Sunday, May 2, 2010

Amish Encounters

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

The pace in Amish communities is slower, and maybe that’s part of what draws Joann and me to those areas. They can’t go faster than their horse can take them anywhere, and the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves is very soothing, at least to us. I’m sure if you’re riding in the buggy it’s a different story, but the Amish we encounter always seem very cordial and happy as they pass by. We wave and they wave back. We’ve had some interesting encounters along the way, and here are several of those.

One October afternoon, we were in Vernon County, standing on the edge of the road looking at the fall color and an abandoned house off in the distance when we heard the familiar clip-clop of horses’ hooves coming down the road.

As the buggy approached, we could see three Amish girls in the front of the buggy and as they neared us, the horse shied and didn’t want to move forward.

Amish girl driving the buggy: Giddyup!

Joann: I’m sorry. Are we scaring your horse?

Amish girl, giggling: He’s more scared of things standing still than he is of things that are moving!

Amish girls, all giggling: Giddyup! GIDDYUP!!!

Finally the horse began to move and we could hear the girls still giggling as they urged the horse to continue down the road. We stood on the road listening until the clip-clop faded to nothing, and then we returned to the car to continue on our way.

On a trip to Pennsylvania, we were in Amish country photographing old mills and covered bridges. The area is so full of history that we stopped every mile or so to photograph something. As we came down one road, we passed an Amish girl on a bicycle with flowers in her baskets. A little further down the road we came upon an Amish farm selling flowers. The front lawn had a large wagon filled with annual flowers for sale. We couldn’t resist stopping to see if we could photograph the wagon.

Since we couldn’t buy any flowers, we went into their little vegetable stand before we left. Two young Amish girls were tending the vegetable stand and they seemed very shy as we talked about what to buy. We decided to buy some fresh leaf lettuce for a salad and some cucumbers. As we were getting ready to pay, Joann noticed the Whoopie Pies.

Joann: What’s in the Whoopie Pies?

Amish girls: Shortening, sugar, chocolate, flour. It’s like a chocolate cake.

Joann: And what’s the white stuff?

Ruth (laughing): That’s the Whoopie.

Now the Amish girls just giggled, and they were still smiling and giggling as we paid for our vegetables and walked back to the car.

Several times we’ve stopped at an Amish farm when the men are hitching up the horses for field work. Often they will let us take a picture of the team as long as we first state that we won’t take any pictures of the Amish themselves.

On one such occasion, there was a young Amish lad with a team of horses pulling a wagon of logs. We pulled over and Joann got out to ask if she could take pictures of the team. He said that we could, so Joann set about taking pictures. This was years ago before Joann switched over to her digital equipment, so we were using 35mm film cameras. As she finished taking pictures, he asked if he could see them. He had obviously already seen pictures on someone’s digital camera, so he assumed he could see our pictures right away too. We laughed and told him that we didn’t have a digital camera and we had to wait to see the pictures ourselves.

Another time, we came to a farm with a team of horses standing on the hill between the house and the barn. There were kids playing in the yard, but they ran inside as soon as we pulled over. Joann got out to ask if she could take pictures of the team, and several of the Amish men came down to see what she was asking about. They kindly told us that we could take pictures of the team as soon as they finished hooking them up and were not in the scene.

Once she had taken the pictures, they wanted to see them. Since this was after our switch to digital, she was able to share with them the photos that she had captured. And the kids who had run into the house must have been watching out the window, because soon they were outside, gathered around the camera wanting to see the pictures that we had captured. They all crowded around Joann and she took turns letting them see the pictures on the LCD screen.

If you want to experience the same sort of friendly encounters with the Amish, take a backroads drive in an area that you know to be Amish (Vernon and Monroe counties in Wisconsin have large Amish populations). Don’t be afraid to stop at the places with hand-painted signs for vegetables, woven rugs, furniture, and other items. They aren’t open on Sundays, but any other day of the week you can stop and check out their wares.

Happy Shunpiking!

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