PA Amish trip highlights

I’ve finally put together some trip highlights from Lancaster County. Today begins a new trip, a week-long journey across Indiana and Ohio.  Before we get into that, here’s what I liked from last week’s visit:

Seven nights, four bonfires, two mountain pie feasts. Amish people like to burn stuff in the summer time. Mostly wood from what I can tell. It makes for a nice setting to sit, talk, and eat, and roast mountain pies. This past week was bonfire-o-rama. Two of the fires were lit in celebration of birthdays (mine and Eli’s, and another friend’s surprise party).

My second try at mountain pies came out tastier than the first. Part of the problem the first time is that I got to choose from the last two pie irons–both round. Nothing wrong with that, except that the bread we had was all square. If you’re hungry enough it tastes good whatever final shape it takes.

Big Valley baby. A quick story. My Polish girlfriend, Izabela, is visiting the USA for the first time and was along on this trip. While in Big Valley we paid a visit to a Nebraska Amish family I’m acquainted with. I had met them once 4 years earlier and just decided to drop in on a whim.

Amish Big Valley
Big Valley buggy

The man of the house vaguely remembered me, and ended up inviting us in to chat with his wife. After a few minutes of talking, the 9-year-old daughter is handing her 9-day-old sister to a dumbfounded Izabela–a perfect stranger 10 minutes before. Iza couldn’t imagine something similar happening in her culture. The baby quickly won her heart and I think wanted to leave with us (or so she thought). I think that says something about attitudes to children in Amish culture, where you’re comfortable sharing them–even with random Polish-English people that just show up at your door.

Connecting friends. Introducing two Amish families as a third (English) party is kind of weird. You feel like you are in the wrong spot, that you are the one that should be getting introduced to someone and not making the connections. When Amish people meet there is the usual search for a link of some sort–who is your dad, where do you come from, what do you do and who you work(ed) with. I was glad that it could finally happen, as I usually only talk about the Zooks and the Kings (who live on one side of Lancaster) to the Riehls (who live on the other), and vice versa.

In little Amish communities of a few church districts you generally know everyone. In the big Lancaster community (going on 200 churches), you might not have many relatives, dealings or running-around friends in a given area, which was the case here. For an Amish person strangers can include both English and other Amish. The nice thing is that there is usually an Amish connection somewhere if you poke around enough.

Amish Hat City
Amish hat in the City

Day trip to Philly. We had Amish friends along. Even in a place like Philadelphia with an Amish presence nearby, people notice Amish walking around one of America’s largest cities. I noticed some heads turn and some sheepish smiles of people we passed or interacted with.

I also think that it helps to be Amish in certain situations. One example. We visited the US Mint. You need identification to get in. Three of us had IDs, while the fourth did not–not one of our Amish companions, but Izabela. My friend’s wife explained the situation and asked if we could slide, which the understanding guard let happen. Once inside my friend joked that it was “the hat” that got us in. I think that was just a half-joke as there must be a kernel of truth there.

Visiting Centralia. This has nothing to do with the Amish. Centralia is a central PA mining town–or I should say was, because it’s been essentially abandoned for many years. Centralia lies in anthracite coal mining country. A half-century ago, a mine fire was sparked and began slowly burning, snaking its way along the massive coal veins running beneath the town. Noxious gases and ground collapses threatened the townspeople’s health and safety.  Multi-million dollar efforts to extinguish the fire failed.  Many residents moved away and nearly all buildings in the town were demolished beginning in the 1980s. Today only a handful, perhaps 3 or 4, homes remain in this town which once had a population over 1000 souls.

Centralia PA Street
A former homesite in Centralia, PA

Centralia is a tragic and rather eerie place. I remember stumbling across it five years ago while traveling across the state. I came to a stop at what looked like a normal country highway intersection, except for the odd, out-of-place bench placed near the crossroads. Like something you’d see in a town, and not in the middle of nowhere.  Looking closer I began to notice sidewalks and the layout of a street plan.  As I creeped along the cracked, overgrown asphalt streets, old retaining walls and steps hinted at a forgotten past.  I slowly realized that a town once lay here.  Governmental response to the town’s crisis has evoked controversy particularly among those who once lived there, and the town appears in the news from time to time.  It’s a modern-day ghost town in a place you’d hardly expect to find one.

