Growing Up Amish

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.

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    1. Marilyn in New York

      I enjoyed reading part of Ira’s book. I can hardly wait until it comes out-I would really enjoy reading the book. Do the Amish still do that day today-show up unannounced?

      Marilyn in New York

    2. Marilyn that is definitely the case. Sunday is a common day for surprise visits. So if you are at home that day you kind of expect it in a way.

      Often it is people from your community or church district, but in Ira’s case, since his community of Aylmer was unusual in some ways, he apparently got a lot of guests from all over.

    3. Alice Aber

      I used to love having company and visiting but it was always someone we knew. Growing up my house sometimes seemed like it have a revolving door, LOL. But I can not imagine having total strangers just pop in and tell me what to fix for them to eat!! I’m afraid I would not have the patience his mother and I am sure most Amish women must have to deal with that.

      Looks like it will be an interesting book!

      Hope everyone is well today. We are back into the fridgid temperatures. Currently zero out with a wind chill of minus 20. Brrrrrr!!!

      Have a great day!
      Blessings, Alice

    4. Richard

      Good morning folks.I think ive been to Ira Waglers web site in passing awhile back, and im always very interested in what the former Amish have to say.It does seem that so many of the former Amish are coming foward and are speaking out, i dont ever remember that happening this much in the past.So we might be seeing a big change in attitudes, and a more comfortable environment for them to share their stories.Well id better get going, it looks to be a fairly nice mostly sunny day here in Lebanon county, and even some of the snow is melting even alittle. enjoy the rest of your day, and ill pop-in later in the day. Richard from Pennsylvania

    5. linda saul

      Hi everyone. You mentioned of the amish having unexpected guests drop in. Are they speaking only of other Amish ? I am wondering if they were not Amish, would they get the same welcome ? I am not Amish and live in Ontario where we have more Mennonite, I stop in several times to buy eggs from them and each time have just stood inside the porch, if they have one or stood outside and they brought them out to me. But were very friendly.

    6. Visiting in Amish homes

      Linda good Q, “visiting” is kind of a cultural thing that Amish do. Amish talk and share news in the home, often over food, etc.

      Other visitors tend to be treated warmly, though just as anywhere else, as a stranger you’re not as likely to be invited in as someone from the community of course. It’s just a different dynamic. But if you know someone, it is normal. I drop in on Amish friends all the time and as long as it is not too busy in the shop we have time to visit.

      It does vary but in general Amish tend to be hospitable to non-Amish as well.

    7. Colleen

      Hello everyone…I have been enjoying this site for some time, but I don’t remember ever commenting.

      In regard to Growing Up Amish and visiting, I visit with different Amish friends in Lancaster County,and each family seems to have a guest book that they ask me to sign or comment in each time I visit. I think it is a lovely custom, and I love to read the entries made by those who came to visit before me! Is anyone else familiar with this custom?

    8. Guest book in Amish homes, schools

      Welcome Colleen! Glad you brought this up. The guest book is quite common in Amish homes. I’ve always though it reflects the importance Amish place on relationships and people. Amish schools typically have a guest book as well.

      Maybe others reading this have encountered the guest book too. I also find it fun to see the visitors people get. Sometimes even from outside the country.

    9. Kate

      Our families here in MI are very much fans of the guest book. When the eldest son of the family I stay with (Amish) was in an accident the family had SO many visitors. A lot were family but some were strangers wanting to encourage them or bring them food at the hospital etc. I think they filled up 3 guest books just in the 4-5 months he was in the hospital and recovering at home. I was actually given a guest book to put in my hope chest for my birthday this year 🙂 I can’t wait till I have a home of my own to use it on! Visiting/socialization is a huge part of the Amish life and I think it’s something the “world” has really lost. I’ve signed a few guest books but now I’m considered family not a guest! haha 🙂

      I am excited about this book and plan to check on it some more. It really seems like he is an ex-Amish person that isn’t writing a huge book bashing the Amish like a lot of ex-Amish are these days. I really enjoy the nice books rather than a book about so and so’s opinion on how bad the Amish are. I really look forward to Ira’s book!

