Anonymous asked: What do Amish women talk about? In our culture we usually discuss “modern” or “worldly” things so what would some general topics of conversation be in Amish culture?
This is actually a very good question because the answer reveals how the Amish are not so different from “English” people in many ways, yet their lifestyle is different. What I mean is that just as in any social gathering, people will talk about things that they have in common with one another, which has to do with topics that are in their shared realm. Amish women are no different in this, but what is in their realm is quite different. Young mothers might share tips about how to sooth babies who are “grittlich” (fussy) because of teething, colic, or just in general. Mothers of more mature sons and daughters will talk about what is happening in their families. Women of all ages will talk about what they are working on — in the spring it usually includes what they are planting in their gardens, how far along they are in their spring cleaning, or what their children will be doing when school is no longer in session. In the summer or fall they will compare notes on what they’re harvesting or canning for winter, and in winter they’ll discuss what sewing projects they’re undertaking. Often there is discussion about who has been visiting from out of state — usually other Amish people coming to visit relatives.
Amish women are also no different from other people in another way. One of the things they tend to do is talk about other people. Perhaps even more than in a small town, the Amish are prone to gossip. Like most gossiping, this is designed to bring people into line who may have thoughts of their own, or something different from “group thought.”
There is also a certain amount of teasing that happens when Amish women get together. One such example is a story that my cousin, Martha, tells. First I will set the context for this story. On my mother’s side of the family, I have nearly 100 first cousins, about half of them female, and on this day, all seven sisters were together (my mother and her six sisters). If you lined up all of my aunts, mother, sisters, and cousins and covered their faces, it would be hard to tell who is who… so many of us have the same body shape, and with only a few exceptions, close to the same body size. Only a few of my cousins and one sister have stayed slender out of the lot of us, and Cousin Martha is one of them. So, on this particular day, my aunts and my mother were all sitting in a living room together, sort of spilling out of their hickory-bent rocking chairs, when my cousin Martha walked in. One of my aunts made a remark about how thin Martha was. There was a pause before one of the aunts said, “I wouldn’t want to be that thin.” Like hens clucking, all the aunts chimed in and agreed that they would want to be thinner, but not as thin as Martha (like there was something wrong with being that thin, just because they weren’t). My mother, who would often challenge the group thinking, especially when she was with her sisters, was silent while all her sisters were making their comments. Then Mem said in a rather hesitating tone, almost as though it were a question instead of a statement, “Well, I would.” Mem, with these simple and honest three words, silenced her sisters. I love when Cousin Martha tells this story because she accompanies it with her most contagious giggle.
I will include a few photos taken at a family reunion at my Mennonite Aunt Martha’s house. The first photo is of my sister, Susan, and Cousin Martha, who tells the above story. The second picture is one of my Amish cousins with the “typical” body shape of my mother’s family.
Two of the “slenders” in the extended family: Sister Susan (left) and Cousin Martha
Anonymous, thanks for asking such good questions. I look forward to more fun posts as I answer each question in turn.