Monday, April 27, 2015

Smicksburg, PA, a little slice of heaven challenged by the Technology Revolution

Living among the Amish in two states, I've admired their unity. But there’s an odd storm brewing.
During the Industrial Revolution, when electricity and phones came into most American homes, the Amish had a debate over what to permit, and in the end they decided to pull back, not wanting to be beholding to anyone, not having monthly bills. Their decisions to not own cars soon followed.

 Now it’s the Technology Revolution and these dear people are challenged like never before; the biggest debate is over cell phones. Our twenty-five year old Amish friend, Joe, got feisty about it last month. My pen pal, Ida, had moved from Smicksburg to Punxsutawney, fifteen miles north, where cell phones are allowed for business. Joe said Ida was no longer Amish. “Amish who use cell phones are not real Amish,” Joe said as he threw up both hands.

Really? Punxsutawney Area Amish say, “We need them to run our businesses, and we only turn them on during business hours.”

But there’s something I admire about the Smicksburg Amish. I don’t know if they remind me of my cousins in rural Italy who want to keep their traditions and their way of life despite the pressure to move to the cities for better jobs. Going there is a time warp back to a time when family and community really mattered. Their traditions still exist, cementing them closer. They even speak a regional dialect of Italian not always understood by other provinces. I find that rather charming.

The Smicksburg Amish charm me, too. They’re trying to live off the land, the fathers being home. They also want their loved one to live nearby, not lured into living in New York where they can make a living by selling organic milk. So, the Amish of Smicksburg worked out a solution with the local government. Electric milk houses now dot the area so milk can easily be collected in tin jugs delivered by horse and buggy. (The state pays for the electricity, not the Amish.)Now many can have as little as dozen dairy cows and provide for their families.

Joe now has a sawmill running that provides for his growing family. His brother Melvin has 12 cows and stays home. Their brother, Noah, who moved to New York to farm, is trying to move back because he can now dairy farm. Not only will the daed’s be home, but the kinner can visit grandpa and grandma by walking down the road. How wonderful.

In Amish Knitting Circle: Smicksburg Tales 1, I show the dangers of cell phones among the Amish and that was written three years ago. Much more is happening, and I think for the “gut”. I’m addressing all this in Amish Knit & Crochet: Smicksburg Tales 5.  What’s happening in Smicksburg, (my little slice of heaven ;) is what’s usually happening in the Smicksburg Tales. 

Heavy milk jugs make for wunderbar gut exercise 

'Englisher' refrigerated milk house where Amish deliver their milk jugs 

Phone shanty attached to an Amish business in Smicksburg

Neatly stacked milk jugs

It's a family affair, the kids 'pulling' their weight ;)  

Monday, April 13, 2015

Do the Amish celebrate birthdays? Do they attend “Outsider” birthday parties?

The Amish never cease to amaze me on their unique ways of getting together just to have fun and enjoy each others company. I saw on Facebook last week that it was National Sibling Day. It’s a start, but we have a long way to go to catch up with the Amish concerning siblings and celebrations.
The woman I use as the character of Granny Weaver in my novels told me how she and her sisters celebrate birthdays.
Back to Mayberry...oh, the simpler times. 
“Well, it all starts with a surprise,” she quipped, her light blue eyes twinkling. “On the day of a sibling’s birthday, we celebrate, give our loved one’s a present, but we don’t tell them who it’s from.”
“What?” I gasped. “How do they know who to thank and –“
“We all get together in October, or whichever month suits us, and we celebrate Sister Day. On that day we all guess who gave the presents.”
I was too stunned to talk. Some Amish women have several sisters and that would mean they’d have to remember not only what they got, but what they gave. I’m trying to think what I gave my sisters for their birthdays last year! I have two!
“It’s another way to get together,” Granny said with a gleam. “It’s lots of fun and keeps us connected.”
Again, I feel like one of those seekers who want to live with the Amish to see if they can cross over, but I have a husband, adult children and grandkids who’d have to jump the line with me and…well…not anytime soon. ;)

Amish children have birthday parties that take me back to my youth in the 1960s. Levi’s little girl had ten boys and girls running around a water pump when I stopped in to see his father. Oh, that camera of mine makes me sin! I took a few snaps, knowing I’d Photoshop them out, but I got busted and had to delete them. But these children were having fun, the old-fashioned way, like we used to run through the water sprinkler all day with neighborhood kids. Times were simpler.
Well, anyhow, someone called out that it was time for cake and the kids went charging towards the house cheering. I’ve never seen this level of excitement over having a cake before. Levi told me that his wife made a big cake. “The kinner like cake and ICE CREAM!”
Oh, once again, I was 6 years with friends, balloons and a party dress waiting for my mom to bring out her homemade cake with “cooked icing”, my favorite.

I wasn’t invited to go into Levi’s little girl’s party, but recently when at a cabinet shop in Smicksburg, the UPS man shocked me to no end. He opened the door to the shop, slid a small box to one of the Amish workers, and yelled, “The wife’s birthday’s today. Having cake and ICE CREAM! Can you come over?”

Without hesitating, the two men gave their word they’d be there without the “Amish pause”. They don’t say they’ll do something unless they can keep their word. I don’t know if it was their great love for ice cream, or the fact that after supper, the day is pretty much open. Well, when you get up at four in the morning, it should be.

I’ll always be an Amish seeker at heart, trying to glean what I can from their cultures. A simple cake along with ice cream is all that’s needed. 
Mom's 1960s cake pan. I used it to make my granddaughter a birthday cake.
Passing down memories (and pans that actually hold up! ;)