In last week’s Blog I gave the top 10 reasons why you may not be cut out for the Amish life. I must admit here, I hold my breath after each blog I post, until the first few responders give their feedback. I often seem to walk on a fine line of where to not go with a subject. In other words, although I have been out for almost 11 years, I am not quite always in touch with what is politically correct.
Take for example, the first response I received after my last blog, by a woman who had a husband that was held in the war for many years, even after he wished to retire. This woman was upset, and rightfully so, about the fact that I made a comparison to the Amish life being tougher then going through boot camps. In my exact words, “if you think the military, boot camp, the grueling workouts in the rain, etc, as tough as that might be, you can still take comfort that you can always throw in the towel and drop out at any moment”.
If you read the Part I, and thought I was rather hard on the Amish life in some areas, I probably was. However, take note that I only did it to DE-romanticize, or educate some of the many people who wish to join. I can also assure you that I left areas out that I could have talked about at length, and probably will sometime in the future. Areas that need to be addressed. Now is not the time and place.
I personally felt unsettled all week knowing I left a story half told, and knowing that without fairly telling the top 10 good reasons why you just might make it among the Amish, I was doing the entire Amish community a huge disfavor.
Indeed, when I keep hinting around the edges about feeling a little guilty about walking that fine line between educational and critical, the people whose feelings I am really worried about are the Amish themselves.
Anyone who knows the Amish at all, knows they wish to remain invisible. Out of the spotlight. No cameras, no publicity, no exposure, and no educating the outside world.
But is it not a little late for me to start worrying about opening up to the world, telling my stories and experiences of my time as an Amish person? After doing “Amish in the City” 2004, two stand alone documentaries in 2010, “Amish out of the order”, “Amish at the Altar”, and finally the most recent show that most of you know me from, “Amish: Out of Order”, is it not apparent that I have defined myself as one of the few Ex Amish who is comfortable with being completely open to the world about myself, my personal life, and the life where I came from?
But Part II of this Blog isn’t about negativity. In this part I wish to focus on the positive things about being Amish. The reasons that kept me there until I was 22 years old. Kept me there long after I knew I was unhappy and longed for a life in the outside world.
I wish to state here, for the new reader, that I do not by any means, claim to be a professional writer. I am simply put, a man with only an 8th grade education who is musing out loud. I have not read many blogs by others, so I have no idea if I am on track or not. If you are reading through this Blog and with your professional trained eyes, with 4 Masters degrees in English and Grammar, and you find places where I misspelled words, ended paragraphs in the wrong place, or was scatter brained, I am guilty as charged. I even realize that I often get completely off topic and go off randomly on a thought that popped into my head. I may even have contradicted myself from PART I to PART II of this Blog several times. Typically, I write an entire blog in 3 or 4 hours, go over it once, and post it. At some point, I wish to further my education. Become a writer who can write his thoughts and experiences into the form of books. That has been a lifelong dream of mine.
So without further ado, let’s get to the heart of Amishhood. to the ties that bond. the ties that keep them surviving and prospering in and among the world, even as the world becomes more and more advanced, and the Amish somehow still manage to exist right among our midst.
Here are the top 10 reasons why you just might be able to survive as an “Amish for Life”.
1. FOOD: Oh but the home cooked food. Although I am not by any means a picky eater, my mouth waters for a good home cooked meal. Vegetables that were grown in a garden without any chemicals, steroids, or fertilizer to make them grow. Home made mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, strawberries fresh from the garden, milk straight from the udder of a cow, eggs that although not officially branded organic, might as well be since they came from a farm where the chickens ate only farm grown food.
Oh but the food the women would cook up at Weddings, Holidays, or Barn Raisings. I have never met a person with as big of an appetite as a working farmer who has eaten dust and dirt all day in the fields. I marvel at my mother who somehow managed to keep enough canned food in the basement over the winter, and plant just enough every spring to feed a growing family of 15.
Although we had to fast until noon on Holidays, by 12:00, all the married siblings, Nieces And Nephews, Aunts and Uncles, and Cousins would be there and food would be served. There are not many things that seem to bond a family together stronger than everyone gathering around before a meal while you bow your heads in silent prayer, giving thanks for this meal, and all joining together around the tables in devouring the well prepared food the Lord has Blessed you with. When I say there are not many things that bond a family more than eating together….. There is one I can think of, which leads me right into number 2.
