No matter when I happen to visit my friend Rachel, she always greets me with a warm smile and accepts a big hug from me. After all these years, she must be used to my “popping in” without calling first (bad habit of mine, I admit). When her children were younger, the house would not always be the pristine image that most of us have in mind when we think of the Amish. Dishes might not have been washed, the floor not always swept, but she always had time for the visit.
My first invitation into her house was seven or eight years ago. With a baby on her hip while brandishing a large wooden spoon, she certainly had her hands full. The older siblings were at school and she was busy making cheese from fresh milk while tending her three younger children.
I’ve never been very good at masking my feelings and she must have seen my shock at the disarray of the kitchen. She smiled at me and asked if I wanted to look around. Embarrassed, I’m sure that I blushed and shook my head, accepting a seat at the kitchen table and offering to hold the baby for her so that she could continue working.
It wasn’t that I had never been inside an Amish home. In fact, I used to stay at a farm when I was just nineteen years old, renting a smallgrossdawdihaus that was built over the stable. Since then, I’ve been in dozens of homes, worship services, auctions, markets, picnics, and even funerals. But on this particular occasion, what really amazed me the most was that I had never seen a messy Amish kitchen.
Most houses tend to be orderly and pristine. Even when I make bread with my Amish friends, they do not make half the mess that I do when I try my luck at it! I usually have flour all over the place . . . counter, floor, light fixtures. Of course, I do not have six children to tend and one very large farm to manage.
However, it wasn’t just the fact that her kitchen was messy. It was the fact that she was more real to me in her own surroundings.
Most of us have a vision of who the Amish are and what they do every day. After twenty-five plus years spending days, weeks, even months, living with the Amish, I, too, had that image. But on this day, seven or eight years ago, I felt as if a light bulb had gone off in my head. Not only are the Amish amazing people, both their culture and their religion fascinating me beyond explanation, but they are individuals, too.
As individuals, they are not made from a cookie-cutter mold. Even among the many different church districts, the bishop and deacons might have variations in their rules. Some permit members to host outsiders for a meal while, next door, the neighbor may not because she lives on the other side of the church district, a less permissive district. Another example is the use of technology for business. Some bishops permit cell phones, computers, and Internet while others might say “Nee!”
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at Rachel’s disorderly kitchen. In hindsight, I suspect that I already knew that there was no “perfect” Amish house . . . or person for that matter. There are as many personalities within each Amish community as there are people. Deep down, we know this for a fact. Yet, we still maintain an image, a stereotype to some degree, that every Amish woman is calm and patient, every Amish man is strong and authoritative, and every Amish child is well-behaved and obedient.
While there might be a shred of truth to that (I’ve never met an Amish child that wasn’t anything less than perfectly well-behaved!), it’s nice to know that we have more in common with the Amish as people . . . individuals . . . even if our culture and religions might seem centuries apart.
Sarah Price has been writing about the Amish for over 25 years. Today, with over 30 books published, many that have reached best-seller lists include ECPA Best Seller in Christian fiction for June 2014 and July 2014. She prides herself on presenting an authentic experience for her readers and draws on her own family Mennonite heritage mixed with her decades of interacting with and living among the Amish.