Thursday, September 18, 2008

Trip Musings

The most astonishing thing was that it actually all worked out. We kept our expectations low, knowing that among my family in Oregon, Rebecca's in Virginia, and Mom and Dad in MN, a hundred things could crop up to make it impossible for us two sisters to get together and take Mom and Dad on a trip to Iowa.

Rebecca and her family are back in the U.S. for a year, living in Virginia, where their oldest son just started classes at the University of Virginia. Both she and I wanted to visit the folks, and we decided to do it at the same time. Then we got the idea to go to Iowa, where Mom and Dad have lots of roots and relatives, when their trip there with Marcus and Anna was cancelled at the end of July when Anna's dad died.

So I flew in to MSP on a Tuesday, rented a car, and drove to Grove City. That evening Rebecca flew in and spent the night with an old college friend in the Cities. The next morning Mom and Dad and I set forth, picked up Rebecca, and were off to Iowa, exclaiming in wonderment that it actually worked out.

We stayed at Aunt Vina's in Kalona, a lovely place filled with Vina's touch and exquisite quilts. In the evenings we got together with friends and family groups, and during the day we drove Mom and Dad around the countryside and visited old friends, most of them Amish.

I am pretty far removed from my Amish roots, so pulling into a driveway and seeing ten little children playing on a swing set--boys in straw hats, girls in organdy coverings--turned me into a gushing tourist wishing I could snap pictures all day. But when we actually got to visiting I clicked right back into Amish mode--talking "Dutch," making connections, discussing freindschaft and gardens and babies.

We went to visit "Cho Hoshbyah" (Joe Hershberger) who is a hundred years old and who was sitting at the kitchen table wearing thick black-rimmed glasses and reading his Bible. The house was plain as all Amish houses are--hardwood or linoleum floors, plain painted walls, plain austere furniture, and just a bit dark even though it was the middle of the day. Partway through the visit Rebecca and I took our leave and slipped over to the fabric store next door, run by Joe's two maiden daughters. There in the semi-darkness we browsed among baby bibs and those strings of plastic beads that all Amish babies play with and racks of solid fabric. Then suddenly a voice said, "Who do I hear out there?" and there was my dear cousin Katie and her husband Harley coming around a rack of fabric, and we had ourselves a fine reunion right there.

Of the many things I exclaimed about, probably the top of the list was how much these Amish ladies get done. Joe's house was the most immaculate, with not a speck of dust or cobweb anywhere on the screened porch or anywhere else, but the other places weren't far behind. The flower beds are lush and colorful, the gardens are huge and healthy, always with a row or two of zinnias and cockscomb, and all around the many outbuildings the grass is trimmed and everything is neat and tidy.

Then they casually mention that they milk 200 goats and grow produce for a co-op, hence the piles of onions in the shed over there. Or they have 5000 chickens and also milk 40 cows and I forget what other business ventures--that was my cousin Perry and his wife Rebecca, who I gathered do all this to keep their family busy. But the family isn't that big--five children I think.

Work, one gathers, is top priority. Well, no, not top priority. That's reserved for guests, since everywhere we went they dropped everything they were doing to visit with us. The barefooted woman with twelve children who was canning meat for a wedding in two weeks. The large clan at Glen and Susan Beachy's who were having a workday for their parents/grandparents and who came out of the woodwork in droves when we arrived--men, women, teenagers, maiden aunts, and lots and lots of children. They all left everything to talk with us. We felt like royalty.

Rebecca and I have a terrible way of giggling like 12-year-olds when we're together, at stuff that isn't necessarily that funny but there's something about the chemistry and the moment that sends us off. Well. One morning Mom and Dad said we're visiting an old widower next--let's see, I'll call him John Miller. So we pull up to his house, with the Iowa mud and gravel in the driveway sucking at the tires. Dad went to the house to see if he was home, since you don't call ahead to Amish homes of course. While we waited in the car, Mom very casually and randomly said, "I used to date John for about six months. 'Eah het mich gaehn vedda.' ['He wanted me pretty bad.]" Rebecca and I reacted with astonishment of course. John turned out to be home, so we went inside, and as Mom and Dad greeted him and we came behind them in the little entry, we took note that poor John was a crippled, stiffened old man in a straight white beard that made Dad look like a healthy young hunk, as Rebecca put it. Rebecca very irreverently whispered in my ear, "Dorcas, that could be your father," and suddenly we were shaking with laughter in that little entry/washroom, trying to compose ourselves back into grownups. Well we finally managed, and Rebecca muttered, "Don't you dare look at me" as we went inside. We had a nice visit and we behaved ourselves very well, but then Mom was the last to leave and we heard John saying, "I hadn't seen you for such a long time, Sara," and that put us right over the edge again, and we held ourselves together until we were about fifty feet down the road and then we cut loose into screams of laughter. It doesn't sound that funny in retrospect I guess but believe me, two sisters discovering their mother's old beau is funny.