2. SINGING: I came from a family of Gingeriches who had really good singing voices. Some of my fondest memories as a child were of the entire family out in the dairy barn milking the cows by hand. Not one sound in the barn except the cows munching down on the fresh hay. there was no sound of electricity, Milking machines, a Radio, Fans, or Tractors. Even with a herd of usually around 45 to 50 cows, 30 horses, 30 calves, cats, dogs, pigs, and the occasional goat, after the animals were all fed and content and the family was milking the cows, it was usually so quiet that you could talk in normal tones to a brother or sister milking a cow at the other end of the barn 80 feet away.
Than someone would start off singing a song. The entire family would join in, and the walls of the barn seemed to echo the joyful voices of many mouths singing a German song by the light of an oil burning lantern. Oh but if I could just go back in time to those precious childhood days! Back when life was so innocent and young and there were no problems. What I wouldn’t give to even have some recordings of a few songs from those years and listen to them just for old times sake!
Later on in years as I got older, we sang in the schools, and finally, when I turned 17 and started going to the Singens, all the teenagers between 17 and married age, would gather every Sunday night and sing songs together in the “Singens”. Possibly that is where I first started valuing music and the positive impact it can have on one’s life. To this day I sometimes drive out to an Amish community on a warm Sunday night when they have the windows open to the house, and I’ll sit half a mile away or so, and listen to several hundred voices singing together in unison.
3: CLOSE KNIT: Most Amish families have a tie that is almost impossible to break. A bond that is so strong that you will do whatever it takes to keep from breaking it. When you have spent you entire life working side by side in the fields, sawmills, woods, and even in the house with you brothers and sisters. When you sing together, pray together, cry together, share your bed with your bothers in the freezing cold upstairs of a Wisconsin farmhouse, and you lay with your backs against each other to make some body heat. When you comfort each other after a spanking, walk the 3 miles to and from school together, and ride in the buggies together to and from church every Sunday, you develop a bond that is tough to break.
Now looking back, I cherish those memories of my time spent while I was there. I wish I could go back and relive some of them. I spent a lot of my childhood impatiently awaiting the time when I would be old enough to leave the Amish. Now I wish I had spent more time cherishing my time with my brothers and sisters while I was there and had the chance.
4: A HELPING HAND: One of the hardest things I had to get used to after I left the Amish community was how alone you are out in the world. I discovered early on that if I buy a car, insurance, an apartment, and whatever I choose to spend money on, if I fall upon hard times, or in my case, winter arrives, and construction work came to a halt, I am on my own. Even if I had a few friends who would have liked to help me out with a bill here or there, they were broke as well, because all of them did construction work and lived from paycheck to paycheck same as I did.
Two weeks after leaving the Amish, I had a bad car accident. Had I not been wearing a seat belt, It would almost surely have cost me my life. With no drivers license, auto insurance, health insurance, or money saved up, you can bet that I started off on the wrong foot immediately. With no car, a $30,000. hospital bill, and laid up in bed with broken bones for 6 weeks, I discovered really quick how important it is to have friends who will help you out.
I will say that I had some friends and relatives who were ex Amish, who came to visit, an ex Amish Uncle who allowed me to live with him and his family, and the new girlfriend who I had started dating. (She is now my wife)
So when I say that I was completely alone, that is not entirely true. I had support, and a hand full of friends. One of my ex Amish friends gave me $600. Besides that, I was on my own on from the financial aspect of it.
I am not complaining. I am simply making a comparison to the Amish life where I had just come from several weeks ago. A life where if someone had a huge doctor bill and didn’t have the financial means of paying for it, the church pitched in and helped out. If that Amish community didn’t have the money to help pay it off, word would be sent to the neighboring communities until the right amount was reached.
It was the same way when someone’s house or barn burned down. Everyone would drop what they were doing. The men would cut down logs and cut them into lumber to donate. The women would bring food. The entire community would come together and donate time, food, or money to help out and rebuild. The Amish don’t carry any kind of insurance, but this was as good or better than any kind of insurance provided in the outside world.
When you live at home on your parents’ property, you are expected to work until you turn 21 for no income, in return for room and board. All of my years growing up, I lived at home for free. I ate the food off the table for free, and after I turned 21, and was allowed to work outside our home for money, I was still allowed to live at home for free. This was not even questioned. The concept that you would charge someone to live with you in your house or to eat your food would have sounded silly where I came from.
After I left, it took me a while to grasp that no one owes me anything. If I go to Home Depot to buy some tools, and I don’t have the money to buy them, it is not OK to call someone and ask them to loan me the money until I can pay it back.
