Something fun today.  I thought it might be nice to highlight some of the more interesting recent comments from Amish America readers.  We typically get between 200 and 300 comments each week.  So even if you’re checking in frequently, you’re likely to miss some, which often appear on old posts as well as the fresh-baked ones.

Even if I can’t reply to everything, I do try to read all comments that come in.  Below you’ll find some of my favorites from the past week and a half, with my own thoughts thrown in.  I’ve linked to each comment directly via the writer’s name, which will let you jump straight to that thread.

If this proves popular we might make it a recurring feature.  A big thanks to all of you fantastic readers for providing such frequent and good contributions–makes all of this even more fun 🙂  Hope you enjoy these as much as I did.

Breeding season

For starters, last week’s Amish twins post got a lot of nice feedback and twin stories.  One of my favorite comments came from James Stytle:

My mother and my father’s late uncle shared a birthday — the most famous birthday of all, December 25th.

I used to have neighbors that had four children and two birthdays. The oldest and second oldest girls were born on the same day two years apart (the dad was concerned that people would think he and his wife had a “breeding season”). The youngest two, and boy and a girl, were twins.

Made me think of the stories (urban legends?) of mini-baby booms happening exactly 9 months after blackouts.  But…probably not a topic you’d bring up at an Amish dinner table!

Drawing the line in Mississippi

Our friend and Mississippi Amish correspondent Wm Justice shares a nice anecdote about Amish in the state’s only community:

My Swartzentruber friends in Randolph use gas and diesel fueled engines. The diesels are used to power their shops via under the floor belt drives and the gas fueled engines are used in washing machines, on water pumps and on table saws.

I once confronted my best friend when I visited her while she was mowing her lawn with a reel push mower. I asked, “You use a lawnmower engine to pump water, wash clothes and run table saws. Why not use a lawnmower engine to mow a lawn?” She fired back, “Well, you gotta stop somewhere.”

I love how this captures the puzzling nature of Amish technology.  You can take one technology, remove it from its (forbidden) intended usage, repurpose it for another, and it becomes acceptable.  This community has chosen a particular line and stuck with it.  It might be head-scratching to outsiders but may make perfect sense when viewed through the prism of this particular conservative group.

Stream power

Sticking with technology for a moment, Elizabeth Snoke shares how she helped Amish in Missouri find a different sort of power solution:

About 2 years ago, I had a phone call from a man in Missouri. Many years ago he’d read an article in Popular Mechanics about getting water-power-based electrical service for his home. He explained his home was in a very hilly part of Missouri and there were 2 fast-flowing streams running through his property. Could I help him re-locate that article and get a copy. After a bit of searching, I identified the month and year of the magazine tho I couldn’t get a copy of the article myself. Did find U of Missouri Library had the magazine so talked with a librarian there who happened to have an interest in the Amish and was fascinated with the proposed project.

She got the magazine issue, counted the number of pages to be copied, told me cost, gave me her name and phone. I sent the info to the Missouri Amishman. Two months or so later, I got the nicest call from him thanking me. He’d gotten the article (full of drawings, etc.) and had set up a working system. What he was doing was getting electric lighting PLUS a way of charging/recharging batteries to be used with other devices. No problem from his bishop–in fact several other Amish families were interested in setting up such systems!

Unlike some of their tech solutions, harnessing all-natural water power just fits the picture the public has of the Amish.  It’s also another interesting example of how restrictions counter-intuitively unleash creativity and outside-the-box thinking.

Go Chiefs

Also in Missouri, last week we had a neat story about Amish furniture maker Jake Graber, which came at just the right time for Beth R:

Well, ironically, I just spoke to Jake Graber on the phone yesterday – how funny is that? We’re headed up to Jamesport in a couple weeks and they also make last names out of logs and last time we were there, he said to call before we go up so he has time to get it done.

I had left him a voicemail. He was funny because he gave me a price and then said, “Well, if you pay with cash it might be a little cheaper. See you in a couple weeks.” He didn’t ask for any more information but our last name – no down payment, no address, nothing. I’m sure his son will do a great job. Last time we were there his wife was saying their sons were big Kansas City Chiefs fans, which I thought was funny.

Two things I enjoyed here: The classic Amish nonchalance of the whole transaction, and of course the sports thing.

The paying with cash “might be a little cheaper” comment is perfect, as is the nothing-but-the-name-needed approach.  I think this is reflective of both the trust exhibited by Amish businesspeople–and also what must be an Amish aversion to paperwork (one thing I share with the Plain people 🙂 ).  These days the bigger and higher-profile Amish companies will necessarily need more paperwork, but there are a lot still doing things the old-fashioned way.

As to the Chiefs, I just liked how mom knew right away what team her boys were into.  Jamesport is just 90 minutes from Kansas City (and the Chiefs have been better than the St. Louis Rams lately), so if you’re a Jamesport Amish teen and looking for an NFL team, I guess KC is a no-brainer.

Amish convert dispatches

Don Curtis‘ son Mark joined the New Order Amish community in Belle Center, Ohio (See “Joining the Amish after 50” for Mark’s story).  Don periodically writes with updates from Mark.   Here’s one on buggy safety I found quite interesting:

I asked my son, Mark, who is Amish, what he thought about children driving buggies. I didn’t know this until he told me but the school children in his community receive a course in buggy driving safety. He knows because he’s taught it, already. There is, also, a coursebook, put out by The Ohio State University that goes along with this safety course. He feel that if the child has received training at home about driving a horse and has a good safe driving horse, they should be fine.

