A Cultural Heritage

Several blog posts ago, I mentioned our sons, Paul and Tim, which prompted these questions from Pamela:

Question, you don’t mention your sons all that often and I assume its to protect their privacy, but I am wondering how they feel about your move? Also, while I am on the subject I have often wondered how they feel about their Amish heritage. Do they embrace it, or are they disconnected from it? Do they see it as something that is a part of who you are, but not necessarily part of them?

I replied that I would ask my sons these questions and allow them to answer for themselves. I have done that. I have to make a correction to the question of how they feel about us moving to Virginia. Paul said he was happy for us. Tim was upset for a while, but he’s come around to recognizing that this is a good decision for us, and therefore he is also happy for us.

Then I asked each of them if they mind being the subject of my blog at times, and I received two very different answers. Paul doesn’t mind if I write about him, but Tim had a very strong reaction, and clearly does not want that to happen. This is why I will be writing about Paul’s responses to Pamela’s questions, but also why I will honor Tim’s wishes and not include him. I don’t think he’ll mind if I include this photo of Mem holding him when he was a toddler. In a rare moment, Mem actually allowed David to snap this photo. Tim looks a little worried.

Paul’s response to the question of how he feels about his Amish heritage was. “It’s complicated, but I certainly don’t feel shame. Mostly, I feel proud.” He said he likes that the Amish have such strong work ethics, and he also likes their connection to the earth. He also said he does feel like the Amish heritage is a part of who he his, and that the connection he feels was passed down through me.

I wasn’t too surprised to hear Paul say that his feelings about his Amish heritage are complicated. My relationship to my heritage has been evolving for years, so he has likely picked up on my complicated feelings about my background. When he was born, I has still bitter about it because I’d not yet done the healing work that I would do later, starting when he was five years old. He likely also sensed this was a source of sorrow for me during my therapy years. It’s only been in his adult years that I’ve come around to accepting and even embracing my Amishness.

I don’t know if Paul had already planned this before our conversation, but he ended up dressing up as an Amish man and shaved off his mustache, leaving an Amish-looking beard for a Halloween party he attended. I asked if I could take photos of him, and he was fine with that. Here is one:

I think Paul looks pretty convincingly Amish. The suspenders are a bit wide, but other than that, I think he looks like any of several of my cousins when they were young.

Paul had worn an Amish hat before. When he was a little tyke, David and I attended my brother Simon’s wedding. Mem wanted to see what Paul looked like in an Amish hat. We couldn’t figure out how to fit his Furlong ears under the hat, so they’re bent over. It looks so comical to me. David took this photo in the yard outside my parents’ house.

Paul at 10 months

Speaking of comical, I wish I could go back and comb my hair before this picture was taken. And oh my, those glasses would have to go, too. I wouldn’t mind going back to that figure I had, though.

Seeing the homestead in the background with that lighting brings back so many memories. I so often felt stuck and even trapped when I was still living at home. It is a reminder that I always want to be grateful for my freedom and not take it for granted. I hope this is also part of the legacy I’m leaving for my sons, along with an appreciation for their heritage.

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12 thoughts on “A Cultural Heritage”

  1. Thank you, Saloma, for sharing your blog! I so enjoy your writing, and have often wondered if you had any children? How long ago was that? Somehow, I missed the one about your sons! How old are they and did they live nearby, before you moved to Virginia?
    I can understand how they would have mixed feelings about their heritage! I love reading Amish novels, and for the most part they are about all of the good, but I understand that there is Good & Bad everywhere.
    I imagine, as a child, seeing and sometimes overhearing, the troublesome things that you have went through, could influence their feelings a lot. Like all of us, they hopefully will, in time, embrace the good and at least try to let the other be in their past!
    Blessings to you, in this new chapter of your life, in Virginia!
    May you have a joyous and wonderful Christmas and new year ~

    1. Hello Carol. Paul just turned 34 in November, and Tim is 31. They were both living in the NYC area… Paul in Brooklyn, and Tim in Newark, NJ. Since our move down here, Paul has gotten a job in Vermont, back to his roots. So now we are in 3 states… Vermont, New Jersey, and Virginia.