Quote of the Day:
"Speiss Gott, trank Gott
alle aumer kinner
de auf Erden sind."
--the prayer Mom and her siblings would say. Rough translation: "God, feed and water all poor children on earth."


  1. I can picture it now--my Uncle Glen's place and the fabric store just down the road. I visited them both this summer when I was in Iowa for a Beachy reunion. While I went fabric shopping my dad visited Joe Hershberger. Yes, visitors are a high priority when visiting Amish folks.

    How nice that your giggling fits were not in the presence of the man who evoked the laughter. Growing up, we sisters knew it was best not to always sit together in church, the same things tended to strike us funny.

    Linda Rose

  2. Your post is too funny. I think sisters are the same the world over. I'm only sad that I didn't get to see you in Iowa. My baby was only 3 days old, but my husband said if he'd remembered your book signing, he'd have sent me out the door anyway. He knows how much I enjoy your blog. -Wanda Stutzman

  3. Thank you for letting us peek into your life and a little into the life of an Amish family. I was laughing myself at the 'John Miller' story!

  4. I believe it is biblical to laugh!! I just spent a long weekend with 4 friends celebrating our birthdays and we spent more time laughing and talking then anything else. I guess you did show a great measure of restraint by waiting until you were a respectable distance from the home.

  5. I so enjoy your blog....look forward to it each day! On two different occasions this week different friends have remarked on how they love reading your column in the Register-Guard. Being a faithful reader of your blog, I immediately e-mailed this link to them! Thanks for letting us be a part of your family and your world!

  6. I was going to comment and then saw that my sister Linda Rose had already said what I was going to say.

    Glen's family takes the cake for being just plain warm and welcoming.

  7. And I suppose you didn't have time to call my son and his wife, did you? Tic, tic...They would have loved to have at least heard from you. Now that you have taken the guilt, I lift it from thy shoulders, for I dost know how it is when one goes on a 'trip'. One cannot always remember who lives where when and even if one does, one does not have time and energy to do anything about it.
    ~the Mrs.

  8. That post brought back such great memories for me! I grew up Mennonite but with many Amish friends and school mates. You're so right--work is important, but a visitor is more so...especially if that visitor is someone they knew back when. I can always count on a warm welcome when I get to visit, which isn't that often since I live 250 miles away from that community now. Thanks for that post!

  9. Sisters~I have 3 of them. But my youngest sister is the most amiable, sociable and likeable person in my family.
    For 18 years, we did not see each other AT ALL. Then she,along with her daughter and my only brother, emigrated to the U.S. in 2002.
    The last I saw of her, we were teenagers. And that's what we remember of each other. So, the first time together after all those years apart, was just like yesterday. We were giggly over nothing, over private jokes, we were like kids all over again. It was such a wonderful feeling.
    Dorcas, you are one funny lady. I gotta admit I had this wrong impression of the Amish as being serious, religious and all. But you made them so like everyone else, so human. That's what I like about your storytelling.
    Thank you for sharing your stories.

  10. I especially enjoyed this post because it came from Kalona, my hometown! I try to visit the Hershberger fabric store whenever we get back there because I used to work at the bakery with Joy. We did our share of giggling at work, let me tell you! ~ribbit98

  11. I love this post! and reading the comments as well.

    I would like to suggest that you travel with your parents as often as you can. I did some with my parents and it was so much fun! I looked forward to doing it more in the future after they got too old to drive but that will never happen because Dad died leaving mom a widow who is a home-body.

    Sandra Miller

  12. to "the Mrs."--your son and his wife were supposed to read the book-signing announcement in the Kalona News and then drop everything to come see me at the library. Actually, I didn't know they were back in Iowa. . .somehow I thought they'd be in Brazil by now.