Jokes.  Hang around with Amish folks long enough, and the jokes start flowing.  This time I got to hear the one about the origins of the fictional “Stoltzfus Chinese Market” in Philly, among others.  Amish like to make Polish jokes, which they hit me with from time to time knowing my origins.  And with a true blooded Polish person along this time, of course some wondered what Izabela thought of them.  She was good-natured about it.  It helps that she can give as good as she gets.

Amish also joke about themselves.  We even got a second hearing of a friend’s favorite Amish joke, about the bridge in the desert.  “I’ll tell you a really good Amish joke,” he began with a smile.  “But it starts with a Polish joke,” he conceded to an uproar of laughter.   Well of course it does!

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    23 Comments

    1. John

      Your Trip

      Good morning Erik,

      If you would have stayed long enough on Sat eve you would have gotten another serving of Mountain Pies, here you would have gotten a square meal 🙂

      Safe trip to IN – OH

      John

    2. Richard from Amish Stories

      Happy Labor day weekend folks.....

      Sounds like your stay in my home state Eric was enjoyable along with lasting memories for you, and I look forward to viewing all of the pictures from this trip down the line on Amish America. Everyone have yourselves a very nice Labor day weekend as well! Richard from http://www.Amishstories.net

    3. Valerie

      Thank you!

      Erik, thank you for sharing, I’m tapping this out quick before reading all your comments just to ask if you will attend the Haiti Benefit Auction in Mt. Hope OH tonight or tomorrow? It’s so incredibly wonderful!

      Now I can go back & read the rest!

      Thanks for the Happy Labor Day sentiments Richard, same to you 🙂

      1. Hi Valerie, will just be getting to Ohio today so I guess I missed it. I have enjoyed it before, I hope you did too. I might drop by Mt. Hope Tues or Wed though.

    4. Carolyn B

      How nice to hear of your highlights.

      My thought re: the 9 day old baby is that a nine yr old sister was sick of playing nursemaid and was ecstatic to see an adult woman to pass the infant to so she herself could go do nine yr old things for a while. At least that’s what I would have done at nine years of age.

      I’m very glad to hear of Izbela sharing your love of the Amish and being able to give as well as take all the good natured ribbing.

    5. Linda Northern Illinois

      Erik:

      We’ll be in Indiana and Ohio soon. Hopefully we will run into each other. Explain that saying to your girlfriend.

      Have safe travels always.

    6. Forest

      "The Hat"

      Your mention of “the hat” reminded me of a similar incident when I had to go to the courthouse to explain to the Clerk why I could not serve on a jury, after having been called to do so. As I waited to go through the security device at the door of the building, I watched one of the officers tell a couple men ahead of me to remove their ballcaps. When I got up there he looked at me a little oddly, and said “You can keep your hat on”.

      I never realized a piece of woven straw had that much power….

      1. Nice story Forest. I think it does, sometimes.

    7. Alice Mary

      Welcome, Izabela!

      Hi, Erik, and Izabela! It’s so good to hear you have a “traveling companion” on your Amish treks this summer, Erik! Izabela, I hope you enjoy your time here,and I’d really be intersted in your “take” on both the “English” and Amish aspects of life in the USA. Being of Polish descent myself, I can “appreciate” a good Polish joke or two, also!

      I must purchase a pie iron—I’ve been considering one for a couple of years. Your comment about using square bread in a round pan leads to a dilemma, though, as to which shape to get (anyone have an opinion/experience with both shapes, and can give an opinion?).

      How long will Izabela be here?

      Enjoy your time in Indiana and Ohio…hope the weather cools down some for your comfort (93 degrees at the end of August is the pits).

      Alice Mary

      1. Thanks Alice Mary. About another month in the states. Getting ready to leave Indiana for Ohio this morning, on the road again 🙂

    8. Melissa H

      Great trip...

      Thanks for sharing about your trip Erik! It sounds like you had a great time. Looking forward to hearing about your adventures in IN and OH.

