When a son joins the Amish: Dollars, Degrees, Dentists

After sharing some of the hard times in her son’s Minnesota Amish community, including health and financial concerns, Anne writes that she has received another letter from Ed and Ruth.

When I read the account below I thought about how different this picture is compared to what 90% of America imagines Amish life to be.  It’s not about idyllic farm life or Amish mafias or having the (nonexistent) “perfect family” as some Amish friends and I joked about around the kitchen table a few days ago.  To be sure there can be beautiful things but also difficult and sometimes brutal aspects too.  Just like the English some live more comfortably and some make do with fewer creature comforts.  In other words it is life but in a different package.

Anne writes:

Ed writes that Ruth’s dental pain has subsided some. He thinks she grew up eating too many sweets and that’s the source of the trouble. So he jokingly related that when she wants to indulge in sweets he says “Ok, you will have to go to the dentist!” He says he holds up a big pair of pliers and that seems to convince her. Now don’t get the wrong idea; Ed is the sweetest and gentlest of husbands and is teasing her with the pliers. But it betrays that our dear Ruth is terrified of dentists! Why would that be? I worry that she has NOT been to a dentist, but had a frightening experience at the hands of a well meaning “do it yourself” Amish man. Could this be?

All of this is beside the point that not eating sugar may be preventative but once there is infection, it will be useless. So I don’t feel too encouraged by it.

Giles County VA
Not Minnesota. Ed’s first community in Giles County, VA

Evidently the horse is still lame though he does not say so. but references that he goes on foot lots of places anyway. He also said they’d reached zero degrees and it felt pretty good (he called it a warming trend). Since he wrote (as Erin mentioned) they’ve had a major snow storm. Close to 16″!

Ed’s main concern was to comfort me, as he could tell from my last letter how concerned I was. He said their weather does not feel as cold as it sounds because of the dry air (compared to humid Virginia where we live). He reminded me that they can always put on more clothes.

As for monetary concerns, he says he’s “fallen behind” but that he currently has good savings. He is worried that he won’t make enough money next year, and sees it as a critical time for him to establish a going business….and in case anyone is curious, he said they currently make about $20/week. I suppose this is from baked goods. Not much to live on, but then their costs are small too.


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    1. Alice Aber


      I am all too familiar with having to get by on practically nothing. I pray that he is able to get a business going that will sustain them. It is very difficult to get a good business going these days and can be quite costly. Typically a business does not make you a living for many years as all money made is rolled back in to build the business up.

      Times are hard on everyone these days whether Amish or not. I wish them well and pray they make it through these rough times.

      Blessings, Alice

      1. Getting by on next to nothing

        You’re right I think a lot of people can relate to this type of story Alice. The one thing that surprised me a little was the estimated income of $20/week. I have heard of other Amish getting by on a few thousand dollars a year. If you’re raising and selling something income would likely be higher in warmer months.

        I’m guessing there are little to no food costs in Ed’s case assuming they have canned and have some chickens and maybe a family cow, or a neighbor who milks. And sounds like Ed has some money socked away.

        1. Frugal in Ohio

          Erik, I totally agree with the beginning statement, “When I read the account below I thought about how different this picture is compared to what 90% of America imagines Amish life to be. It’s not about idyllic farm life or Amish mafias or having the (nonexistent) “perfect family” as some Amish friends and I joked about around the kitchen table a few days ago. To be sure there can be beautiful things but also difficult and sometimes brutal aspects too.”

          I find that many non-Amish want to hold onto that idyllic “simple” image. Thanks for sharing. I’m thrilled the grocer is generous & practices hospitality in sharing.

          I’m frugal and live on a budget in Ohio. But when we “adopted” an ex-Amish son, his dental health was poor and he desperately needed cleaning and help for cavities . . . 12 to be exact. So we forked out about $1,000 to take care of years of neglect.

          I sent you an email Erik and hope you received it. I was asking you for an appropriate place to mention my Beyond Buggies & Bonnets blog about my experiences with ex-Amish.

    2. New York State of Mind

      I am like Ruth-I am scared of dentists, too, but I have had some really bad experiences over the years. That $20.00 a week doesn’t seem like much to live on. I think we all worry about money for the next year. I think it is more in farming that most of us do. I will keep them in my thoughts and prayers.


