I’m back from my sabbatical from the internet. I spent the last few days in upstate New York out of its reach doing the harvesting of the crops from my wife’s garden which is at her nieces’ house. I went back to my roots digging up row after row of potatoes and carrots. It’s not easy on the back but I think every Irish person should have a familiarity with the land.
Scarlett O’Hara’s father Gerald put it best: “And, to anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them – why, the land they live on is like their mother.” Turning the land over and discovering the life-sustaining potatoes hiding under it is more real to me than most other things. My grandson said: “Grandpa, when you’re hands are dirty, you know your having fun.” From the mouths of babes come the basic truths.
Next to the garden is an apple tree. I spent a day picking them. I returned home with over 100 pounds of apples and near 75 of potatoes as well as other vegetables. The potatoes will be washed and stored; the apples have to be peeled and frozen for pies and torts and apple sauce so there’s still lots of work to be done.
The garden is located in Amish country. The Amish families who live there are from the no electricity, no vehicle, and no work on Sunday branch. They live as people did at least 200 years ago. It’s a tough life. Within 50 yards of the property where my wife’s garden is located is the Amish school for all the kids between six and fourteen. It’s a small one room school house that has one teacher. I’m told her name is Rachel, that she is in her early 20s, and that she has been teaching there six years.
The education they receive is limited to what is necessary to continue the life that their parents and other forebears have followed. It is very rudimentary involving basic mathematics and reading along with some writing. They also have lessons in German and English and learn some of the history of their religion, but not much else since their knowledge of geography or general history is sorely lacking.
I see the kids going to school each morning. They carry plastic thermos lunch boxes. None carry books.
When I see this it recalls for me the time of Gutenberg and the invention of the movable type printing press. Prior to that time the people knew only the most fundamental things; following quickly on the heels of that invention was the availability of books and huge change: the Renaissance, the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution and the Protestant Reformation. No longer would most want to cling to the old ways after being exposured to new and better ideas.
The Amish kids work hard from an early age. I’ve seen six or seven-year-old barefoot boys and girls dwarfed by the teams of horses they are driving which are pulling wagons through the fields. They are helping their not too much older siblings who are doing the other laborious field work. They live and work by the day light since without electricity their night time endeavors must be very limited.
I’ve been lucky to become friendly with one family that lives nearby. When I first met the young couple they had five children, the four oldest being boys and one girl. They now have ten with the youngest closing in on 2 and the oldest being just about 16. The Amish are the fastest growing population in the United States; their growth has doubled their numbers over the past 20 years.
It takes a while to become friendly with them because they are wary of the English. They call all those who aren’t Amish by that name. Although they speak English when in my presence, among themselves they speak German. The mother of the brood told me how when we first arrived on their farm they warned their children to be careful of us since they didn’t know us. Now that has changed. They feel comfortable being with us and spend time talking when they have a free moment.
This has come about because we respect and don’t interfere with them and their beliefs. When you get to know the kids they are the nicest, friendliest, and best behaved and most content children you’ll ever know. Apple to them is something you eat and has no connection with a method of communications. My niece will sometimes show some of the other Amish kids the programs she has on her iPad. I keep my modern devices hidden because the parents prefer their children not to be exposed to them. They also prefer that we don’t take their pictures as that is frowned upon by their religious beliefs.
Speaking to the almost 16-year-old I asked him if he planned on leading the same life that his parents are doing. He said he had never thought not to do it. I told him how I saw a program about Amish that showed some of the young Amish at 17 or 18 are allowed to do things normally forbidden before they make a commitment to that life. He said he’d never want to do that. He would not do anything that his parents would not like and he knew they would like him to follow their way of life.
The 4th Commandment is alive and well among them. Dealing with them is going into another world that is refreshing in many ways. I sometimes wonder with our progress whether in many things we are going backwards. The Amish lead a hard, simple life; but it lasts as long as the lives of others. At the end, looking back, I’m sure they find as much satisfaction, if not more, in the simplicity of their existence; and perhaps less heart break with their close family support, than the rest of us entrapped in our madding every day doings.