Trial by fire in Holmes County

Just had a nice talk yesterday evening at the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center (home to the Behalt cyclorama) at Berlin in Holmes County.  About 130 people attended, roughly 70% of whom were Amish.

I explained that I was glad it was a non-violent, pacifist crowd.  I figured that gave me a better chance of survival if I really messed something up in my talk.

Even though I’d had a half-dozen Amish review the manuscript, it did seem a bit like a trial by fire, to be up speaking in front of dozens of experienced Amish businesspeople about their culture and vocation.

A panel of five—four Amish and one non-Amish—‘grilled’ me afterwards.  The panel included an accountant, a CFO, a local attorney, and a couple others, most of whom were business owners themselves.  Not to toot my horn, but the talk and Q-and-A went quite well and apart from some minor quibbles the response was quite positive (phew!).  I guess that’s not too bad for just an “old boy” (if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go here).

Today I caught up with a friend I interviewed for Success Made Simple–“Alvin Hershberger” would be his “alias” in the book.  We had a nice discussion sitting on his front porch catching the spring breeze on a brilliant day.

Alvin’s shop has been slightly slow lately, which means they stop at noon on Fridays.  When I caught up with him he was just getting up from a nap.  He’s going turkey hunting and has to get up at 3:30 tomorrow morning so was clocking some winks while he had the chance.

Alvin’s father had asked why I didn’t just use real names in the book instead of changing them.  I said it was a good question.  His father joked that after all he didn’t have anything to hide!  I saw the point and would probably guess that a good percentage of my interviewees wouldn’t mind if I used their real names.  I doubt that Alvin would.

But for those that might and for consistency’s sake, everyone got a second identity.  I can tell Alvin has had a blast trying to guess who is who in the book.  He’s often quite accurate, even making some correct guesses based on an individual’s manner of speaking.  What can you say—close community.

Is Holmes County the best place to be on the planet right now?  Unbeatable weather, sun, and…hardly any people.  You really notice the difference between this community and Lancaster County when it comes to traffic, especially when you visit both back-to-back.

I told Alvin that I love both places, but he doesn’t know how good he’s got it on his expansive farm, where he has plenty of room for a sizeable wood shop, produce patch, and only the occasional carriage or pick-up passing by.  But of course he does know, since he’s been out that way before.

One other funny anecdote just came to mind:  talking to some businesspeople last night, I mentioned that I’d been in Lancaster a lot recently.  “Oh, sure, they’re the popular Amish,” said one guy, feigning  jealousy, “everybody wants to go there“. I assured him his crew was equally popular and that I play no favorites.  It was a good laugh and representative of the mood at the talk—a memorable evening and great chance to see some old friends and acquaintances.

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    17 Comments

    1. Monica

      So glad your talk went well, and yes, this is a GREAT time of year to be in Holmes. Your pictures really make me wish to go back. There IS a big difference between Ohio and Lancaster when it comes to traffic, and event he pace of things. It’s funny because the people in Ohio think they are so crowded and touristy, when it is downright deserted compared to, say, the commercial mecca of Bird in Hand. They are both pleasurable to visit, but have very different flavors.

    2. Katie Troyer

      Amish will grill a non-Amish guy if he writes about them. And you had better know your Amish culture, which I think you do. I am glad it went well.

    3. Since I just got back from two trips through New Holland today, I have to thrown in my vote that Holmes County traffic beats Lancaster any day … if you are voting for nicer driving. 🙂 The shoe shop in New Bedford caught my eye. The Redwing shoes I bought there about 3 years ago are still going strong, sitting beside me on the floor at the moment.
      I give Holmes County my vote over Lancaster. 🙂
      Mike

    4. So glad it went well but I am not surprised it did!

    5. traci banville

      I pray that Holmes County never becomes like Lancaster County.
      That would be a real shame.

    6. I better be careful I don’t turn this into a beauty contest between Holmes and Lancaster–one of my Lancaster friends who read this post called me yesterday to give me a hard time already! All in good fun of course (;

    7. Ann Whitaker

      Erik, ever been to Shipsewana, IN? I visited Holmes County in 2008 , Shipse in 2005, and Lancaster, 2003! Long to return–thanks for a great blog and great pictures!

    8. I am glad all went well. I love Holmes county! I have been there several times. The landscape is beautiful; I love the rolling hills. I have been to the Lancaster area as well, which is quite different. I lived in Michigan for awhile and visited Shipshewana many times loved that community. I had a Amish fella from there make a large table and hutch for me before my move to Florida. He is a wonderful person and did a fine job! I hope to return some day.

    9. Debbie Feavel

      First let me say I am reading your book now. I haven’t gotten far in it but I do like what I’ve seen so far! 🙂

      Second, I love hearing all your tales of the Amish. I have so much respect and admiration for them. There are many aspects of their life I would like to incorporate into my own life. I wish I lived close enough to the Amish to spend time around them and get to know them better and see there life on a day to day basis and to develop friendships with them like you have. I find it hard not to envy you, but the bible does teach that envy is wrong does it not!?! 

      God Bless you
      Debbie Feavel

    10. Hi Ann, I have! Very nice community, I spent 4 months there in 2006. It’s interesting how the RV industry is so important there with much less farming and small business. Hopefully I will have a chance to return there this summer.

    11. Hi Shell, thanks for sharing your experiences. And Debbie, thank you too, very kind of you! Hope you continue to enjoy the book. I’ve spend the morning dropping in to local bookstores in the Holmes County area–one shop, Faith View books, had just gotten a box in and was sitting on the counter when I arrived–perfect timing! It’s another beautiful day in HC so am regretting a bit that I have to leave today.

    12. Marilyn

      Hey, I’ve been to both places and prefer Holmes County.
      ‘Sure wish I could’ve heard you talk! I just gotta get your book real soon!!

    13. Hey, thanks Marilyn! Life is probably a bit more peaceful in Holmes County so I can understand but Lancaster has its pluses as well.

    14. We have a cabin in Knox County, next door to Holmes County. An Amish general contractor oversaw the construction. An Amish electrician wired the place. He does not use electric power himself, of course. It’s a beautiful cabin. I wrote a few things in my blogs about our experiences with the Amish under the topic “Knox County.”

    15. Nice blog forsythia, thanks for sharing on your experience. Sounds like a job well done!

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