Angels along My Way — Olin Clara, Part I

Today I start my series called “Angels along My Way.” I am starting with “Olin Clara.” In the Amish community, women get their husbands’ names before their own. I would be known as “David Saloma” if I were still in the community.

For a tribute to Olin Clara, that I wrote back in August, click here.

The following is the beginning of what I have to say about Olin Clara. This is changed only slightly from an excerpt from my book.

Olin Clara was short, energetic, talkative, and could make anyone who walked into her home feel welcome. She was the best pie baker in the community.

When I was nine years old, she asked Mem if I could come and help her with cleaning and baking on Saturdays. I used to wonder why she would ask me to help her, out of all the girls in the community, but as I got older, I realized that she was really helping me out. She was showing me what was normal in other families, something to strive for when I started my own family someday. I hadn’t dared to let myself think she was doing it just because she liked me and enjoyed my company. My mind drifted back to my first memories of Olin Clara, when I was four years old and she was the only person who accepted my outgoing ways.

An “English” family used to give us second-hand items that they had collected in their church. A red pair of boots in just my size arrived in one of the boxes. Mem didn’t intend on letting me wear them, because Amish weren’t allowed to wear red, but when Sunday morning came and she didn’t have any other boots that fit me, she wriggled them on over my shoes and said, “Now when we get to church, we will need to hide these in the corner of the washhouse.”

I nodded, and then we bundled up in black coats, scarves, bonnets, and capes, and huddled under three buggy blankets for the long, cold ride. Under Mem’s feet in a denim bag was the soapstone that she had warmed on the wood stove all night. Joe, Lizzie, and I sat in the back seat. Lizzie and I wrapped the buggy blankets around our legs and feet. I wished I didn’t have to cover those red boots.

Church was at the Eli Yoders’ house that day. They lived the farthest away of the people in our church district. I asked how far we had to go, and Mem said five miles. By the time Datt stopped the buggy at the washhouse door, I had decided that five miles was a very long way. When we walked into the washhouse, I saw Olin Clara looking at me. She always had a smile and a kind word for me. I walked up to where she stood with a group of women and girls, ready to go into the warm kitchen. I held up one foot and said, “Look at my boots. I have new boots!”

Everyone became so silent, I could hear myself breathe. I put my foot down and looked at Mem. Her face was flushed with shame. I looked at Olin Clara, and she smiled at me reassuringly. Mem pulled me over to the side of the washhouse and said, “Take those off!” She pulled them off me so quickly that my shoes came off, too. “I told you not to show these to anyone!”

I was embarrassed for doing something wrong, but Olin Clara chatted pleasantly with Mem and me, and she said quietly, “Don’t worry about it.” I could feel Mem’s hold on my hand relax.

I wore the red boots home from church that day, and then they disappeared. 

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5 thoughts on “Angels along My Way — Olin Clara, Part I”

  1. Saloma, you ought to buy red boots and wear them to your book talks. Or for any visits back to your home community. (wink) This is a lovely tribute to Clara. I fell in love with her when reading your book. She really was different, and she knew you were too. Maybe she had hoped that you would stay and be different with her. No matter what, you were blessed to have known her as you did. ~Monica

  2. Hi Saloma –

    What a lovely lady and a lovely tribute to her!

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Amish women refer to each other by their husband’s name and then their given name? From what I’ve read, this is because so many people in the community have the same names.

    Interesting. I’ve never seen this custom in an Amish novel. Is this a general practice among all Amish or just among your group? How far back does this practice go?

    Sorry for all the questions. I’d really like to know. :)


  3. Christine, I have black boots! Is this an indication that I internalized the message that I shouldn’t have red boots? Hmm.

    Monica, how naughty of you to suggest such a thing… hehe. Maybe I actually will buy some — but, I’ll save them for my book talks, how’s that? I agree, I was very blessed to have known Clara.

    Susan, I don’t actually know where the naming practices started, and I also don’t know the reasons for them. Before a woman gets married, she is referred to by her father’s name first. So let’s say Clara’s father’s name would have been John. She would have been known as John’s Clara. Once she got married, she became Olin Clara. For some reason the apostrophe “s” gets dropped once the woman gets married.

    These naming practices are used throughout all Amish communities, as far as I know. I’m not surprised that Amish novels don’t portray this custom — someone who hasn’t lived the life would not necessarily know about it.

    Thanks, all for your comments.


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