    3. Anne

      Food costs

      They have some food costs, but not like we would. For instance, they started out with a cow but in last summers drought had to sell her, as it cost too much to feed her (all their pasture grass died). And they do not yet have a way to keep chickens past fall, because of the extreme cold. So they have some eggs during the summer, then butcher the (young) hens and can the meat. It’s about the only meat they have during the year. That means they have to buy eggs which they do from an Amish neighbor who has a better set up. When we left them last fall they had a basement full of root veggies: onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots. I think this has been their main diet over the winter. Somehow they got another cow this fall, so have milk and milk products, we are grateful for this!

      When we were there someone from the grocery store delivered some past date items to them. There was fruit, sausage, and some butter. The guy who brought it said the grocery store owner knows the Amish really treasure getting some things and so he devised this system: much better than throwing it out!

    4. Judy

      Plain living in Missouri

      I live among a large community of Old Order Mennonite and Amish in central Missouri. I too live fairly conservative compared to mainstream society. I garden, can and preserve food of all kinds, and stock up paper and soap goods in summer when funds are more plentiful. We heat with wood, have a good well, and we could make it just fine on a very small amount of “cash”. I enjoy the modern comforts but am comforted also by the fact that we could survive without them. I enjoy reading about Ed and your family. As a mother of grown children I also understand the worries. Saying a prayer for Ed and his family.

    5. Weather is better

      Here in North Dakota the weather is better. Right now it is 1 degree above. Yesterday it was about 15 degrees. We live about 50 miles west of Ed and Ruth. Last week we enjoyed getting about 5-6 inches of fresh snow but they were dumped on a little more, about a foot or so.

      It is good to hear that the grocery store is giving them some of the out dated food that is still good. Would they use pinto beans? That is a very inexpensive commodity here and so useful for daily sustanance. It can be gotten by the bag and that will last a long time. I see Phyllis has some soaking right now for dinner. We could get some of those for them right from the farmers. We get them at no cost. They have bins full. A bag isn’t much but goes a long way. Anne, we would love to hear from you. Blessings

      1. Anne, the mom!

        Ralph and Phyllis,
        Thanks for your note. Yes, I think they got a good dump of snow, around 15-16″. It’s a hassle for them for now, but I know they are glad to see some moisture after the drought last summer. I tried to email you but never heard back. Maybe something went awry? I’d love to connect, so feel free to email me at: ahughes@earthlink.net

        1. Sending a reply

          Just sent you an e-mail, trust you get it.

    6. Adair

      The bitter cold weather sounds difficult enough to this south Louisiana girl, but mostly I worry about her dental pain. I’ve had plenty of dental pain myself, and I know that when it’s bad, it’s the worst pain ever. I also know that dental infections can lead to other serious and long-term health problems if not treated, to say nothing of heart-breaking permanent cosmetic problems. Is there any way that you can help her see a real dentist?

      1. KimH

        Im sorry to say that dental infections (abscess)can also lead to death.. I would advice Ed & Ruth to find a dentist close by and speak to them and ask if there is any way they can barter dental work for something they can provide. House/office cleaning, gardening, flowers, or any other commodity they feel they possess.

        Perhaps not all dentists would be interested in working out a deal, but I would be willing to bet that many would.

        I lost my job of 14 years last fall and along with it my insurance coverage. When I discussed it with my doctors, including my dentist, they said “Dont worry, we’ll have a cheaper cash price for you if you need to come in.” One told me that he’d just seen the guy who was sitting across from me who had very little money in his pocket and he took what he had as his payment. I do have wonderful doctors, true, and I believe that many out there are just as wonderful as mine are.

        Saying prayers for Ed & Ruth that prosperity light upon their lives sooner than later. 🙂 Blessings!

    7. Alice Mary


      I, too, am concerned about Ruth’s dental problems, because I used to have the same fear of dentists–probably because the first dentist I went to was “cheap” with the novocaine, so there were painful experiences early on. Then I found a “modern” (gentler & more aware of my fear) dentist who thoroughly instructed me in good preventative dental care. After an expensive root canal (due to a painful abcess), I never took my teeth for granted again! I have a different dentist now, but he’s also good at managing pain & being patient & aware of his patents comfort level. I would hope someone could find such a dentist there (wish I could clone my own to send her) for Ruth. I know travel is an issue, too. Wish I could take her to the dentist myself! I’ve had relatives (young ones—children & teens) with severe complications from lack of regular dental care.