    9. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Erik,
      I am surprised you didn’t share any pictures of you and the potential future Mrs. Wesner.
      But maybe you had a T-shirt on that read “I’m with the Amish –> “ and no parties involved wanted you to publish it, least not Izabela.

      I tease (respectfully) of course

      It sounds like you had an amazing time.

    10. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Off topic

      Sorry for the suddenness of the next reply from me, but
      I got a quick question, I know it was addressed sometime ago, but how do those of us who reply upload avatar images, I made one I like and I wanted to use it. Advice?

      1. Thanks Shom, it has been much fun and especially seeing Indiana friends the past few days. On the avatar image, go to gravatar.com to get set up.

        It’s quite easy to do if anyone else out there is thinking of switching that grey anonymous comment man for something more vibrant 🙂

        1. Slightly-handled-Order-man

          Thank you, Erik, I didn’t quite abandon the anonymous gray man entirely, just yet, I just spoofed him a little and converted him to the Amish faith.

          Sort of inspired by the hat commentary on this thread of comments.

          1. Linda

            I like your hat. Hang on to your hat, Shom!

            1. Slightly-handled-Order-man

              Thanks Linda

              Will do, Linda!
              I thought about adding suspenders, but I thought that it would take too much away from the reference to the original gray man. Maybe he’ll buy suspenders eventually, or get hitched and grow a believer’s beard.

    11. Linda

      Mountain Pies

      Wouldn’t that be interesting for your special friend to write a guest blog about her Amish country highlights or impressions! At least if it’s mostly in English.

      At http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mountain-Pies/62981370846, there is a photo of the nicest looking grilled cheese toasted sandwich. Somehow, more people like the Mountain Pie facebook than Amish America facebook. Hmmm. Mountain pies are also “called campfire pies, hobo pies, jaffles, toasties, Pudgie Pies, and pie shams… but always called delicious. Unless you burn it!”

      Pie irons are pictured and explained at http://www.pieiron.com/what.htm. They also have recipes and cookbooks. Pie irons can be square or round, cast iron or aluminum. If you use square bread in a round pie maker, the excess is cut off (and wasted?). Refrigerated biscuit dough or flour tortillas can also be used. The hinged, cavity sandwich cooker is similar to the Jaffle Iron of Australia, and the Panini Grill in Italy. In the U.K., the sandwiches are named Toasties.

      Did the term “Mountain Pies” begin somewhere where mountains are?
      Happy memories!

    12. Kentuckylady717

      Would love to see a picture of Izabella…..would love to know her thoughts on the Amish…..Has she been cooking for you ? She’s polish, I know she know how to cook some good polish food…..love it….

    13. Kentuckylady717

      Still need that EDIT BUTTON on here Erik….

      I meant to say she knows……not she know………

    14. Once we get our picnic pavillion all finished, we must get some mountain pie makers to cook up some goodies. Erik, maybe it will be finished for your next visit to Big Valley! Hope so!!

      https://www.facebook.com/pages/Weiler-Mansion-Bed-Breakfast/88702750834?ref=hl

    15. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      An Amish Hat Story

      On Saturday the eighth of September I helped a museum I participate with at a big street festival in our community. I was doing what I was asked to do in my period appropriate clothing, which includes a straw hat much like the one in Erik’s picture.

      A young man walked toward me and began to, badly, sing ‘Weird Al’ Yankovick’s “Amish Paradise” because of my choice in headgear. I quickly thought about what I should do, I thought about reciting the “You’re making a big mistake” scene from Harrison Ford’s “Witness”, or quoting “Amish Paradise” back to him with the line “Don’t be vain, don’t be whiny, or my brother I might have to get medieval your hiny”, but instead of playing along with the gag my gut reaction was to say “hello, I’m with this museum and our next event is this which will be on this date. I can give you a flyer.”

      I did think the scene was funny though, and I did hear “Look they’re Amish”, but I was too far away to say “no we’re not.” I did not hear any Jane Austen quips though. My group would take that as complement, but “look they’re Amish” gives us an in to engage and educate.

      True Hat Story.