By Joann M. Ringelstetter
As Ruth and I prepare for our annual “hard-core” photography trip, I am reminded of last year’s trip to the Ohio River Valley. There were so many wonderful rural scenes to discover, but we were also on a mission to capture as many Mail Pouch Tobacco barns as we could during the 8-day trip.
Ruth had done hundreds of hours of research prior to our departure, and she brought along a 40-pound bag of research materials to prove it. She had meticulously marked our Ohio Atlas & Gazetteer with highlighters, sticky notes, and sticky arrows so that we could locate the subjects quickly and efficiently.
One morning we were heading down the road and she said, “Okay, coming up in about a mile is another Mail Pouch Barn.” As we came close to it, we could see that there were a couple of modern pole sheds in front of the old Mail Pouch barn and there was no way to avoid getting them in the picture unless we went down the driveway. So we decided to stop and ask permission.
When we drove in the driveway, we discovered that an Amish family lived there. The father was working near the front porch of the house. Across the driveway from the porch was an empty vegetable stand that would be used in the summer to sell the vegetables they raised. And inside the vegetable stand were three young children, climbing around in the wooden bins of the stand. And, as all older siblings do, the boy, who appeared to be about four, was picking on his two little sisters.
“Rupert!” the dad hollered, but Rupert paid no attention.
“Rupert!” the dad hollered again as he headed towards the vegetable stand. And then he finished his scolding in German as he physically pulled the kids apart from their fighting. When the commotion had ceased, I asked politely if I could go down by the barn to photograph it. The man said I could and then I confirmed that no pictures could be taken of the children. After all, they were very cute in their traditional Amish clothes - blue shirt, black pants, suspenders, and a straw hat for the boy; plain colored dresses and bonnets for the girls.
I carried my tripod and camera down the driveway to the barn and set up in front of a wooden fence to capture the faded old Mail Pouch barn. As I studied the scene and took my photographs, I sensed that I was being watched. So I turned to the left and looked behind me. Sure enough, the three little Amish kids were behind the fence, leaning on it and watching me intently. So I thought I would try to strike up a conversation.
“Do you have a dog?” I asked. In our travels we’ve noticed that almost every Amish family has at least one dog.
They just stood there looking at me. So I tried something else.
“How old are you?” Still no response -- too shy, maybe.
As I continued to photograph, I started thinking about how their father had spoken to Rupert in German. Hmm, maybe that’s what they’re used to, but I don’t speak German. I wasn’t ready to give up yet, so I turned to the left again to try something else, but they were gone. Then I turned to the right and looked behind me and there they were -- three little Amish faces peering through the fence at me. Oh, how I wish I could have captured that, but I do respect their ways.
“How old are you?” I asked Rupert again. And then I put up my fingers one at a time until I reached four fingers, and raised my eyebrows in a questioning look. A big smile spread across Rupert’s face. He nodded in agreement. Then I pointed to the oldest girl with a questioning look. Rupert put up one finger, then two, with an impish grin on his face. And then his sister slugged him in the arm and put up three fingers. I responded with an understanding nod. Then I pointed to the youngest girl and I held up one, then two fingers. They all nodded a big YES!
As I walked back to the house with the three little Amish children close behind, I couldn’t help but have a big smile on my own face. As I approached their dad, I said, “Your kids sure are cute. I wish I could have taken a picture of them, but I respect your desire to not be photographed.” He thanked me for that and I thanked him for allowing me to photograph the Mail Pouch Tobacco barn. Even though I have no photos to share of these sweet little Amish children, I have an image that will stay in my memory for years to come.