I hate to admit it but…my first introduction to the Amish was almost 38 years ago. My grandparents were Mennonites, born from a long line of Old Order Mennonites. My grandfather was a bit of a rebel, one of the first men in his town to buy a car…and a Cadillac at that! If Mennonites could have been shunned, he would have been number one on the Most Wanted Mennonite List. My grandmother was a small doll, petite and quiet, kind and thoughtful. I’m not certain how my wild Mennonite grandfather captured her heart.
Being the youngest of many grandchildren, I found myself in a special place with my grandparents. I was the youngest, the last…the baby. Whatever anyone can say about birth order, the baby grandchild always has a special spot in the hearts of grandparents.
That being said, I got along well with both grandparents. I adored my grandmother and often believe she is watching over me. During her final years, we spent every Friday together, despite my having to drive two hours both ways to see her. She was my grandmother…she was my friend. As for my grandfather, many of my cousins remember his as being stern and very religious…he had calmed down since his younger years and become very, very devout in his religious practice. But I remembered walking with him, hand-in-hand to the compost pile after dinner and begging him to let me explore the old horse barn in the back of the property. He loved to tickle me and sing to me. I’ll always remember John 3:16 for he quizzed me often:
For God so loved the world
That he gave his only begotten son
That whosoever believeth in him
Shall not perish
But have everlasting life.
My grandmother kept a pile of coloring books and crayons under the window seat in the kitchen. I’d color for hours, listening for the cuckoo clock while smelling the amazing scent of freshly peeled potatoes, cooking on the stove for dinner. My grandfather loved mashed potatoes and my grandmother made them for him every night.
When I was seven or eight, my grandparents took me on a trip to Lancaster County. It was my first visit (of many) to the world of the Amish. I’ll never forget visiting the Weavertown One Room Schoolhouse in Bird-in-Hand. The desks were so small and different than what I was used to at home. I seem to recall that they had wax people in the schoolhouse to help complete the picture. I forgot many things about that day but I’ll never forget how amazed I was about the one-room schoolhouse. I was enthralled and the romance of a lifetime was born: my love for understanding the Anabaptist movement, my ancestors, and these amazing people.
Yes, it was such an amazing experience and I credit both of them with my desire to continue studying, living with, and loving the Amish culture.
I still have the book that my grandparents bought for me, with photos of Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand. I often wonder what happened to the people in those photos. I used to wonder about the Weavertown One-Room Schoolhouse. But, on my last visit to Lancaster County, I discovered that it is for sale…no longer open to the public. I had to actually pull my car to the side of the road as I stared at the sign. I wondered how many children would visit Bird-in-Hand this year and NOT see the schoolhouse. How many future Amish authors would never be discovered because that wonderful historic attraction is no more? It made me very sad.
I certainly hope that someone buys it and reopens it. It changed my life. I’d like to see it change the lives of others.