Several times a month, I drive the back road, a “blue highway,” from Livonia in Washington County to Orleans in Orange County. Four Amish farms line this road, with others back along the side roads. I always slow down, out of courtesy, but also to observe. I love to see the large draft horses. Occasionally, I will chance to see a male Amish teen or young adult standing on a large wagon, driving a team of six huge draft horses in the field or down the road. They always stand—-which requires strength, agility, and sure-footedness; this kind of “driving” looks dangerous to me. Many times I pass buggies with families or small groups of men or women and children. The women wear black bonnets and capes, the men have black hats with short, flat tops and black coats, and the headgear of the children matches the adults’. I always wave as I pass buggies–and they wave back.
Today, a bright day, sunny and clear, was laundry day at all four homes. Rows of clothes lines were filled with clothing in muted colors: black, blue, brown, green, and white. I saw a woman hanging a row of socks—probably her fifth or sixth load from the look of the line. All the black and dark blue pants hung together, as did the dark work shirts. The white shirts hung on another line, all carefully washed separately.
I enjoy the sights of the “old life”—the twisted corn stocks in rows in the field; the tall hay mound in the barnyard which is slowly being eaten away as the winter progresses; the horse walking in a circle to power the saw in the lumber yard; the tiny children who tumble about the yard in their long clothing; the buggies and wagons that sit in the open space between the barns and the houses; the flocks of chickens in the barn yards; the horses and cows in fenced enclosures close to the barns; the large gardens and grape arbors.
A few times I have seen some Amish men and women at the chiropractor I visit in Orleans. Trying not to be rude, I watch them carefully. One older woman, plump and grandmotherly, held a baby and quietly talked to the baby’s mother in a German dialect. Two Mennonite women, their hair in nets, stopped to chat and the Amish women switched to English. Their clothing is fascinating. The black bonnets are molded or stretched around rigid frames–and block side vision. The bonnets sit rigidly on the chairs when removed. As soon as the Amish women come inside, they remove their bonnets, revealing small white nets that hold their hair. The dark blue or black dresses have long, fitted sleeves, a fitted waist, and a full gathered skirt. Over-collars in a V shape are fitted to the waist and held by straight pins. One would need to move carefully, if one were not slender. The dresses have plain or tucked fronts. The dresses do not look comfortable—no stretch or ease in the plain cotton fabric. However, the slender women look elegant in these simple dresses that modestly flatter female figures. The woman I saw hanging laundry appeared to be wearing a skirt and blouse, rather than a dress. The clothing worn to town is more formal than daily work clothing. The men wear vests over their shirts as they work. Both genders wear black leather boots and shoes. Many of the women that I have seen take care to be neat and well-groomed. In addition, they are kindly and pleasant, greeting strangers with smiles.
Something else I have noticed is that Amish children are always accompanied by adults. I have never seen an Amish child out in public, walking alone. However, I have seen many children in Salem out on the streets, even late at night, without adults around. The Amish seem to have the concept of integrating people of various ages into a community, while too often in the rest of American society every age group is segregated. Anyone who has read Lord of the Flies knows that separating children from the support and direction of responsible adults is a bad idea.
The Amish farms are neat and well-maintained. Their homes are two-story framed farm homes, typical of those built one to two hundred years ago. The style is simple with plenty of windows and a porch or two. The houses are white or gray, with small yards shaded by trees. One home I pass has a line of gourd bird houses hanging in the yard, positioned so that they can be viewed from a kitchen window.Good neighbors, the Amish add an important element of history and good citizenship to our community.