Ira Wagler grew up Amish in Canada and Iowa. He has written a memoir called Growing Up Amish. It’s not out until July, but I enjoyed reading the first two chapters, which Ira has shared on his website. In the excerpt below, he describes Amish visitors to his childhood community of Aylmer in Ontario:
They came from all over: from the small communities dotted about in the various eastern and midwestern states. From Michigan. From northern and southern Indiana. New York. Wisconsin. From the hills of Holmes County, Ohio. And, yes, even from the blue-blooded enclaves of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
The visitors displayed a wide variety of dialects and dress. Daviess County people talked fast and sloppy, with many English words mixed in. Holmes County people conversed in a slow drawl, taking forever to get anything said. Even their English taxi drivers spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. And Lancaster, well, those people used old German words we had never heard before and had no idea what they meant. We thought the Lancaster people the strangest. They were certainly the most unlike us. The men wore wide, flat-brimmed black hats, and the women sported funny little heart-shaped head coverings. We even heard rumors that their buggies were quite distinct from those in other communities. Rectangular, like a box, with straight sides. Not angled in at the bottom, like those in most communities. And rounded tops. Hilarious to us, and strange.
Guests frequently arrived unannounced, often just minutes before mealtime. Many of my early childhood memories include having strangers in the house, company from other communities who stopped by for a meal or for a day or for the night. Mom always scratched together enough food for everyone. Cheerfully. Only later in life did I ever consider how inconvenient that must have been for her at times. My sisters, too, have commented that they would bake a cake or some other delicacy, only to see it wolfed down by hungry guests they would never see again.
Some guests left bigger impressions than others. Once, when I was about four years old, a couple stayed with us for the night. The man had salt-and-pepper hair, a sharp, pointy little beard, and piercing eyes. I was terrified of him for some reason and thought he looked quite evil. The next morning, as they were getting ready to leave, he looked right at me and asked if I wanted to go home with them. They needed another little boy, and I would be just the ticket. I was horrified and speechless, and wildly shook my head. He was, of course, only joking, but I didn’t know that. I learned to keep my distance from our guests after that.
Once, several couples from Lancaster stopped by for a late afternoon meal. Only Dad and Mom ate with them. The visitors requested cold peach soup, which consisted of cold milk, peaches, and soggy lumps of bread. Standard fare in Lancaster County, we had heard. We lurked behind the curtains and watched as the adults sat there primly, visiting and eating the cold, gooey mess as if they enjoyed it. Though we were relieved not to have to eat the atrocious concoction, nobody collapsed after eating it, so it must have been okay.
Visit Ira’s site to read the rest.