David and I had a short visit with our son, Paul, who is living and working in NYC. It was great to see him. He is getting some court experience working for an insurance company. It’s strange having a lawyer in the family.
I think I might be one of the only people who feels this way, but I do not like NYC. Too much grime, too many people, too much noise, too much pollution, too many tall buildings, too much everything. I get overstimulated.
At some point there was a woman wearing tight clothing, who was hurrying across the street, and she had quite the walk. David said, “There goes a shape-shifter.” He said it in such a matter-of-fact tone, that I couldn’t help but laugh.
Then we traveled to Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, where I attended the Amish Conference at the Young Center. We stayed in a home from the Mennonite Your Way directory. They were such a nice couple. Our first night there, we were sitting on their back porch eating strawberry pie, and I asked if they had traveled to faraway places, and they said they’d been to Europe and California. I asked them what was their favorite place. They thought for a moment, and Galen said, “Right here!” We got a good laugh, because they are in the middle of some beautiful countryside. This farmland has been in their family for many generations. It is so obvious that Galen is in his element as a farmer. And his wife, Nancy is a master gardener and homemaker.
I attended the conference all day on Friday, and what a day it was! I learned something new at every talk I attended. What was so great about this conference, though, were the people I connected with in between the talks.
Here are a few highlights.
Marty Lehman is the Director of churchwide operations for Mennonite Church USA. She and I had decided we wanted to get together sometime during the conference, which we did on Thursday afternoon. She grew up Amish until she was ten years old, then her parents joined a Conservative Mennonite Church. We had a great time getting to know one another over afternoon tea.
Marty has more than 150 first cousins, many who are still Amish. She said it is not that uncommon for Amish young women to have a child before she’s married in northern Virginia. In one case, a bishop had two daughters who were single mothers. Apparently her mother attended the birth and while she was in the delivery room at the hospital, her mother said to her, “‘Scommt nett so schnell raus wie’s nei geht.” (It doesn’t come out as fast as it goes in.) The way Marty said it was with an Amish inflection and she made me roar with laughter, even though we were sitting in a restaurant. That earthy sense of humor is so Amish. And for the mother to let her daughter know, at that most inopportune time that she disapproved is also very Amish. What a great story!
Vi Dutcher has a similar childhood story to Marty’s. She was eight when her parents left the Amish church for a Conservative Mennonite one. Her father grew up in Geauga County, Ohio, the same community I grew up in, though he was a generation older. Vi is now a professor and head of the Language and Literature Department at Eastern Mennonite University.
Both Marty and Vi are such great role models. They both had similar humble beginnings as I did, but they have been able to follow their dreams and have accomplished so much in their lives. They are both compassionate, intelligent people who have enough self-confidence to believe in themselves. I find it interesting that some of my favorite people’s childhoods are rooted in the Amish culture.
I also got to see Callie Wiser in front of a camera. She is usually behind the camera, directing while others are in front of the camera. I’ve been there a few times, and so I relished the idea of her being in the limelight. She did a fabulous job, too. She interviewed the three authors of the book, The Amish. That was a very interesting discussion and was filmed by the local channel of CNN.
Karen Johnson-Weiner was the convener of the “Former Amish” panel that I was part of. She was also a plenary speaker for a talk entitled “The Tale of Two Kitchens” and she was part of Callie Wiser’s interview. Karen knows Anna’s family, so I found out from her that Anna is doing all right. She has not yet been reinstated in the church, however. That causes some concern for me. I hope they don’t keep moving out the time that she can rejoin the church like they did for her brother… he was out for nearly two years. She must feel so torn between two worlds.
Valerie Weaver-Zercher, author of Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels, was a plenary speaker on Friday night. Speaking seems to come naturally for her. She was even funnier in person than she was in the book. At some point when she was showing images about the “fast culture” that produces the books about a “slow culture” and she had both a photo of Rupert Murdock on the screen with one of the authors of these romance novels. She likened the author to Murdock’s step-sister. She delivered these lines without cracking a smile.
I got to talk with Valerie after her talk. She is going to be writing a response to my review of her book on Shirley Showalter’s blog: 100 Memoirs. Be sure to check in for that in the next while.
It was good to see Ben Riehl (pronounced “real”) again. He is an Amish man from Lancaster. I met him through Donald Kraybill several years ago. He is such a great character. You can just see when there is a joke in his eyes, and then of course he delivers it in such a jolly manner. He said that someone Amish was growing mint tea for sale, and he was thinking about writing about the aphrodisiac qualities of it and calling it “Yoder Remedy.” I asked, why not call it “Riehl Remedy”?
The best part of the whole conference for me was when a group of Amish people sang for three different groups. I was in the second group, the same one as Vi Dutcher. We were both so moved by their singing, especially the slow tunes. They sang the “Loblied” or praise song that is the second song at every Amish church service. We ended up in tears. For more about this, you can read the report by Julia Hatmaker in the Patriot News.
Before I close this post, I want to tell you about a man whose name is Mark Curtis. He was a sixth grade teacher in a public school when he found a way to visit an Amish school. He then stayed in contact with this Amish community in Bellecenter, Ohio, which is on the progressive side — what is termed “New Order” Amish. This is a daughter settlement of Mio, Michigan.
Eventually Mark decided to join their community. So, his life journey took him in the opposite direction of mine — his led him into the Amish community, while mine led me out. I had a great time talking with him. I asked if he would be willing to answer questions from the readers of my blog if I send them to him via letter. He said he’d be happy to. So here is what I propose. I will take whatever questions you have for Mark and assemble them, and then I’ll send them to him via the post office. We’ll need to be patient to get his answers back and then I’ll post them here on my blog.
So what questions do you have for Mark? I know many people have questions about joining the Amish, so here is your chance to ask someone who has actually done it. I think it will be a fascinating discussion, for Mark is open to talking about his experiences.