5: SIMPLICITY: As it gets closer to the end of the month, I included, like many people I know, begin to worry about the extra expense of Christmas, and start questioning whether we will have enough money to pay all the bills. For some reason it doesn’t seem to matter where one works or how much money one makes, whether it be in teaching school, construction, training horses, or finally in Automotive sales where I am now, The amount of money you make is almost always just enough to just pay the bills for that month. Murphy’s Law is, if I have a month that is a little better, something comes up. Transmission goes out in the car, a garage door quits working, or any combination of things happen to insure that your account will be low again. This is the America we live in, and I am certain that many of you can nod your heads in agreement with my philosophy.
I know I am sounding repetitive, but where I come from, there are almost no bills. Money or bills are rarely spoken about. The focus in an Amish home is not necessarily on the Almighty dollar. Usually at the end of each month, there is the usual mortgage bill on the farm. That is all. There is no phone, electricity, internet, insurance, water, gas, credit card, or any other bills. Just one payment. The payment on the farm.
In the outside world, there is the constant concern of worrying about speaking politically correct, staying up to date on what’s in style to wear, what the latest rules are that are being passed, and do I need to go in and place my vote against or for it?
In the Amish community, they have none of those concerns. The Amish are not in the least concerned with who is the local Mayor, Senator, or even the President. They don’t care that there is a war being fought on Terror. That there is a concern about going Green because of pollution. That there are people who are preparing for the end of the world because of some man-made predicament. That Mark Sanchez got benched and the Jets are in disarray. That the world hangs in the balance on whether or not Dallas keeps or fires its head coach. (An attempt at lightening the mood alittle here)
Varily I say, if it hasn’t been made apparent to you yet, the Amish have their own set of rules. A set of rules that occasionally clash a little with the rules of the world, but for the most part, allow them to fly under the radar.
6: SAFETY: How would you like to live in an environment where no one locked their houses, you could trust your kids to play in the yard for hours while you worked in the fields or gardens, without fear of them venturing out into the street or fear of them being kidnapped?
How nice would it be if you had children who never heard the “birds and Bees” talk in school until you, as the parent, wanted them to hear it? Where the kids didn’t know that babies didn’t come down from Heaven on a cloud and into the bedroom with mom, until they are out of the eighth grade.
Where you didn’t have to worry about what company your kids are hanging out with after school, whether or not they may be out mudding with their vehicles, drinking, smoking various smokable objects. Why don’t you have to worry? You guessed it, they are at home by your side working.
I do not wish to muddy the waters of an otherwise pleasant conversation here, but there has never to my knowledge been problems with Amish stealing from each other, violence in schools, or reasons to worry about not trusting your fellow neighbor.
Obviously after I left, I became aware of the Nickel Mines School shooting in PA, and recently the Amish beard cuttings in Ohio. Maybe they are becoming less peaceful in recent years. I remember them as peace-loving, out of the spotlight sort of people.
7: DIVORCE: I am repeating myself from PART I of this blog, but the truth of the matter is, once you marry your significant other, there is little to no fear of any cheating going on, or your spouse giving up on you and asking for a divorce. Could it be that if both sides of a relationship know that separation is not an option under any circumstances, they may just work a little harder on trying to salvage a relationship? Who knows. I certainly know of a few Amish couples that would have been happier apart or even with different people. Bottom line is, when you say your vows, for better or worse, til death do us part, that is literally exactly what you are promising, for better or worse, and with no GET OUT FREE card. This can work both ways. If you find out too late that you aren’t happy together, too bad, suck it up. If, on the other hand, you and your spouse are madly in love, good news, you are going to enjoy each others company for the rest of your lives, come hail or high piles of corn…….
8: RELIGION: Although I am just a simple man, I have made an amazing discovery in life. Every person needs something to believe in. Something that seems to complete that person. For many people this something is religion. If you dig into almost any religion, and trust me, I have found that there are many in the World, you will find a common trend. Each and every church or religion believes they possess something that none of the others have. A little extra secret something that sets them apart from the rest. Possibly even something that may please God more than the others. There are even those that would go as far as to believe that their church or religious beliefs are the right one and the only one. The one that God wants all people to believe in. For the most part, those people actually spend a lot of time trying to convert other people, religious or not, into their belief system. This is what they feel God wants them to do. I am not casting judgement here, it probably is what God wants.
I personally am a firm believer in God. I think the world is a much better place with religion in it than without. Is it for everybody? It is not for me to say. At this point in my life, I do not feel pressured or called to be the one to go around trying to convert people. To each his own.
Imagine a world where nobody has a religious God or something to believe in. It is a sad concept, and one I hope never happens in my time here on earth.
