Wearing Amish

Wearing Amish the day of my sister’s wedding

I have been writing my book lately, and so I have been remiss in posting new material here. I am happy to report that I have finished getting this part of my story on paper. Now three people are reading it and will give me their honest thoughts about it. I will likely be making revisions after receiving their suggestions and edits. I can hardly contain my excitement that I am this much closer to getting my book into print.

I will describe the book below. If you already know about Anna, then some of these details are most likely repetitive.

The book is so far entitled Wearing Amish and it begins where Why I Left the Amish ended. I was twenty years old and making my first exodus out of the Amish to Burlington, Vermont, a place where I knew no one. Once there, I reveled in my newfound freedom, established a social life, and began dating.  I even found my dream job as a waitress at Pizza Hut!

My story is interwoven with Anna’s. She had walked into my life as I was writing my tales of heartbreak in leaving family behind, exhilaration in the outside world, and the shock of returning to the fold. Though Anna’s and my stories mirror one another in many ways, there are also key differences.

Anna was born the tenth of eleven children in her family and lived the typical life of a twenty-three-year-old unmarried woman in her Swartzentruber Amish community. The Ordnung in her church forbade her from riding in cars, so she never traveled further than fifty miles from her home.

One June morning before sunrise, Anna left home with nothing but the clothes on her back and found help from an “English” person to leave her community. She donned modern clothing and boarded a bus, leaving behind the only world she knew for a life she’d glimpsed from her perspective at the roadside stand.

Anna came to live with us and started a business baking and making baskets and selling her wares out of our house. She was receiving tutoring lessons to improve her English and she was also learning science, math, social studies, and art. She seemed to be thriving in many ways. Witnessing her delight in new experiences such as music concerts, a country fair, or cutting and decorating a Christmas tree, reminded me of that time when I had just left home. I loved making my own choices. I happily found new social outlets in which I could meet people my own age.

Making decisions bewildered Anna in her new world. She became a homebody and rarely went out without us. She missed her community, especially her forty nieces and nephews. Though she was doing well in her business, she was often overcome with homesickness.

This reminded me of that time when I felt torn between my two worlds. Then along came a welcome distraction when I met a Yankee toymaker and peddler, David, who was eager to learn everything he could about the Amish. He was imaginative, creative, understanding, and attractive. He seemed willing to help me sort out the complexities of my new world. I sometimes thought about returning to my community, but not seriously enough to make plans to do so. Then our budding romance came to an abrupt end, when a vanload of Amish — including the bishop — showed up at the front door of the YWCA, where I was living, to take me back to the community. I could not stand up to this show of force and so I returned.

Anna’s people did not come to fetch her. Perhaps they knew that she would eventually return. And they were right — six months after she moved in with us, she decided to return. Rather than put her on a bus, David and I offered to drive her back. Thus, in an ironic twist of fate, we became her escorts back into her Amish world. Taking her back and seeing the change in her demeanor once she was with her people was another reminder of my own return.

I had allowed David to visit me “as a friend” in my Amish world. We parted with a handshake, though he had asked for a hug and a kiss. The Amish criticized the family I was living with for allowing David to visit and consequently I was sent to live under the supervision of my older brother, Joe. In an attempt at “making myself Amish,” I stopped writing to David. Then one Saturday afternoon when I was canoeing with my sister, my two worlds collided. David had followed us out onto the waters of the Akron Reservoir in a rowboat. I delivered a thorough and devastating rejection and he left. I had an instant and overwhelming flash of regret as I watched his maroon-checkered shirt retreating off into the distance, as he rowed slowly away. I thought, “What have I done? There goes my future!”

Together, Anna’s and my stories convey what it’s like to be torn between two worlds. One world offers the familiar — a community steeped in obedience and tradition (one in which we’d promised we’d stay for the rest of our lives) and the other offers personal freedom.

At the end of the book, both of us are back in our respective communities. In an attempt to “fit in,” we both rejected those who offered us a bridge back “into the world.” I rejected David. Weeks after Anna’s return, we received a letter from her, telling us that she has promised her preachers that she wants to forget everything about the outside world and not to expect any more letters from her.

I have the perspective of more than thirty years in telling my story. Anna’s story is immediate and poignant. It remains to be seen in which world she will choose to live her life. Will she be tempted to leave again? Or will she stay in the world she knows best, content to have others making her choices for her? I faced the same difficult choice — enjoy personal freedom or continue “wearing Amish.”

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13 thoughts on “Wearing Amish”

  1. Good morning Saloma,
    You are certainly a blessed women for having had the opportunity to be reared in the Amish way of life and then to be able to choose which world that you want to live in. I actual work for a company that is owned by an x Amish man and his wife who is also x Amish. Neither one of them never joined the Amish church so they still spend time with their respective families. But I can see from a distance if you would some of the challenges that they have and do face. And it’s interesting to me to see that some of these challenges they don’t even realize they are dealing with. I am in a unique place to see this. god bless you for your writings.

    1. Rebecca, thank you for your comments. That’s interesting that you have a perspective this former Amish man and his wife don’t. I get that… I sometimes felt that way about Anna.

      Thanks for your compliments.

      Saloma

  2. Saloma,
    I have missed your posts. My life sometimes can be hard, but nothing like what you and Anna have experienced. Looking forward to your book.
    Tom the backroads travellrt

  3. Anna’s story is a heart-catching one that is probably repeated in every Amish community. Each one who leaves is a loss to their family and church, and I suspect that those who remain behind will never understand the need of others to leave.
    Someday I would like to see a study done of the two: Why do some leave while others, equally bright, remain?

    Thanks for sharing, Saloma. Good luck on your book.
    Elva Bontrager

    1. Elva, I always enjoy your perspective. That would be an interesting study indeed. There are a lot of brainy Amish people, that is for sure.

      I sometimes think there are those who stay who don’t understand the need for someone to leave, but I bet there are others who do understand and perhaps don’t have what it takes to actually leave.

      Thanks again for leaving insightful comments. It’s always interesting to get comments from other former Amish.

      Saloma

  4. Wow. You are so brave. Going to a place where you knew not one soul. Leaving all that you knew for something you knew little about, if anything. Saloma, you’re an incredible woman. And I think David has always felt this way about you.
    Many questions run through my mind when I think about your experiences at leaving the Amish. If you had been raised in a home that was without conflict to the degree that yours was, do you think you would have stayed Amish? If you knew you were loved beyond measure, unconditionally, and felt protected by both your parents and had a brother that didn’t hurt you, would you have stayed? Would love and tenderness have kept you there? Or was it the amount of freedom you would have leaving? Do you feel it was God’s will for you to leave the Amish? I expect there are no easy, pat answers are there?
    I’m looking forward to reading you new book(s). Hugs.

    1. Fran, I’m never sure if I was that brave or that desperate, but thanks for your vote on the courage side.

      Your set of questions are so good that I feel them triggering a blog post in the near future. Is it okay for me to use your name and the questions?

      Thanks so much for your comments and questions. You have such thoughtful things to write!

      Saloma

  5. Looking forward to your new book. It still boggles the mind at how isolated one can be even in the midst of people… I bought lots of flowers at the Amish nursery last week. The girls who work there are so polite; helping me carry 5 platforms of flowers out to my car but they do not like to make small talk, even though I tried. I did make them smile, though …and got a chuckle out of them when I asked them if the thunder storm woke them up like it did me. Evidently none of us like thunder storms in the middle of the night!

    1. Peggy, I love your story. I can just imagine what a thrill it was to get a smile out of those stoic Amish girls. Good for you! I bet you made their day.

      Blessings to you, Peggy.

      Saloma

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