in a people renowned for their baking and cooking.

When we arrived the lawn of this residence was covered with kids. Boys were playing kickball, little toddlers were wandering around and the babies were in the arms of younger girls. No adult appeared to be supervising or watching; these kids whose parents work hard in various agricultural-related activities are expected to be able to entertain themselves safely until they are old enough to help with the work. There is also an implicit trust that kids are safe outside next to a gravel road; and maybe "stranger danger" does not weigh on the mind of these parents. I would have loved to have taken the picture of a tiny toddler girl, in her Amish attire, seated on a wooden bench near the men grilling. She had a bowl of ice cream and was attacking it with enthusiasm. I know, however, from being a "Taste of Home" reader that the Amish do not like having their pictures taken, so I refrained.

As a horse lover, I also enjoyed seeing about eight black buggies parked in a field and watching an arriving buggy. The arriving horse was unhitched from the harness and apparently turned out with the other families' buggy horses. Across the road a large herd munched grass with serious focus " my guess is these horses see one another often, with no need to have the dominance sort-out that would go on if you turned out a large group of horses who were unfamiliar with one another. Judging from the horse auction sales lists I see here, ex-harness racing horses sometimes find new jobs as buggy horses. Trotting is faster than walking but less tiring than galloping, so good trotting horses are preferred as power for buggy travel. I was interested to see horses who had won as much as $500,000 during their racing career on trotting tracks listed for sale locally. While the Amish do not care for ostentatious displays and would not care if they had a prestigious horse, a fast horse DOES make travel quicker, especially on wet or chilly days, so getting a proven speedster for the family buggy is simply a matter of practicality. A retired trotter from the race track with no breeding value changes hands at a surprisingly reasonable price, and a second career as a buggy horse may save that ex-racer from a trip on a slaughter truck.

All in all, while their culture and faith practices are different than those of my great-grandparents, seeing the Amish lifestyle is like getting a little glimpse of the lifestyle my ancestors lived " a little quieter, a little simpler, and probably a little healthier.

We have put "our names in the book," and look forward to visiting again " with a couple of guests in tow, since this experience is too unique not to share.

If you are curious about the lifestyle and culture of the Amish (and Mennonite) people who live with us in Wisconsin I'd again recommend "Simply Amish" by Donald B. Kraybill. It's an excellent short read and answers many of the questions I had.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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