What I started out to say is that everyone needs to believe in something. The Amish are no different. I could not imagine life among the Amish without church and religion. It is what keeps the community close. Every Sunday you were expected to attend the three or four-hour church services. If you missed it, you better had a really good excuse.
I suppose the Amish belief is a mixture of Religion, Tradition, and Superstition. What I mean by that, is that they believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, mixed in with a lot of man-made rules and tradition, and on top of that, mix that with being fiercely Superstitious about everything out of the normal that happens.
If someone dies, gets hurt, barn burns down, has a horse and buggy accident, or various other misfortunes, it was a sign from God that person was living wrong, or that God needed another angel in Heaven. The list of Superstitions that the Amish believe, are too long to list, but I remember hearing about how an Amish person, and had led a pretty decent life, died and was buried. This person had, however, done a few misdeeds that God wouldn’t have been proud of. Rumor has it that someone went past the graveyard late at night and saw this person burning above the ground. The person was in serious agony. The way the story was impressed upon me as a young child was that the person had led a good life, but had done just a few too many misdeeds that God couldn’t allow him into Heaven right away. First, before the person was allowed in, God forced him to be tortured for a time here on earth before he was allowed to enter.
Whether or not I believe this is probably not relevant here, the subject at hand is that the Amish, like many other Religions, have something to stand for, something to believe in. Agree with it or not, they are a better people because of it. I became a better person during my time as an Amish person because of the beliefs I was raised with, then if I had been raised without them.
Like it or not, respect the Amish or not, they are onto something, and that innocent, pure, belief system is one of the many things I wish I could raise my children with.
And that, my fellow readers, is why it is important for me to, while I try to educate people in the outside world to better help them understand the Amish way of life and why they believe in things the way they do, while still trying to preserve their reputation. After all, they believe with all their heart in what they do. This is the life they choose to live. Only a very small percentage of us chose to leave for various different reasons. Is it then fair to exploit the Amish way of life. To create fictitious shows and create scripted Drama about Amish when indeed they are a peace-loving people who only wish to be left alone?
9: HONESTY: Yes, I work at a car dealership. I have been there for 2 1/2 years. I have probably heard it all in my short time there. Yes, I am also aware of the reputation a car salesman has. Rumor has it we all lie. We are all out to screw everyone that walks on the lot. We are like vultures, seeking out our prey, choosing which one makes the easiest target. trust me, I am reminded of it every day. Every time that I go out on the lot and try to talk to a new person who is passing through, and I am treated with disrespect. Each and every time it seems that they have had a bad experience at another dealership, and I am the person who will receive the brunt of their fury. Most of the time, it is my job to prove that I am not that last salesman who tried to screw them. I have to prove that I can be trusted. In short, I have to prove myself.
Sounds simple, but try doing it 4 or 5 times a day, week in and week out. After a while your patience starts running thin. After a while you just want to walk up and ask a new customer if they are a buyer, and if they say “no”, turn and walk away. If you are in sales, I strongly suggest not trying that last technique, BTW. It could end your short stint at your place of employment.
However, I want to mention that it is not nearly always the salesperson who is the liar or the bad guy. I have heard every excuse in the book, and many that aren’t in it, why the customer is not ready to commit to a sale today. At first when I was selling cars, I was easily convinced. “OK, so you need to go home and pray about it for a week””? “I get it. Come back and see me after you have sorted it all out”. “Oh wait a minute, you left my dealership and went right down the street and bought from the next dealership the same day, without going home and praying about it”.
To this day, I am probably the least pressure sales person that I know. However, I have discovered something amazing. 100% of the customers who walk into the dealership are interested in buying a car. If not today, sometime in the near future. Trust me, with the reputation a dealership has, it is not exactly a friendly place like the mall where people go to hang out to pass the time. Rumor has it that most customers would rather go have a tooth pulled then go in and buy a car. So If I can’t do my job correctly, then I won’t be the person they buy from. However, if I listen carefully, help them find the vehicle that gives us the best chance at putting a deal together, listen to their needs on budget, etc, my chances of getting the sale, rocket up. And it is all possible without the dreaded word customers fear so much, PRESSURE.
I have also seen a customer say whatever it takes to try to get the most out of a trade-in.
I suppose if there is a negative to selling cars, it is that I have discovered not everyone can be trusted. A hand shake and a verbal commitment doesn’t always mean anything. What a surprise!
I suppose I have become somewhat more calloused. I have learned to take criticism with a grain of salt. As my manager would say, I have toughened up a little.
Take a step back in time where a man’s word was solid as a rock. Where a hand shake meant the world depended on you keeping your promise. Where if you borrowed money, there was a 100% chance that you would pay it back as soon as the financial situation got better. Where if you were told something by your Amish neighbor, you never even questioned or doubted that he was telling the truth, nothing but the truth, and the whole truth.
