On television I watched a show about Amish kids living in the city and getting all caught up in computers and rock music. It just seemed so out of place and somehow wrong. I felt as though the modern world was slowly robbing the Amish of the qualities that made them Amish and I wondered what it was like to be Amish back in the days when they didn’t have all these modern temptations. Can you tell me about those times?
You are right. One of the great challenges for the Amish people today is that there are so many “modern” things tearing us away from our roots in the land and the Plain Way. I believe it was easier to be Amish in the days when many more Americans lived on the farm, and the Amish could live a rural life without having some much attention focused on them. When I was doing research for “A Quilt For Jenna” I sat with my mama for many wonderful hours as she told me what life was like in Apple Creek before World War II. I looked in my notes and found this section. I hope this gives you a better idea of what life in simpler times…
The days of my mama’s childhood were good days, filled with the comfort of a stable family and the practices of her faith. Her family was Old Order Amish and she loved the ways of her people. The Hershbergers lived on one of the largest farms on the outskirts of Apple Creek, Ohio. They had been in America for over two hundred years, since the first “Plain People” accepted William Penn’s offer of religious freedom and came to Pennsylvania from Switzerland in 1720. They came to the village of Apple Creek in 1857. The land was fertile and open and greatly suited the Amish folk and their agricultural ways.
During her childhood, the rest of the nation was suffering through the Great Depression, and the Amish were not sheltered from the turmoil of those years. The difference for the Amish was that they were better at doing more with less. The Hershberger family and their neighbors simply pulled inward, and Mama grew up in an atmosphere of love, self-sufficiency and community. From time to time homeless men would wander through the village. They would be fed, given a place to rest, and then most would move on. Apple Creek remained an island of safety in troubled times.
My mama loved the sense of continuity that pervaded every aspect of her young life. Her family could trace their roots all the way back to Jacob Amman and the original Amish who had broken with the Mennonites in 1693. They took pride in the fact that they still clung to the old ways, and they took great pains to separate themselves from the world and live quiet lives. Mama’s days were filled with the simple tasks of a farm girl, planting in the spring, tending the animals, cooking for her father and brothers as they harvested the corn and wheat. She watched her grandmother and mother can and preserve the garden produce, and put up the fruit for the winter. They filled the root cellar with potatoes, onions and barrels of apples. Her father brought ice from the winter pond and packed it into the cold house, which was dug into the side of a hill behind the house. Then they prepared hams, chickens and sides of beef and stored them away for the festive dinners and holiday celebrations that were the hallmark of her youth.
My grossdaadi Hershberger was an Armendiener, a deacon, and Mama told me how she loved to sit quietly while he read from the Bible during the Sunday meetings. His rich, baritone voice soothed her and filled her with a certainty that the God her family served could only be a good and loving God. Mama told me that she used to think that if God were anything like her daed, then God must be wonderful.
When she was old enough, Mama’s father gave her the job of bringing home the milk cows every evening. Sometimes she would have to tramp for miles to find them, but she thoroughly enjoyed it. Like most farm children, she liked being alone. In those days, before World War II, the fields around Apple Creek were open to the horizon and there were many stands of trees with small creeks and ponds. Mama found great comfort in the simplicity of her life as she wandered through the fields and woods. Every so often she would see someone in an automobile far off in the distance driving along State Highway 30, or hear the train chugging along the tracks to parts unknown, its mournful whistle seeming to warn of the dangers and sorrows of a complicated modern world. At these times my mama would kneel down on the earth and touch the grass, or stop by a cold clear brook and dip her hands in the water, feeling the coolness on her skin and letting her thoughts focus on the power of a God who could create such beauty with a spoken word.
… I hope this helps, MaryAnn
*Jenny Hershberger is a fictional character from the Apple Creek Dreams series by Patrick E. Craig. You can read all about her career as a writer in “Jenny’s Choice,” Patrick’s latest Novel from Harvest House.