Mark says that in his community, the horse and buggy accidents caused by Amish, at fault, have been very, very few. The horse and buggy accidents have mainly been Amish buggies hit from behind by careless car drivers and that can happen whatever age the driver is.

Also, Mark says, that the number of folks in his community hit while riding their bicycles far outnumbers any horse and buggy accidents. There have now been, in Mark’s community, at least two fatalities because of bicycle riders being hit by car drivers, in both cases alcohol was involved. Mark says he feels safer driving his horse and buggy than he does riding his bicycle.

The buggy safety course looks like more evidence of Amish formalizing buggy training (see also recent coverage of the Amish buggy safety manual).  Buggies getting hit gets a lot of attention, but bicycles are, as Mark notes, probably a bigger danger.

Bikes are quite popular with some Amish, even a primary means of getting around in some places (underscoring the point, Lindsay, currently visiting Goshen, writes about northern Indiana: “the biggest eye-opener is the roving gangs of Amish cyclists! Young, old, large and small they rule the roads! My favorite sighting of the day was an Amishman on a sweet Cannondale road bike with aero bars! I suppose you have to work off the pie somehow….”)

Don also shares a bit on Mark’s visit to Europe.  He doesn’t say how he got there, though New Order Amish generally permit air travel:

 My son, Mark, just returned from a three week trip to Germany with three other Amish visiting some friends. In the German village where they were staying they were asked to participate in a church service in the village Catholic church by the priest. I think they sang some Amish hymns and I don’t know what all.

But, afterwards Mark said this old man came up to him and said that when the Amish were speaking it was like he could hear his old grandmother speaking. His grandmother had been an old farm wife from the Pfaltz area of Germany. This man was in his 80′s and his grandmother was probably born sometime in the 1870′s I would guess. Mark says this old man was just fascinated about how the Amish accent, vocabulary, idioms, etc. were just like what his grandmother had used who lived all her life in the Pfaltz. He said he hadn’t heard some of the words Mark and the other Amish had used since his grandmother had died many years before.

You hear things like this from time to time, that the language in certain German-speaking regions of Europe bears close resemblance to what Amish in America speak today.

“Aai hef toe bieheef”

Speaking of speaking, the Amish language post has grown into one of the longest and most interesting threads on this site.  Flemish speaker Frederik recently wrote in with a discussion of dialects in his region, plus thoughts on Pennsylvania Dutch.   It’s a long and interesting piece, but to quote just a section:

I think I’ve illustrated that even close dialects, (lets say within a 50kmx100km region) could have big trouble understanding each-other.

Then there’s a second thing: the writing. I don’t think it’s easy to say if “you can understand” a piece of text written in a foreign language.

For example, do you make any sence of this: “Aai hef toe bieheef”

Would you think this is a dialect close to American English? I’m not sure, since I can read this. It would be the result if you would give a 7-year old Flemish kid a recording of an American saying the sentence “I have to behave”, and ask the kid to write this down. I’m guessing here, but I think the writing “Aai hef toe bieheef” would seem pretty foreign, even to an English speaker.

Since both Pensylvenia Dutch and the Elzas dialect have no standard writing, only showing pieces of text to each other will be problematic, even if they’re closely related. Since probably the Elzas-speakers will write some phonetic form of they’re dialect, with High German in mind. (or maybe French) Where the Amish who try to write pensylvania german, would probably base their phonetic writings on the English way of writing.

Read the comment in full here.

Traffic Jam

Bonnie writes in with a question:

What is the address and the hours for the small Amish market near Wadena, MN? I’m interested in finding the jam called “traffic jam” again.

Anyone familiar with Amish in Minnesota know this place?  And: what is traffic jam?  I’ve seen it before, never tried it.  Is it any good?  Can a jelly named after something so horrible be even somewhat enjoyable? 😉

Amish in NYC

Nelson shares:

Just talked today with a New, New Order Amish man, who lives in the Walhonding, Ohio community, and they took a Charter bus load of young people to pass out Gospel CDs on the streets of New York City….
They took 4000 along and the people were taking them so fast that they were running out of them.

Walhonding is located in Coshoction County, a long buggy-ride from the heart of the Holmes County settlement.  “New” New Order Amish make up a very small Amish subset, and are on the cutting edge, so to speak, allowing a high level of technology.  Going by Nelson’s comment they are also much more proactive than your average Amish in spreading their faith, and even more so than regular New Order Amish would be.

Grappling with the World

If you’ve followed his writing, you know Lance was once a part of an Amish community.  Lance has a commendable insight and knowledge of Amish Christianity, as well as the practices of different communities.  I appreciated him sharing the following bit from the New Testament on a post on staying with an Amish family:

 1 John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

This piece of Scripture captures the core of the Amish struggle.  Many of the stories on Amish America illustrate this struggle and process of deciding just how much of the world it is acceptable to permit into their lives.  Amish come to different conclusions on this.

I think a lot of people are attracted to the Amish for superficial reasons (and I’ve been in that boat too)–the pretty farms, the tasty food, the odd use of technology.  But I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing–especially if it leads someone to try to understand the reasons why Amish come in the peculiar-seeming package that they do.  Here’s hoping that those that do have an experience with the Amish come away richer for it.