Another part of growing up on the Haymarsh was that many of our neighbors were Amish. I don’t know the history of how they came to settle in the area, but they definitely added a unique flavor to the community. I respect their devotion to their way of life and faith, even if I don’t find it necessary. But… There are definitely a few things/stories that stuck in my memory:
I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point my brother and I started calling Amish children omelets. I think it may have something to do with the fact that often one house will have a dozen children.
In summer, the omelets play outside much like my brother and I used to do, and I imagine there is a similar aspect of their mother wanting them out of the house. They will always be barefoot, but in this community clothing is never optional. The omelets will be dressed from head to shins in black doll’s clothes with the cutest (and probably most uncomfortable) straw hats and bonnets you’ve ever seen. There is always a puppy. People drive by slowly to see the herd of little omelets playing, and it’s hard to say whose curiosity is more entertained – those in the cars or the children. But I do know that the puppies always enjoy the children’s attention being diverted, because they always jump at the chance to run for it.
Once, I saw three little omelets standing by their pasture, staring open-mouthed and pointing as a bull had his way with a cow. That must have been Biology class for the day.
Deer in a Barrel
Not everyone enjoys having Amish neighbors. Especially around hunting season. One family went so far in their plans to “outsmart” their Amish neighbors that they built a 25-foot tall fence along their entire property line to keep deer from running off their property onto the Amish property. It was a wall Nehemiah would have been proud of, even if the motivation was a little different.
When deer season came around, however, the Amish were ready. They got up at 4:00 a.m. and sat along their side of the fence, waiting. The deer, probably confused, ended up being funneled by the new fence into the Amish property. Trapped, the deer ran along the fence like those shooting games at a carnival while the Amish men shot at them for 45 minutes. Deer tried crawling under the fence to no avail. Thirteen deer died that days, some so small they still had spots on their little haunches. As my Dad found out later, “The boys enjoyed some sport.” By mowing down Bambi’s as they tried to crawl under a fence? Very sporting indeed.
The Sunday Morning Game
My family played a game on the way to church every Sunday: Guess Which Way The Amish Went To Church. You play by swerving around the horse poop in the road, trying to decipher which direction the horse-drawn buggy had been traveling. Are the poopy trails leading to the Yoders? Or the Adams? Then our family car would make that one turn to our church, and we’d see a pile of plop going in the other direction. Yes, it was the Yoders that Sunday. (We found odd things to be competitive about in my family, but poop tracking was one of them.)
The Amish Diet
At the local grocery store, I always found it exciting to pull into the parking lot and see a horse and buggy tied to the lamppost. One day, my mom and I entered to find a young Amish couple (you knew they hadn’t been married long cuz his beard was thin yet) shopping around. I’m not alone in finding this exciting, because I distinctly remember seeing several other customers also looking in the couple’s cart, wondering what they were buying. I lost track of them in the store but was fortunate enough to end up right behind them in the checkout line. What did they pull from their cart? A frozen pizza and eggs.
Two thoughts went through my head:
1.) Shouldn’t they have chickens?
2.) How did they cook the pizza?
Oh, they’re crafty, those Amish. They helped themselves to all the maple syrup they could carry from our woods two years in a row. We would drive by our land and see the trees reflecting back at us like they all had rear-view windows – the syrup collecting bags were silver.
Not only did they relieve us of the burden of harvesting from our land, but they were also so generous as to plant…special herbal crops on our land. My grandmother was shocked by the DEA one afternoon when they landed a helicopter, knocked on her door, and asked if she was responsible for about 20 marijuana plants on her property. Honestly, I can’t really blame the DEA – which is more ridiculous, that my grandmother would be growing weed or that the nice Amish boys would be planting weed? (To be fair, the true culprits may have been my aunt and uncle’s employees, but I have my reasons for suspecting the Amish boys. We had always wondered what was in those plastic bags when they would come out of our woods.)
More as a kind way to interact with the Amish boys than as an actually wise business move, my dad decided one summer to buy pigeons from them to hunt on the Hunt Club. They were delighted (he would later say because they’d known a sucker when they saw one) and sold Dad over 100 pigeons at a time that they caught in their barn. Now, fun fact about pigeons: They will return home to roost, even after the betrayal of being sold into a slavery where they’re shot at. So, by the end of the summer, my dad was pretty sure he’d bought many of the same birds at least three times.
By the time I actually had horses of my own, I was over my girlhood horse phase. It didn’t help that our appaloosa was an idiot. Gorgeous, but an idiot. “He” (and I use the term loosely, if you know what I mean) needed training desperately so that he would calm down and stop bucking. My grandfather had an old Amish friend who reportedly worked wonders as a horse whisperer, so we took our appaloosa to this exorcist and let him see what he could do.
After looking the horse over and agreeing to keep him for a while, this kind older man turned to me and asked how I liked riding him. I said, “Fine, but he bucks a lot.” He then gave me the most valuable advice I’ve ever received, and it can extend beyond horse riding to all areas of life, I believe. He said, “Well, if you’re going to fall, be sure to land on your head so you don’t hurt your ass.” This was the first time I’d ever heard an Amish person swear.
So, anyway, living on the fringes of an Amish community wasn’t a drastic influence on my life, but it certainly added a unique flavor. These people are mostly known for buggies, bonnets, beards, and hand-crafted furniture. They often seem un-relatable. But they’re faithful, they’re funny, they are not perfect. At the very least, living so close to them taught me that you really can’t judge a person by their cover. Or what’s in their shopping cart.