If you have Amish friends or acquaintances, you might just have a strong memory of how you met them. I can clearly recall the morning years ago I met one Amish couple who eventually became close family friends. Their oldest child – who was then just a tot in a baby seat perched on the back of a horse-drawn planter – is now out of school and doing the planting himself. And as the family has grown over the years, and we’ve kept close despite distance, the blessings have only multiplied.
Today Walter Boomsma shares how he met “Mrs. Miller”, resident of a small community in Maine – and how he’s gradually getting to know her and her family. The way things start off might just ring a bell for some of you.
Very few things will cause me to suddenly turn to the side of the road and screech to a halt, but that’s how I met Mrs. Miller about a year ago. She’d opened an Amish farm stand that caught my eye on the busy highway between my home and Bangor, Maine. The stand offered an assortment of goods typical of stands like hers: loaves of bread, some jams, jellies, and tempting pies and pastries.
My good fortune didn’t stop with the selection. The maker and several of her young sons came out to help. In addition to my “yummies,” we had some time to chat. While we live forty miles apart, I decided to be a good neighbor. I’ll admit that I subtly made it evident that I’m somewhat knowledgeable about plain people. After welcoming her to the area, I made a few gentle inquiries. “Yes,” she smiled, “we are Old Order.”
She happily explained that she was initially from a settlement in New York but that she most recently lived a bit to the north, here in Maine. They and several other families recently moved to Corinth. The district numbered four families (June 2022) but is “spread out over some distance.” When I mentioned an Old Order family in Palmyra about forty miles to the south, she said she didn’t know where that was, reminding me that distance is relative in the Amish world.
Is time relative as well? There has been plenty of conversation and calories since we first met. The Miller boys (four, the oldest is five) come running when they see my car pull in. If I happen to leave the door open, they peer inside with wide eyes. I chat with them, but they don’t have much to say in return. I recently slapped my forehead and said, “I’m sorry! It just didn’t occur to me they are probably not speaking English yet.” Mrs. Miller rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, trust me. They know a few words.” I didn’t ask which ones.
This allowed Mrs. Miller to—dare I say, “brag”—a bit. “We’re opening a school this fall.” We’ve hired a teacher, and she will stay with us.” Since only one of the boys is old enough for school, I suspected there had been some changes. “It’ll be up on that road.” She waved her hand to the northwest. “It’s a bit far for us, but we’ll manage.”
I asked how many families are now in the district. She seemed to straighten up and stand a bit taller. She barely comes up to my chin in her bare feet. “Fourteen! A year ago, we were only four! And we have another family coming soon.” I sometimes get lost in the genealogy. I think the newest family is married to a cousin of someone already in the area. I may need the courage to ask if I might take notes during our conversations. I was also distracted by her excitement and enthusiasm and was mentally considering how the Amish might differentiate between humility and pride. “A year ago, we had four families. Now we are fourteen!”
Knowing family size among the Amish is generally accepted as seven to eight, I calculated there could be over 100 Amish folks in the Corinth, Maine, area. According to the 2010 census, the population of Corinth was just under 2,900. If we do some rough math, this expanding demographic could constitute ten percent of the population. Since hearing this news, I’ve noticed the Maine D.O.T. has been putting up a lot of buggy warning signs in central Maine. Nationally, I understand the Amish population doubles about every twenty years. In Corinth, Maine, it more than tripled in one.
During a recent visit, I asked permission to take photos of the stand and products. I mentioned I was “promoting” her business on the Internet and social media. She replied, “I’ve heard of that.” I’m not sure she fully appreciated my reply explaining how I envy her and sometimes wish the extent of my knowledge of that particular technology was limited to “I’ve heard of it.”
It would be hard not to like Mrs. Miller and her boys. I’ve yet to meet Mr. Miller. He and his brother operate a shed-building business just up the road. During my most recent visit, I brought a box of canning jars—I noticed a sign on the stand requesting them. I cautiously also brought a box of books for the school, suggesting their new teacher might want to check through them to ensure they are appropriate.
There’s some hard-to-describe positive tension between us as we explore our friendship and, to a lesser extent, each other’s worlds. Frankly, she seems less interested in mine than I am in hers. Perhaps that is the key to our friendship. We are both interested in many of the same things. We laugh easily together.
I have told her I trust her to let me know if I cross a line or say or do something inappropriate. Often, when I drive away, I find myself thinking simply. Or at least about simpler things. The world would benefit from people laughing more easily together and trusting each other to invest in a working relationship.
Maybe we’d all benefit from an influx of “plain people” to Maine. At least in central and northern Maine, we’re comparatively rural with a certain amount of stoicism and tradition. For many years our slogan was “Life the way it should be.” I hope these relative newcomers find that to be true. And maybe with their help and influence, we’ll find some things about living together and the way life should be.