      I think you’re right… over time Paul and Tim will likely want to know more about their heritage. It was one of the reasons I chose to write books about my life… so that when they do have questions, they will know where to find the answers. And who knows whether future grandchildren will also find the stories of interest.

      Wishing you joyous holidays as well.

  2. Please thank Paul for sharing with us. Totally understand Tim wanting to keep his privacy. I liked the pictures. You in your English clothes and little Paul in an Amish hat. Paul grown up dressed like an Amish man with an Amish style beard and yet not Amish. Paul in English clothes being held by his Amish grandmother. Our heritage runs through us and in us like the weaving of cloth. Perhaps as they get older there will be more interest in their heritage, more questions for you. Then they can take what is good from their ancestors and pass it on to the next generation.Not that the bad stuff, the difficult stuff can be forgotten by those who lived it,but like Paul said, “I’m not ashamed, mostly I feel proud.” He has embraced the good.
    Oh and by the way, I think you have great hair, but the glasses are a bit big!! Must have been the eighties!!Smile. As always thank you for sharing.

    1. Pamela, I will let Paul know you appreciate that he shared his perspective. I love your poetry “Our heritage runs through us and in us like the weaving of cloth.” So true, and beautifully put.

      As I mentioned above, I do think Paul and Tim will be more interested in their heritage as they get older.

      Glad you agree about the glasses. Hehe. It sure was smack dab in the middle of the 80s.

      Thank you for your thoughts, Pamela.

  3. Welcome to Harrisonburg! I have been behind on reading your blog and didn’t know you had moved here. I was never able to get to EMU when you spoke so maybe I will see you here someday. I am a member at Lindale Mennonite Church and we would welcome you and David. I have only been a member of the Mennonite Church since the 1990s as I grew up Lutheran but have lived in Harrisonburg all my life. You picked a beautiful spot to move to. Again welcome to Harrisonburg and the beautiful Shendoah Valley.

    1. Kristin, I hope to meet you sometime. Right now we are attending Park View Mennonite, but perhaps we’ll visit your church some Sunday. We don’t know just where we’ll eventually settle. Lindale is on our list of places to watch, but not many houses come on the market there, it seems.

      Oh, this Valley is so very beautiful. I keep wanting to take my camera when we go out driving, but it seems I forget every time.

      Thank you so much for your warm welcome. I am feeling so embraced by the people here. It is heartwarming!

      Happy Holidays to you!

  4. This is all so interesting. One thing that stands out to me is that Mem actually allowed David to take that picture! I thought she would be more true to Amish ways than that!

    1. Denise, most of the time Mem was more Amish than that. But that day she was open to allowing something forbidden. Who know what would have happened the day before or the day after.

  5. This is so nice to read. I totally understand Tim. I love the way Amish live and hope ever to visit an area where they live. We’ve seen Amish in Manitoba. A small group is living there..
    Nice picture of your son in Amish clothing. It looks so real!
    Always so interesting how people live.
    It’s a study on its own.

    1. Wilma, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Yes, Paul does look Amish in those clothes. Interesting thoughts about how people live. I never thought of it quite that way.

      Wishing you a wonderful week.

  6. I got the opportunity to read a copy of Why I left the Amish, I enjoyed it very much. Some of the simplicity of living within an Amish life. There are children that yearn for something that defines them. I come away from the book understanding both that ,there are parallels and we choose,making one not less than the other, just that persons needs to life. I do look at the life style of the Amish in particular past years, whereas most Amish of todays society mix more easily, it felt within the reading difficult at times, though yet precious.Abuse in families run deep across so many families.The isolation is felt deeply. Your journeys have brought an opening of heartfelt information of understanding of the Amish.
    Good read.

    1. Susan, I thank you for letting me know you enjoyed the read. Yes, there are parts of the book that are hard to read… you are certainly not the only one who found that to be the case. I’m glad you found it informative about Amish life. You’re right… many of the Amish of today mix more easily with mainstream society. Sadly though, I think they are just as insular when it comes to covering up abuse issues. I was asked the other day what I think the solution is for dealing with the abuse, and it stumped me. I simply don’t know.

      Thank you again for letting me know your thoughts on my first book.

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