10: WORK ETHIC: I am by no means attempting to belittle the hard-working American laborer. Rather, in this section, I wish to speak about the physical labor of the Amish Farmer. Same as in the outside world, for many generations the value of hard work has been handed down from generation to generation. Growing up, I sometimes felt like my dad’s theory was that the harder one works, the greater the chance of entering the Kingdom of God. I won’t bore the reader with long details about how me and my siblings worked from sunup to sundown, day in and day out.
What I will say is that my dad was probably the hardest working man I have ever met in my life. He expected and demanded that each of his 8 sons become exactly as hard of a worker if not even more so then he was. As far as I know, I was the only son who resented hard work. I suppose I didn’t so much resent it, as I just craved my playtime as well. I remember how the long hours just absolutely crawled by in the sawmills. I would watch our Amish neighbors hook a gas motor to their little red wagon and go flying past our sawmill with their hair flying back in the wind, and I craved for adventure. It didn’t seem fair that there was no play for the Gingerich boys.
I don’t know if it was genetic, or extra hard work, but the Gingerich boys became known far and wide as the best wrestlers and arm wrestlers around. Every time we went to another Amish community for a wedding or to visit, we were matched up with their best wrestlers and we had to prove ourselves. There was usually one or two in every community that seemed to give me a run for my money.
At age 17, I began my 5 year stint as an Amish school teacher. I had discovered that I am much happier and feel a lot more fulfilled in front of a room full of children eager to learn. I loved to teach. I loved learning more and more about the world each year. It was there, after school, when all the children had gone home, that I would get books from the library, and their stories of the outside world would fill the empty voids of my adventurous heart.
By teaching school, I had found a way of getting out of the hard work on the farm. Although a male school teacher is rare among the Amish, I didn’t care. To me, it felt like I was doing a lot more with my role in life then I had been in the back forty plowing the exact same field year after year.
However, somehow my dad must have gotten through to me. Now, several decades later, I am the exact man my father was. I go from dawn to dusk and often late enough into the night that my family life almost suffers at times. In the end, my dad, who passed away, bless his soul, when I was 12 years old, probably had the last laugh. His strict methods of getting the most work out of me at a young age, came back to me many years later, and alas, I am no longer a shirker of hard work.
I suppose as a side note, By teaching a young child this sort of hard work at such a young age, you are also teaching it responsibility. There is a misconception among some people in the outside world that a kid with just an 8th grade education, seriously needs to further their education in order to get far in life. From my experience, most of the Amish people I know are actually sharp as a tack with math, Grammar, and the things that are important in making their lives go around. I suppose that quite possibly they can absorb a little more in 8 years because that is all they do in school. There are no distractions. When you get home, there are no Xbox’s to play on. No TV or radio to clutter your brain and maybe lose some of the things you learned that day.
Now looking back, although I resented the hard manual labor, I have no regrets. I am the man I am today because of all the hard work and values I was so strictly brought up with. That being said, I still despise field work, the hay leafs sliding down inside the back of my shirt with the sweat combination creating an itch which could often not be reached. I still don’t miss the husking corn by hand in 2 feet of snow in 0 degree weather so our cattle had food for another evening. I still don’t miss being the one chosen to fork the straw out evenly in the haymow when thrashing time came around. You could depend on the blower from the thrashing machine creating enough dust from the force it took to blow the straw up into the haymow, to leave you with clogged lungs, a nose that doesn’t function, and eyes filled with dust and straw.
I still don’t miss twice a day, loading all the manure out of the gutters onto a manure spreader, taking it out into a wide open field, with freezing 30 below Zero Wisconsin winds making you gasp for your breath while you unloaded the cow and horse manure out in the fields on top of the snow where it would stay all winter until the spring thaw, when it would settle down onto the field and serve as fertilizer for the crops.
What I do miss are the long walks back to the back Forty to bring up the cows for their evening milking. Training a new horse that a neighbor brought over for us to train to ride. I miss the conversations me and my brothers had in the evening in bed as we dozed off to sleep. I miss the “Singens”.
It is the times when I had time to be dreamy, that I miss. The times when I had time to reflect on life, time to think about the possibilities of another life. A life on the outside. A life where I could go try my hand at being, “English for life”
In the end, the question was, could you become, “Amish for Life”. Based on my Two Part blog, with my limited information about the Amish US wide, does it help make your decision any easier one way or the other on whether you could become, “Amish for Life”?