Sunday, July 26, 2015

Amish Families

There was something unexpected, that happened to me at the recent Horse Progress Days

        I almost felt as if the Lord had set me down in this booth and said, "Sit here and observe." For two days I didn't have any choice but to sit in that red lawn-chair (right behind the horse) and watch Amish folks interact with each other. 
        I knew it would be enjoyable for me, as an Amish novelist and a draft horse enthusiast, to visit Horse Progress Days, but I had no idea that I was about to observe something powerful. There were Amish families at booths on all sides of mine, and for two days I watched how they interacted with each other. I came out of my booth with a new respect for my Amish friends.

        Many criticize the Amish for their strict rules. Some say they are legalistic and that many of their man-made laws are unnecessary and don't make sense. I challenge you to go sit where I sat for two days, and then come back and tell me that they don't have something wonderful going on.

This is the only photo I took from my two-day seat.
         A Pennsylvania Amish family had a booth displaying their horse-drawn farm equipment, right across from my table. It seemed to be an extended family that have a business together. There were two young couples with their toddlers, and both women had a baby in arms. For two days I watched them peacefully care for their children in a confined area, under sweltering, southern-Indiana heat and humidity. The women had smiles on their faces the entire time. They visited cheerfully with every Amish woman that passed by and often had a group of women around them all laughing and talking. Meanwhile, they dawdled their infants on their laps and gently herded their toddlers, a set of adorable little girls in their Amish dresses. The little girls were busy the whole time playing at the feet of their parents. They spent one block of time arranging and re-arranging everything their mother had stored in a picnic cooler. They looked like they were used to watching their mama work and were imitating her. The husbands were often busy showing potential customers their products, yet, often took time to help their wives quiet a crying baby. I watched one of the dads gently feed a dropper-full of medicine to his baby. (I'm guessing something to sooth the teething process.) 

        Both days ended with a show. All of us crowded around a ring where six and eight-horse hitches pranced. A group of Amish teens performed a synchronized, horseback "dance" for lack of a better term. They showed some impressive horse handling, while weaving their mounts in what resembled a square dance. The non-Amish man with a microphone kept suggesting that we applaud. A few did clap, but it is not the Amish way. That didn't mean they weren't enjoying the show, they stood perfectly still, all with smiles on their faces.

         After the main event, a procession of local Amish families left in their buggies, while visiting Amish folks, that were waiting for tour buses to come pick them up, watched. I stood with them and watched too. I really liked how mothers and daughters often wore dresses made from the same piece of cloth. Husbands and brothers sometimes had a shirt that matched.

        Somehow it seemed so peaceful to see young families crowd into their buggies. Mamas with baby in arms, a little boy standing between daddy's knees, holding onto the driving lines. Older sisters with younger siblings on their laps. Families that lived nearby waked home together.

        It hit me, that these families stay together. These children probably wont be caught in a custody battle and torn between their fighting parents, who use them as leverage to outdo each other.

 I have lived near an Amish community for about 35 years. I have eaten many meals in my Amish friend's homes and visited Amish Church, Singings, volley-ball games. I have had the opportunity on numerous occasions to help make hay with Amish families. Yet, this two days of observing hit me in a new way. I became convinced that the choice to stay within the guidelines of strict Amish rules has payed off for these families more than they might even be aware of themselves. I am so thankful that there are horse-drawn communities around us. The rest of us have a lot to learn from them.

Notice the little girls in the back with a balloon

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