      Glad that the grocer is giving them food—bless him!

      My prayers and good wishes are with Ed & Ruth & their WHOLE family.

      Alice Mary

    8. Anne, the mom!

      dental problems

      I really appreciate the concern over Ruth’s dental problems. And you are all correct about this being a potentially bigger health problem. I actually did a bit of research and found a great dentist who practices in Fertile a day or two a week. I sent Ed that phone number. So if he can just get to a phone, he should be able to get her in. They don’t live far from town, less than 1 mile. I guess the prayers need to be that they will follow up on this and get help.

    9. Carolyn B

      Anne, the mom. I am so glad to hear that the grocer knows of your little family and they are on his donation list of out-dated items. So glad that grocer is handling his business with such generosity toward his neighbors. I pray for bunches of blessings to rain down on him and his business so he can continue to help Ed & Ruth as well as others.

      I feel for Ruth in her pain & probable anxiety over dental pain & bills. If she needs someone to hide the pliers from Ed, tell her I’ll pray for a mischievous angel to find his way to her house. Blessings on your little family; how’s the grandson?

    10. Erin

      It’s so good to hear from you, Anne! I just got back from northern MN where I visited with an Old Order Mennonite gentlemen that raises hogs and another gentleman and his daughter that had a country grocery and bulk foods store. The Mennonite gentlemen was so welcoming and answered my questions. I really liked that he kept reiterating that no religion is perfect and that just because you’re Amish, Mennonite, Lutheran, or Catholic, that you’re a good Chrisitian. You have to live it daily. The second gentlemen I met actually was raised Baptist and converted to Mennonite 14 years ago. He and his family were pretty modern having indoor plumbing, electricity, phones, and vehicles. He did not learn PA Dutch but said he can understand it if its spoken very slowly. I mentioned that I had really wanted to visit the Amish near Fertile and he said that they’re “dear people.” He said that his wife knows them very well and visits them from time to time. He said that they at very good a out taking care of one another.
      One of the first things I noticed about the OO Mennonite man was his perfect teeth. I have braces so we started talking about teeth and he told me he saw an Amish man that pulled his teeth for $3 per tooth. He wasn’t given anything for the pain, and he thought he was doing well until the following day. He ended up taking penicillin that was for his pigs. He said he got his dentures at Affordable Dentures in Duluth, MN. I really hope that Ruth is able to see a dentist. Like others have mentioned, he may be able to give them a discount with cash payment.
      I’m glad to hear that the grocer is able to put the food to good use. It’s an absolute shame how much goes to waste.
      Sorry to hear the horse is still lame. We did have a bit of a warmup this past weekend, but the temps are supposed to drop below zero again this week.
      While visiting the Bagley, MN area many of the locals directed us to the Amish and Mennonite homes. This would only be about 45 miles East of Fertile. From the homemade signs, it looked like the majority of the Amish in that area make furniture. We were on a baked goods hunt, and I didn’t want to seem like a gawking Englisher, so I didn’t stop at any of their homes. I have visited many of the MN Amish and thought the homes in this area were huge and very well cared for. Another thing that I noticed was snow blowers. Des your sons community allow snow blowers?
      Does Ed and Ruth sell baked goods? I am craving Cashew Crunch and a homemade turnover!
      Thanks again for sharing this update. I do hope that Spring comes soon! I would love to meet them!
      Thinking of you often!

      1. Anne

        Erin, thanks for all this info. I have no idea if they use snow blowers but doubt it. And yes, they do bake. I’m guessing that’s their little bit of weekly income right now. Write me on my main email if you want to know how to find them. They love for people to stop in!

        1. Vicki

          Is it possible for one to order goodies from Ruth through the mail if postage is paid?
          Thank you!

        2. Erin

          I sent you an email in the wee hours of the morning, Anne. Just couldn’t sleep! I look forward to meeting Ed, Ruth, and their son this spring. Can’t come soon enough in MN!