It was a quiet Saturday afternoon, and my wife Sheral suggested I join her on a shopping trip. In Crossville Sheral went inside a store and I stayed outside looking at the bargain specials. My mind was in neutral, so I almost missed the little boy’s question. He was about seven or eight, evidently had just seen his first Amish family, and they had seemed very strange to him.
The boy noticed they were different—plain clothing, black socks and shoes, beards, and of course black hats and bonnets. Outwardly they seem so different. Thus he posed the question to his mother, “Mom, who are those people and why do they have those funny hats?”
Now my mind shifted out of neutral. Vicariously I silently entered the dialogue, wondering how his mother would answer the question. As she made sure her son’s shoes were tied she started, “I guess they are from the Mayland area. They are Amish, and they...”
The word “they” was the last word I heard because the pair went inside. How did she answer the question? I yearned to know.
As I was left with my thoughts, I reflected back to the early 1960s when our family lived in Kalona, Iowa, an area with the largest population of Amish and Mennonites west of the Mississippi River. When we moved there, we too were curious about those “strangely dressed people” who occasionally bore the brunt of cruel jokes. Yet in that community our understanding and appreciation of the Amish and the Mennonites flourished.
Those were the years when three young daughters kept our home a beehive of activity and Sheral one happy, yet very busy mother. To help with the chores we had a young Amish girl, Marie, to assist with the housework, and another Amish girl,
Elizabeth, to babysit.
In those close relationships stereotypes died. Marie and Elizabeth were as different as any two people you’ll know. One was industrious, the other put forth minimum effort. One was outgoing, the other was not. They were both very human! One could iron clothes (remember it was the early 1960s) faster than anyone we know and sometimes watched television soaps (something she of course could not do at home). We grew to like her very much, and we enjoyed her use of terms such as “make the light out.”
Amish are people within our world family who have often received abuse. They are misunderstood, usually because we who are the “true Americans” will not take time to understand them.
They believe in nonresistance. They establish their own schools. They choose not to be a part of Social Security. Amish live “nonconformed” to the world; thus they dress simply and without signs of pride. They support their views with passages from the Bible. They are excellent neighbors, possess a deep concept of sharing, and are quick to help anyone.
As for the mother and her son, I can only hope that what she told her son about “those people” was tempered with understanding and kindness. Maybe she said, “They dress that way because it is part of their religious custom. They are nice people. Perhaps we can visit with them sometime.”
• • •
This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.