Thirty years ago, when I was living with the Jake Kurtz family and teaching in a one-room Amish school, the Kurtzes and I would get frequent “Yankee” visitors. (I’ve since found out that my home community is the only one that uses this term — most Amish use the term “English” or “Englishers.” I believe the reason that the Geauga County community uses this term is that the people who settled that area were New Englanders — Yankees.) The Kurtz family was open to “Yankee” visitors, which was nice for me, because I got to meet quite a few people through them. This is how I got to know John and Pat Anderson. They invited me to come and stay with them if I was ever in or around New York City.
Several months later, I decided to take a trip to New England to see the fall foliage. It was highly unusual for Amish women to travel alone, but I had invited others to accompany me and had no takers, so I planned to take the trip on my own. I paid for a fifteen-day bus ticket that allowed me to go anywhere I wanted during that time. I had to go through New York City to get to New England. Like most Amish, I was scared of the big bad city, but I remembered the Andersons’ kind offer, and so I wrote to them. We arranged to meet at the Port Authority, where John Anderson took me to their home in New Jersey. They had five lovely children and I ended up going to school with one of their daughters and spoke in her class about what it was like to be Amish.
At the time of my visit to the Andersons, I was at a crossroads in my life… I could go the way of my parents of staying in the Amish community, or I could follow my desire for freedom and more education, which would mean leaving the Amish. I had already left the Amish once. I had lived in Vermont for four months before the Amish came and escorted me back to the community. The bishop and his wife, my uncle who is a minister and his wife, my older brother, a sister, and a friend surprised me by showing up at the front door of the YWCA in Burlington, Vermont were I was living, presumably with the intention of taking me back. They had hired a van driver to bring them to Vermont. I did not want to find out if they would physically put me in the van and so I decided if I was going back anyway, I wanted to go back with my dignity intact.
I met the Andersons two years later, when I was thinking of leaving again. I do not remember if I told them that I was thinking of leaving, or if I kept it to myself, but the fact that there were decent families outside the Amish was an inspiration to me — one of the reasons the Amish warned against “turning Yankee” was that there were many “broken homes out in the world.” Getting a glimpse of family life outside the Amish looked pretty good from the perspective of visiting the Anderson family.
I left the Andersons and continued on my journey to New England. While I was in Vermont, I met up with David. He had invited me to his sister’s wedding, which I attended my first day in Vermont. He and I had become more than just friends before I was escorted back to the Amish. I kept telling him our relationship was impossible, yet he had stayed in touch. That summer I had returned his letters, and so one of the reasons for visiting him was to find out how I felt about him, after being apart for nearly three years. The day after his sister’s wedding, we were sitting next to a waterfall in Fairfax, Vermont, when we realized we wanted to be together — we just had to figure out how.
David in Woodstock, Vermont
David and I spent the next six days doing all the things I really loved — we drove through Vermont with the brilliant colors of autumn around every bend, playing Paul McCartney’s “Mull of Kintyre” on the tape player in the car and we took a bike ride over and around the hills of Woodstock, including an exhilarating ride down a long hill that felt like freedom on wings, even though I was wearing my Amish clothes. We also spent time talking about the cultural dilemma that our being in love was causing.
Half-Amish in Vermont
I returned to the Amish after my New England visit with the intention of being with my family for the holidays. In contrast to all the weekends I had spent alone in the little house attached to the Kurtzes’s house, I had fully enjoyed David’s companionship and I couldn’t wait to see him again. So, needless to say, I didn’t make it through the holidays. Instead, David came to Ohio from Vermont to help me leave on November 7, 1980, exactly three years to the day after the first time I had left. The rest of this story will be in my second memoir, co-written with David.
I had lost all contact with the Andersons. Last week that all changed when I got an email with the subject line “A voice from the past.” Thirty years and a few days had passed since I had visited them, and they had found me through my blog. How cool is that?
If you want to read about this from another point of view, you can visit Pat Anderson’s blog.
I love when things like this happen — it really does make me feel like all things are connected and that everything happens for a reason.