“You aren’t from around here, are you?”
Late at night we could hear the constant sound of trains, eighteen-wheelers gunning their engines, motorcycle enthusiasts, and the clickety clack of horses and carriages going by our door. We were at the world famous Newmar Service Center in Napannee, Indiana. Our motorhome had issues that only Newmar could fix. These problems had to be fixed before our warranty ended. We were stuck in Anabaptist territory for a week.
At the check-out stand at the local grocery a woman said, “You aren’t from around here, are you?” The next morning at an Amish Dutch restaurant, the server asked the same question. Maybe it was the fact that I was not wearing an ankle length skirt and a bun on my head that tipped them off. Maybe it was the fact that I was the only woman dining at the restaurant. The server explained that Nappanee is only a town of 7,000 and a lot of people know everyone in town. Huh?
Forced to stay in Amish country for a week yielded great adventures. It seemed as if there were as many people in horse-drawn carriages as people in cars. The carriages pull everything from other horses, equipment, or materials. It was almost a shock to see female Mennonites with their long skirts and hat-covered buns peddling down the streets holding cups of Starbucks. Men with two-foot long beards (no moustaches) wear straw hats or knitted caps. The beards flow in the wind. Their bicycles pull carts, carry their pets, and usually have saddlebags on both sides.
Sometimes they peddle tricycles with a cart behind, especially to the grocery store. On a Wednesday night, at the Dairy Queen we encountered a dozen Amish folk who were meticulously dressed in line ahead of us. I figured that they had just had a meeting. They all sat together and did not interact with anyone else in the restaurant. I said hello to one young man and his eyes beamed with joy. Throughout our stay we waived to many Amish and Mennonites. And they waived back!
Little did we know the beauty of Amish homes and farms. Everything is perfect! Grass is mowed, paint is new, horses are in the fields. Gorgeous! They live on two lane roads and have businesses far away from town. In between farms, you will find wood-working, or canning, or quilting, or furniture-making shops, or a restaurant or creamery. They build their own carriages, buckboards, and wagons. One store sold ready-made carriages. He displayed them on his front lawn. We felt as if we had left the United States or at least gone back in time.
If we look like we have gained 100 pounds, it is because of the fantastic Amish pastries, pies, cheeses, and home-made chocolates. While the main menus in the restaurants were normal country food, the desserts sent you flying. We even ate a couple of meals at a local grocery store, Martins. Their food was better than most of the restaurants where we dined, and the pies were only $3.99–FRESH! Visit Shipshewana someday, you will want to stay just because of the food.
Amish pay taxes, but do not collect Social Security. They can opt out of paying it when they sign up for a card. Some vote! Most have 8-10 children that only go to the sixth grade. They do not have electronics in their homes. (I bet they have cell phones?) They do not drive cars and only use a small bit of electricity. (But, interestingly enough, while touring a Newmar motorhome plant, the guide told us that the Amish drive the trucks in the buildings.)
They can collect food stamps but decline. They are among the wealthiest group of farmers in the United States. On our tour of Newmar, only males worked in the factories. Read about them on line!!! Nappanee houses the second largest group of Amish in the country.
While this is Amish territory, it is also Anabaptist territory. These hearty souls were known as twice-baptizers in the 16th century and broke with the Roman Catholic Church, not without much pain and torture. Originally within Mennonite groups, they are now separate. There are many other Anabaptist groups such as the Bruderhof, Hutterites, and more. Just around the corner from Nappanee is the Anabaptist Seminary and close by is the Mennonite Goshen College.
While in Indiana we had the opportunity to visit Fort Wayne. This is where I received my B.A. so long ago. The college is defunct, but I thought the buildings would still be standing. Wrong! Most of the college is gone. I did find my old dorm. I kept thinking about this private college sponsored by The Missionary Church.
I knew when I was a student that the college had warm relations with the Mennonites in the area. Some said that it broke away from the Mennonites. (Who cares about these things when you are 17 years old?) While in college, I was assigned extra-curricular activities at Mennonite Churches. After researching the history of The Missionary Church during our stay in Indiana, I found, “The Mennonite Brethren in Christ changed their name to the United Missionary Church in 1947.” I was actually schooled by Mennonites! Who da’ thought!
When I learned this, there was an explosion in my mind. My first major book was published by a Mennonite Press, how ironic, or did they know my past? In Michigan, we knew nothing of Mennonites. I lived in Catholic country. When I was about seven years old, I picked the little 100-soul-Missionary Church as my church. (My family was not religious.) It was my home away from home.
While the pastor was very right-wing and even preached against drinking, dancing, and playing cards, I paid no attention to him. He seemed a little weird to me. They eventually convinced me to go to their denominational college and even sent me off with a few dollars. Irony, Irony, Irony prevails! Maybe they thought the college would convince me not to dance!
There are some negatives to being in Amish country. Amish do not catch the droppings from their horses. There is poop everywhere and it smells. After a while you get used to the smell. Local businesses have set up bars for the Amish to park their buggies or carriages and hook up the horses. It’s like the wild west! They leave so much poop that workers have to scoop it up at the end of the day. YUK!
Mennonite females work in a lot of stores and businesses, but I did not see any employed Amish women. We did see many Amish carts with several children hanging out the window, or a female clinging to two or three babies. Old Amish females wear all black and a huge black bonnet.
There are a lot of different Mennonite groups in the area. All the females wear long beautiful dresses. Elbows are covered but the head gear and color of the dresses change so it is hard to know who is on which team. In one store out in the country, I asked a female clerk if she was required to wear the dress? She told me it was her dress and she made it herself! It is funny to see a female with a floor-length dress operate a fork-lift!
As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge. The next blog will tackle our trip through Michigan and our tour of the Motown Studio. I lived only ten minutes away and grew up with their music.