Today is Ekadasi and we needed to buy potatos. A quick car ride towards town and the kids and I were at the Amish farm (near the cemetary). Their produce is fresh, inexpensive and as the cardboard sign they hung on their greenhouse reads, “vegetables grown without chemicals.”
Unlike the famed Amish of Lancaster who live on picturesque farm estates, with manicured fields, freshly painted barns and outdoor oil lamps lighting walking paths, this family lives especially simply. The entire family of 10,save for the one year old baby, does farmwork. Four year old Ephram, who’s birthday is Dec. 5th, will be the one driving the clydesdales for picking once he turns five. Now he just practices.
Ramshackled, their house is old and sits on the road. The family stays mostly at home, hiring someone to go to the store for them for essentials. Church and school are their main diversions from home life and they appear content.
Today Franny, the quiet but friendly 13 year old who does a barefoot run/walk out of the house when anyone pulls into the gravel lot, went back inside to get Ephram when she saw it was us. We bought our potatos, chilis and yellow watermelon and then all hung out looking at the chickens and ducks. I was even given a tour of the laundry room (hand wringer, Cheer powder).
Venumadhava asked to see the horses and Franny was happy to escort us, barefoot, into the barn which was filled with evidence that their horses, ducks and chickens are well fed. Poop and sweet corn was everywhere.
Mostly we talked about their animals and fed the horses corn. Venumadhava stroked the horses, noting the diffent texture of their fur vs. their noses. Ephram wandered into the barn with a bag of Sarah Lee bread to feed his favorite horse.
Franny politely answered some questions I had about her schooling (geography, arithmetic, phonics, English, spelling, etc., but no bible) and marriage (16-24 is marriable age).
Our time with Franny was sweet and pleasant. I respect her simplicity in lifestyle and mind. Unlike the Mennonites, the Amish are not an evangelical group. Mennonites travel throughout the world doing mission work. The Amish are satisfied staying close to home, disinterested in making converts. Hanging out with Franny was sort of like hanging out with an Indian village girl, except she spoke English and didn’t ask me for bobby pins.
Like a ding dong, I asked what they did with their bull. Maybe Franny thought this was a stupid question, but she didn’t betray it. “We eat it in the winter. Every year we raise a bull and then we eat it in winter.”
There was a pause. Venumadhava just looked at me.
I wasn’t surprised that they are meat eaters or that they kill what they raise. They do have over 30 chickens. But for some reason, be it my own hopefullness or lack of contact with the outside world, I wasn’t expecting that answer.
Without a doubt, Amish children are effulgent despite the guha lifestyle. Always cute with pink clean scrubbed cheeks, blond hair and blue eyes, they look healthy and bright.
I wanted to say something. At the same time out of respect for their isolationism and maintanence of culture I wanted to choose my words carefully.
“Have you ever heard the word ‘vegetarian?”
“Well, that’s what we are. We’re vegetarians. It means we don’t eat any animals. We only eat…”
And before I could finish my sentence, both of my kids shouted with an upward lilt in their voice, “Pasadam!”
“Grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and milk products,” I finished. Giggling followed. Obviously our diet seemed a bit odd to a farm girl who’s land and animals are the familiy’s livelihood and sustenance.
All in all it was a really pleasant visit. I appreciate the young girl’s genuine sweetness. She was loving towards Venumadhava, helping him feed corn to the five horses, picking him up to pet them. She showed no uneasiness towards us three, who admittedly are a little odd in appearance for the area.
My interest in Franny is genuine not as some sort of curiosity or tourist attraction but because I appreciate her simple, God centered life as well as her open heart. But still, I see I have that tendency to exoticize.
Living out here in the country, the heart of Americana, where I come into contact with quaint exteriors and bucolic settings, it is not difficult to simplify things down to their country charm quotient. Or for a past-life Jewish suburban Jersey girl to locate the exotic,the other, in everything and everyone around me. But what I see about raising my kids here is that the appeal of quilts and jam and Amish and cows and country stores and turtles in the middle of the road and berries and wildflowers and old houses and barnwood isn’t the least bit charming to them.
It’s just life. Their life.