Doing what’s right today means no regrets tomorrow.
– Amish proverb
When I was a grad student at Syracuse, my friend Laurel Kallenbach and I ventured to Amish country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for the Labor Day weekend in 1989. I was taken by the simple lifestyle and the beautiful carpentry, quilts, and other handiwork, and when I made my way back to California, I hoped to one day return. I was excited to have that opportunity come up not only for me but for my two children. I wanted them to see another part of our country and appreciate a different culture and religious denomination.
My one mistake in planning our trip was to book two nights at a Days Inn in Lancaster – a serviceable, inexpensive hotel chain. It never occurred to me to look up B&Bs, which dotted the region with inviting red-brick homes and charming front-yard gardens. Furthermore, it never occurred to me to seek out an Amish B&B. We ended up doing the Amish buggy farm tour the morning that we were leaving for Baltimore, which was when we met Ben, our driver, who runs a B&B with his wife. He invited us to have a simple Amish dinner that night. Drat! If only Ben were at Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Rides (3121 Old Philadelphia Pike, Ronks, PA 17572, 717.768.8828) when we swung by the evening before but missed the last round of wagons and buggies hitting the road.
Ben was a wonderful guide and he tortured us with what could have been. Had we stayed at their B&B, Isabella could have ridden his horse, collected eggs from the hen-house, helped milk the cows, and play with the goats. This experience alone would have made me, the mom, ecstatic for my daughter. Alas, we talked about sending Isabella next summer for a week – well, it sounded promising at the time. If you are interested, you can call the Amish Homestead (231 Turtle Hill Road, Ephrata, PA 17522, 717.859.2403, Ext. 0), run by Ben and Emma.
We chose the private, hour-long farm tour as opposed to the wagon ride, which would have crammed us in with other groups of people. Ben was born and lived his entire life in the Lancaster area and happy to answer questions. I’m sure for some Amish people tourists are nuisances, but Ben was really happy to share his world and let us catch a glimpse of the Amish lifestyle and the Pennsylvania Dutch country.
Getting a glimpse
To date, some 50,000 Amish live in the Lancaster area, while there are approximately 250,000 living in the U.S. Lancaster boasts the largest concentration of Amish, which is a Protestant denomination – closely related to the Mennonites. They are descendants of immigrants who left Switzerland in the 18th century, following a schism within the Anabaptists. The Amish follow the teachings of Jacob Ammann, a 17th century Swiss citizen. One of the main distinctions of the Amish is that they do not use modern technology. If you see a house with simple clothes strung on a line and no car in sight, it is no doubt an Amish house. While Ben said they can use solar power, they don’t use electricity and don’t have phones. The men usually have beards and males often wear hats. The women wear a white cap and simple dresses that are fastened with straight pins instead of buttons. I’ve read that they do not take oaths, vote, or serve in the military.
We learned more on our tour, which included stopping at an Amish farm and being treated to homemade cookies and homemade lemonade and root beer. Amish homes are built to scale to accommodate large families, weddings, funerals, and Sunday services, which are rotated among the community. The youngest son inherits the farm and the grown children take care of their elderly parents, who live in an addition to the original house.
Amish schools consist of one room and one teacher for all students up until the eighth grade, which is when schooling ends. Afterwards, if they don’t become farmers, which Ben told us is a difficult calling because of stiff competition from agribusiness, they take up an apprenticeship and hone a trade, including landscape designers and carpenters.
Our hour passed by all too quickly. We were Baltimore-bound, but we managed to squeeze time driving from Lancaster to Bird-in-Hand to Intercourse and stopping at will if we saw some shops to browse. We unwittingly stumbled into Kitchen Kettle Village (W. Newport Road, Intercourse, PA 17529, 800.732.3538), an open-air mall of Pennsylvania Dutch Country specialty shops featuring homemade foods, activities, and tours. It was a bit touristy, but we found fantastic furniture shops, including one I remembered from my time in Syracuse. Old Road Furniture Company‘s shop (3457 Old Philadelphia Pike, Intercourse, PA 17534, 717.768.0478) featured exquisite custom-designed dining room tables, chairs, cupboards, beds, and more. Our favorites were the tables of maple, walnut, and cherry slabs atop vintage, industrial bases. One of these days.
As usual, we could have stayed another day, but after noshing on pretzels, we hopped back into our rental car, bid adieu to our Amish experience and headed on to the next leg of our trip – Baltimore. I leave you with another Amish proverb, which sounds like it belongs in a cult movie rather than a book of Amish proverbs – “Remember that wherever you go, there you are.”