    10. Chelsea

      The Beachy Amish church I attended for a while was really big on the Guest Book, but the Conservative Mennonite church I go to now does not seem to use them. I guess maybe it would be up to the individual, but I have yet to sign one. Seems kind of odd seing that most of the members at this church come from the Amish church…

    11. Richard

      Hey folks, i just got back home, and i was very wrong about the weather being warmer from my first post this morning. When i walked out the door i knew right away i had made a mistake, i think the sun being out may have fooled me alittle. We had the winds kicking up along with fairly low temps made it feel like it was 20-25 degrees at best.While i was driving home i decided to stop for a bit and snap some more pictures with the digital camera, which ive just posted on the blog.I had a tough time holding the camera because i didnt bring my gloves when i left in the morning, and the wind was hitting me in the face. what i wont do for that blog,lol.I will also be posting a few more pictures of my area, and also some images of the town of Reistville, which is where most of the Amish live here in Lebanon county.

    12. Richard

      I also took a few pictures of a mennonite dairy up the road from me where you can buy homemade ice cream,milk,and eggs. The ice cream is great, and you can see them processing the milk through a glass window. So maybe at some point ill talk with the owners and devote a post to their business. Ill be back alittle later, and come visit my blog and comment if you wish. Richard from Lebanon countys Amish community.

    13. Mona

      Enjoyed this reading also Erik, please remind us again when the book comes out, I too would love to read it…..good job Erik……

    14. Alice Mary

      I, too, enjoyed the sample from Ira Wagler’s book, and look forward to buying it. Actually, I hope my library buys it (where I work), but I’d need to know the ISBN (International Standard Book Number)first, to make sure it’s THE book, and not one similarly titled! Can anyone give me the publishing details? We really need to update our Amish books at the library (obviously, I’ve read quite a few, though mainly fiction).

      It’s bitterly cold (single digits or less) here tonight, as though last week’s blizzard wasn’t bad enough. The local schools were closed for 2 days–my library closed early on Tues. and was closed all day Wed. of last week. I have an Amish calendar on my refrigerator, and this month’s subject is an Amish buggy being driven through high snow piled on either side of the road–it’s mainly just a picture of snow. My husband pointed to it (after at least 3 hours of shoveling and warming up inside a few minutes) and said “That’s what it’s like out there.”
      Which leads me to ask, do the Amish mainly use buggies with wheels during the winter, or do they switch to runners for use in the snow? I’ve never driven a horse and buggy, period, so I thought I’d ask!

    15. Marilyn in New York

      Hi Alice,
      I know some of them have horse pulled sleighs. I think they are black sleighs and everyone gets in and off they go.
      Marilyn in New York

    16. Kate

      Alice Mary,
      That depends on the indivual church I think. Marilyn said that some there pull sleighs but here I think only 1 family owns a sled. The rest would just keep the wheels on. I don’t think it’s forbidden but it’s just not done. Sometimes in MI the snow melts and then you’d have to put the wheels back on only to have a snow storm the next day!

    17. Morinne

      Hi Erik,
      Thank you for sharing excerpt from Ira Wagler’s book. I have gone to his website many times and have already pre-ordered his book. He seems to tell it like it is and continues to have much admiration for the Amish.
      I am in the process of reading “I am Hutterite” which was recently mentioned on your posts (no, I was not a winner of the book – I had to buy it!)I find this book both fascinating and disturbing and would love to hear comments from others who have had the opportunity to read this book.

    18. Bob Dylan

      I am curious as to how you came up with the ficticious name “Harley Smoker”…That is a successful businessman in this fascinating, insightful and inspiring work.

    19. Bonita

      Loved this book! I read it in one day!I could not put it down!