Growing up, my father loved to spend the weekend in Lancaster, Pennsylvania – or as he called it “Amish Country”. To this day, I associate this rural, farming county in eastern Pennsylvania with him. For years, we pulled our travel trailer out there for an occasional weekend, until one day he decided to lease a spot and keep it in Lancaster permanently. “Amish Country” became his home away from home – and consequently, mine.
As a kid, I remember visiting farms to milk the cows or perhaps to ride in an Amish wagon. We toured homesteads and learned of their simplistic lives and beliefs. Each time we pulled into town, the first stop was to the market in Bird in Hand. There, my father would buy a huge tin of Pennsylvania Dutch potato chips. They always tasted strange to me, but
dad would relax every night with a beer and handful after handful of chips. Sometimes I wondered if that was why we came here, my mother never allowed potato chips at home.
All day Saturday and Sunday we explored; stopping at flea markets and antique shops, visiting the old fashioned mercantile shops, and looking for the Amish. They are a plain people, dressing in frocks of black, dark purple or deep blue. A telltale sign of an Amish farm is their clothing pinned up onto the line to dry. All of it is handmade, eschewing zippers and buttons. Matter of fact, they make everything they need from chutney to quilts to barns.
Their farms sprawl over most of Lancaster County and are recognized by moss green window shades and the lack of any electrical wiring stretching from the road to the homes. On Sunday mornings, we would dash about trying to locate the farm which hosted that weeks’ church service. Once the meeting let out, a hundred or more buggies lined the roads filled with families and pulled by big, brown stallions.
With all these memories as impetus, one exceptionally warm weekend last December, we decided to set out from Philadelphia with our son, Ryan, and our daughter, Taylor, to Lancaster County. “What exactly do you do in Amish Country?” Ryan asked. “Nothing really,” I explained, “You look for Amish people. Trust me. It’s fun.” And for one sunny and beautiful afternoon, we relived my youth.
As soon as we exited the freeway, we spied an Amish couple by the roadside struggling to connect a team of massive work horses to a huge wooden plow. “Guys… Look. That’s it! That is what we are looking for!” Soon, buggies became commonplace. “Mom, you can stop yelling “Here comes one!” we get it.” We all laughed when a line of cars lined up behind a horse drawn carriage on a busy intersection waiting for the red light to change. And once it turned, everyone waited while the horse shifted into his highest gear. While we ate our lunch out on a porch, buggies pulled into the harness repair shop across the street.
We followed the map to all the towns whose names made me snicker as a kid, and honestly still do; Paradise, Blue Ball, Bird in Hand, and, maybe the most cringe inducing of all, Intercourse. We passed open buggies – which we called “courting buggies” as kids. Every Saturday night, young couples would fly down the roads as fast as their horse could gallop. We sped by dark grey or black enclosed carriages filled with families – adorable kids piled into the back in their calico dresses or black britches. And now and again, we saw a young boy on a combination bike/scooter – which somehow complies with the Amish rules.
If we found an intriguing spot, we would drop Pat off at the roadside, always with the admonishment, “Dad, do not take photos of anyone’s faces! That is against their belief system.” But somehow, we always know in the heat of the moment, Pat might forget the rules. Once home, he ensured all photos complied with the Amish belief not to create an image of themselves.
Just like in my youth, we had a magical afternoon riding the back roads past massive farms and imaging what it would be like to live such a peaceful and simple lifestyle. We speculated that the Amish could make a killing if they opened their farms to burned-out corporate execs desperately needing to unwind for a week of two. And I realized, maybe my dad came for more than the potato chips. Maybe he came to experience his own version of an Amish escape, to release the pressures of daily life if only for a weekend. Perhaps this explains why the Amish community is exploding in size.
Categories: The United States