We are linked by blood, and blood is memory without language. ~ Joyce Carol Oates
One of my readers has asked whether my husband is also from the Amish community and what my sons’ relationship is to my background. I will address each of these in turn.
David was not raised Amish –– he was raised in a Roman Catholic family. It was very hard for both our families to accept our respective backgrounds, considering my parents wanted me to stay in the community and marry an Amish man, and David’s parents were hoping he would marry someone in the Catholic faith. None of my family members came to our wedding. David’s parents did, but only after we went through the process of getting a “dispensation of place” to marry in the Presbyterian Church, which we had both been attending. As it turned out, this didn’t matter over the years –– my parents and family love David. One of the last things my mother said to David was, “Now you take good care of Saloma.” And then she added, as though it were an afterthought, “And Saloma, you take good care of him, too.”
The family bonds went both ways –– I loved David’s mother, who was a devout Catholic. Even though I didn’t and don’t fully relate to Roman Catholic Doctrines, I highly respected her for her strong spirituality, which she lived as a wonderful example, but didn’t push it on me. She holds a very dear place in my heart to this day, even though she died in 1999. David’s dad and I had a more difficult relationship, but it had more to do with personality than religion.
Neither David nor I have any parents left –– my dad and mom died in 2004 and 2005 respectively and David’s father died in 2007. I like to think that when we meet in the afterlife our different faiths on Earth will matter little or not at all.
Now to address the question of my sons’ reaction to my background: When they were growing up, they knew about my background, but they didn’t often ask questions about it. When they did, I would answer their questions, but no more because I didn’t want to push anything on them they weren’t ready for. When they were 14 and 12, I planned a family trip to Ohio to visit my parents. They dragged their feet, but I was pretty adamant that this trip was for their future –– that they were not going to go through their whole lives without knowing something about their maternal heritage and without memories of their Amish grandparents. They didn’t have too many questions then, and I don’t honestly know how much of the trip they remember.
In 2004, when David and I traveled back to the community for my father’s funeral, our younger son, Tim, went with us. He was 18 at the time, so I didn’t have any idea he would react the way he did. He was absolutely fascinated. He was very perceptive and noticed things about the culture that I never had, even having lived it for 23 years. As soon as we left the wake, he started peppering me with questions: “Mom, are you some kind of celebrity with these people, even though you left?” “How many second cousins do I have?” Why do they dress that way?” “What? They can have LED lights on their buggies, but they can’t have electricity!” He and I had several conversations over that weekend that left me realizing how Tim may have derived meaning from growing up in such a community atmosphere. But when I mentioned that to him, he said, “Mom, you know me better than that –– I could never live with someone else telling me what to do –– I am way too much of a rebel for that.” I did understand that –– I was too. But I think Tim has suffered from not knowing his place in the world. In the Amish community, one knows that –– for better or for worse. Perhaps Tim is right, the same way it was for worse for me, it may have been for him, too. But it seems part of being a parent is second-guessing whether we did the right thing by our children.
A year later, when my mother died, our older son, Paul, traveled to Ohio from Johns Hopkins, where he was attending his last year of college. His reaction was exactly the opposite of Tim’s –– he completely drew inward and didn’t want to talk about what he was experiencing. I asked him if he had any questions, and he said, “I don’t even know what to ask.” I thought he may have a delayed reaction, and that later he would ask me questions, but to this day I don’t know what he was thinking and feeling during that weekend. This was very surprising to me, because Paul is a people-person and able to relate to nearly everyone.
I have a feeling that Paul and Tim will someday want to know more about their Amish heritage. I hope I am still around to tell them stories, or at least have enough journals, letters, blogs, and other writings left to tell the story. Right now I would consider that a gift more precious than gold, for there is so little I know about my parents before they got married. Dad was 34 and Mom 32, so there are 66 collective years of memories I would love to have filled in. As it is, I have only snatches here and there and my imagination to fill in the rest.
When I reflect on the legacy that my parents left, it is making me think about the legacy I want to leave. Pondering mysteries is a good thing in philosophy, but I hope I don’t leave too much of a mystery about who I am –– rather I want to leave a legacy of having lived a conscious life –– and with integrity and authenticity.
Thank you, Linda, for asking these questions. They have elicited more of a philosophical response than I’d expected. I will address the questions about Amish involvement in community politics in a later post.