My Friend Kristin is the type of person who will make friends with anyone. If you ever attend a party at her home, this fact will be evident. You’ll meet people from every background ranging from a Jewish attorney who is married to a protestant lawyer, to a stay-at-home mom from down the street. So it was no surprise when, soon after she and her family bought a farm in rural Wisconsin, she befriended an Amish farm girl. She met — let’s call her Ruth — at a local farmer’s market and the two became fast friends.
Brian and I spent the Labor Day weekend at the farm. On Saturday morning, Kristin and I were going to run to the store to get food for the weekend and she asked me if I wanted to stop by and visit with Ruth on the way in to town. Um …. yeah! I have long been fascinated with the Amish which started with several visits to Nappanee, Ind., when I was growing up. Nappanee is a small Amish community in Northern Indiana where visitors can tour Amish farms, eat an Amish meal and buy everything from Amish baked goods to hand-made furniture.
On the way to Ruth’s farm, Kristin told me that when they first met, Ruth was in her early 30’s and not married, which is very rare in the Amish community as they tend to marry very young. A year or so ago, Ruth met a young man on a bus ride across country and they married this past Spring. Kristin learned of the marriage when Ruth called her one day (she uses a community pay phone) and invited her to the wedding which was taking place at her parents’ farm the next day. Not knowing what to wear to an Amish wedding, Kristin politely declined the invitation. (What does a non-Amish woman where to an Amish wedding, anyway?)
Kristin said she saw Ruth a couple of months ago and Ruth told her she was expecting. Kristin asked when she due and Ruth told her sometime in October. Kristin’s husband, Steve, raised his eyebrows a bit. It hadn’t hit Kristin at the time, but Steve later told her to do the math and, “WHOA!! AN AMISH SHOTGUN WEDDING!” Oh the scandal.
We arrived at the farm and Ruth came out to meet us. She was hugely pregnant and her ankles were swollen like water balloons. Kristin commented that she looked like she had lost weight in her face and neck. Apparently Ruth has had a pretty difficult pregnancy. She had both kidney and gallbladder problems. She’s had to modify her diet and take vitamin supplements which she said are helping. She was very sweet. Spoke with a heavy accent. Kristin said Ruth’s first language was Pennsylvania Dutch.
Her husband, William, also came out to greet us and I immediately wondered if there was an Amish phrase equivalent to “cougar.” Her husband looked to be about 20-years-old … maybe. But he was very polite and talkative. We visited for a while out near the barn. When we said we would have to get going soon, Ruth said her husband was leaving soon, as well. He started walking toward the horse and buggy to unhitch it and she rattled off a long list of tasks he was to complete. We laughed and said she has got the nagging wife thing down.
William said they had purchased a new buggy that he was picking up later in the afternoon and we could could see it if we were still there later. It sounded like he had enough on his honey-do list to keep him occupied the entire day so we told him we would see the new buggy next time. Then Ruth asked if it was too much trouble for us to give them a ride instead of William taking the horse and buggy. It wasn’t clear where, exactly, they needed to go but we told her we would give them a ride if they needed one. She said it would save them a lot of time, so they both piled in Kristin’s car, a convertible Mustang.
I volunteered to sit in the back with William, afraid if Ruth crammed her way in to the back seat, as pregnant as she was, she would be unable to get herself out. The four of us got buckled in and we headed down the driveway toward the road.
“I never rode in a convertible before,” William said to me. “It’s kind of like air conditioning, huh?” he asked.
“Yes. Yes, it is. By the way, you’re gonna want to hold on to that straw hat there, Buddy.”
We took off down the road and William throws his hands in the air, Thelma and Louise style. I wanted to take a picture but knew it was a no-no for the Amish to be photographed. We passed the neighboring farms where other Amish were out in their yards and fields. They looked, then did a double take with jaws dropped open and a look I couldn’t interpret. It was either one of disbelief, envy, or one of: “We’re going to pray for you. And, by the way, the pastor will be at your house before sundown.” But William and Ruth just smiled and waved as if they were sitting on top of a float in a Fourth of July parade.
We traveled down a long country road, enjoying the natural air conditioning, beautiful weather and our Amish car mates. After about 20 minutes, all I could think of was how long the trip would have taken in a horse and buggy. No wonder they would risk damnation for a ride in a gas-fueled vehicle. We finally arrived at a gravel road that William instructed Kristin to turn down. It went down this small hill and continued on. I couldn’t help but hear the dueling banjos of Deliverance fame playing in my head. It was a little nerve-wracking, I’ll be honest.
We arrived at a large log cabin which I assumed was not an Amish homestead since their houses tend to be white. We pulled behind the house, dogs were barking and no one was in sight. William went to the door and started knocking. And knocking. And knocking some more. After about five to eight minutes, a woman come to the door with two toddlers at her heels. She was wearing what looked like traditional Amish wear, so they were either rebel Amish or the white house thing isn’t a rule. She and William had some kind of exchange that we couldn’t really hear, nor could we understand as it was not conducted in English. Then he says something in Pennsylvania Dutch to Ruth, who was still in the Mustang. There was a lot of back and forth and the conversation seemed to get a little tense. The woman kept going inside the house, coming back outside the house and going back in. She finally came back out with a checkbook in her hand, wrote out a check and handed it to William.
Check in hand, William got back in the car and we headed back down the gravel road again. Once we made it to the main road, Ruth asked Kristin if we could make another stop. It was on the way, she said. We arrived at a traditional-looking Amish farm and two men were standing outside the farm house. Again, William got out of the car and Ruth stayed behind. One of the men took off in his buggy at speeds I would consider unsafe for an automobile made of wood and pulled by a horse. William then approached the other man, took the check he received at the last house out of his pocket and handed it to the guy. There was some sort of exchange that was, again, conducted in Pennsylvania Dutch. William spent about 10 minutes talking to the other guy before he finally came back to the car and said we could go.
When we got back to farm, we made it clear we really had to go. We had been gone for more than two hours and still had shopping to do. Our worried husbands would never believe we spent the afternoon playing taxi to the Amish running errands. They thanked us for the ride, told Kristin they would keep her posted on the impending birth. Ruth offered us potatoes and we were on our way.
As we pulled out of the driveway, Kristin looked at me and said she was so sorry that ended up taking so much time. Are you kidding me? I just spent the afternoon riding around in a convertible with an Amish couple. You can’t make this kind of material up. But, I told Kristin, I was confused as to what, exactly, the errand was that they were running. “Do you have any idea what that was all about,” I asked.
Kristin stopped the car and turned to me with a serious look of concern on her face.
“I think we just participated in an Amish drug deal,” she said.