Upon my return to the Amish community after my initial leaving, I longed for more options for a career than what was available to me. At the time, there were two options — that of teaching school or cleaning houses for a living. While I was in Vermont the first time, I had become a waitress. I liked being a waitress a lot more than cleaning houses, so I applied at a local restaurant and was offered a job. At the time I was really trying to adhere to the ways of the Amish, so I thought I should ask if it would be all right with the elders of the church. I asked the deacon, who discussed it with the bishop and the ministers and then reported back to me that they had decided “it would be better if you wouldn’t.” This was such the Amish way — leaving the door open, but also letting you know they didn’t approve. I turned down the job.
Today when I visit a local restaurant in the community, the place is teeming with Amish waitresses. This was true before the economy had gone on its decline, so I don’t believe it was an economic decision. Most likely the first Amish woman to become a waitress did not ask if it would be okay. Once the ice was broken, other young women could say, “So-and-so is allowed to, so why can’t I?” Even among the Amish I was too honest for my own good sometimes. The point is, though, that the Amish women have a few more choices for “careers” than they did then. I believe that being a cashier at a local store is also acceptable now, but it was not then.
Another change that has taken place is the use of cell phones. It seems strange to me that the Amish still don’t allow phones to be installed in their homes, yet some are allowed to own cell phones. In one church district I know that if people owned their own businesses, they were allowed to own cell phones, but not anyone else. I think, though, that the biggest reason the cell phones are more or less “acceptable” to the Amish elders is because they know they cannot stop people from having them on the sly. I remember hearing of a bishop who visited someone in his community for having a cell phone. As he was admonishing the cell phone rang in the man’s (who was being admonished) pocket. I told that story to my brother, who is still a member of the community. He thought about that for a moment and shook his head and said, “That would not be good!” I thought it was funny, but I had more than 25 years between me and the concern that I would be “found out” and get a visit by the elders of the church. My brother was still there, so his perspective was very different. This was not so funny to him.
For all the things that have changed, there are also many traditions and ways that have remained the same. When I went back for my parents’ respective funerals, it was something to behold how people came together and took care of everything. Everyone knew their place in the community, and they all did their part. As far as I know, the women still gather for “quiltings” or visiting in general during the week, and families and friends visit one another on Sundays. They still hold Sundays as a day of rest or “Sabbath.” They still have the community atmosphere that so many of us long for in the outside world. So, as far as I know, many of the Amish traditions are still very much in place, even as they made a transition from the farm to their own businesses, factory work, waitressing, or the like, and even as they allow more technology to became available in the community. Some day I would like to do research and compare the lifestyles of our ancestors in Europe with the Amish lifestyle of today in North America. I wonder what surprises I would discover? My guess is I would be amazed at what has endured.
I am ready to answer any other questions people may have. Please keep them coming.