June 28, 2010

An Amish Experience

When we were in Ohio we stumbled upon an Amish community.  We knew it was an Amish community because we saw a sign that said so, but we couldn't find the Amish.  I became determined to find them so I asked my husband to drop me off at a convenience store and I would ask where to go.

When I walked in to the store I saw my first two Amish people that day: a boy buying things and a girl working behind the counter.

This was going to be awkward.

I decided not to say, "Uh, could you please direct me to the Amish?"  like I had planned.  Instead I mumbled something about needing help finding the "heart of the Amish community".  She pointed us up the road to a cheese factory, toy shops, and a restaurant.

I went back to the car where Rex was chuckling.  He had seen the boy walk out wearing his hat and suspenders and when I told him the girl behind the counter was Amish too, he told me that I should have said, "Where's the Amish and how will I recognize them when I see them?"

He chuckled with self-satisfaction on the way to the restaurant which was a few minutes away.  We enjoyed the food and browsed through the gift store, but I wasn't interested in this contrived experience.  I really wanted a legitimate Amish experience.  And that was when the idea struck me: Somehow we were going to spend the night with an Amish family.  I shared my brilliant idea with my husband and kids.  They were not impressed.  I was not going to be dissuaded.

I hatched a plan. I would flag down a passing buggy and ask if we could camp in their yard.  It was fail proof. 

Rex laughed (in admiration, I'm sure) at my brilliant plan and the kids encouraged me by saying, "You're so embarrassing!" and "Why do you have to be so awkward?"

Feeling emboldened by their words, I grabbed my paper menu and one of Andrew's crayons (to write down the address of the Amish family, of course) and headed out to the busy road by the restaurant.

Rex and the kids hurriedly finished up their meal, loaded into the car and picked me up before any buggies could pass me.

I got in the car, but I wasn't giving up.

I asked Rex to take me back to the convenience store.

I got out of the car and shut the door on the sweet sound of whining, embarrassed children.  I walked in, still clutching my menu and green crayon.

Trying to look like a normal person (oh so very hard for me) I cleared my throat, smiled and asked the girl if she knew of any Amish families who would be willing to let a nice family camp in their backyard.

She didn't say anything right away so I got nervous and filled the silence with persuasive rambling...."We're really nice and we're a religious family and my kids are well behaved and ..."

Finally she said she actually did know an elderly couple who were thinking about starting a bed and breakfast.  She said their names were Dan and Esther and they lived up the road a ways.  We needed to turn left to cross a bridge, then right after we crossed it, and their house was the seventh on the right.  I wrote down the instructions in huge letters with my crayon.  It looked very professional and impressive I think.

When I got back to the car I started reading the directions to my amused husband.  I was faking confidence in front of the kids while feeling majorly nervous about how this would turn out. 

We crossed the bridge, turned right and then started counting houses.  The problem was that we couldn't tell what was a house and what was a barn and we totally lost count.  When we knew we had gone too far we turned around and started back.  Fortunately I spotted the names of Dan and Esther on their mailbox and we turned in.

I jumped out of the car and started walking up to the house.  There they were, Esther and Dan, sitting on their porch in rocking chairs.  She had on a plain blue dress and a white bonnet and he was sporting a long jaw-line beard and a straw hat.  They stopped rocking and stared at me as I approached.

I, once again, tried to act normal.  Here we were driving through Amishville with our huge Excursion and car-top carrier, our cell phones, portable DVD player, inverter, and GPS.  I felt like a time traveler.  Greetings.  I am from the future...

I told them that Emma from the convenience store sent us thinking we could maybe stay here tonight--and, uh...we brought our own tent...we could even just camp...or, umm...

After a few moments of shock they warmed up to us and said we could stay. 

Yes!!!!  Then they took us around back to show us our options. 

They said we were welcome to camp, or we could stay in the room.  In the room!  When they told me they charge only $25 for the room, I was speechless.  It big enough for all of us (the picture only shows one corner of it) so we were thrilled.

Then Dan asked if we'd like to watch him get the water heater started.  Um, yes.  He took us to the modern-looking water heater, opened a little door at the bottom, stuck in some wood, and lit it on fire.  Cool.

Next they asked if we would care to go for a buggy ride.  Um, is somebody kidding?!  They borrowed their son's buggy since he had a large family and his buggy could fit all of us.  Then they hitched up the horse and Dan familiarized himself with his son's buggy lights (front, back, blinkers, and inner dome lights).  Then we loaded in and started clip-clopping down the road.  I was in the back so I tried my best to see through the tiny plastic windows as Dan pointed things out like the school, his old farm, and even Emma's house.

When we got back and went to our room, Esther had set out home-made cream-filled cookies for a bedtime snack.   Then she asked if we would like breakfast in the morning which we readily agreed to.

Before going to bed Dan mentioned that he was going to get his horse shod in the morning.  Not wanting to miss anything I asked if we could come along.  He looked at me like I was crazy but then said sure if we really wanted to.

So we woke up, went into their lovely, simple home, and had a nice home-cooked meal of pancakes, scrambled eggs, home-canned sausage, real maple syrup, and home-canned jams.  The room was lit with a propane lantern hung from the ceiling over the table.  It was great.

As we were leaving to see the horse get shod, I asked how much we owed for our stay and the breakfast and Esther apologetically asked if $40 would be too much!  I gave her $100 and I thought she was going to cry.

Then we headed over to the neighbor's house where the horse was to get shod.  The neighbor looked us over with surprise and then disappeared.  I was worried until he returned with a stack of chairs so we would have somewhere to sit while we watched.  He and Dan talked us through the whole process and were totally fine with having an audience.  While the neighbor was working on the horse I had all sorts of time to ask Dan a long list of questions:  How does a couple court?  What exactly are your dress standards?  How much would it cost to buy a buggy for a family our size?....He was very patient with me and even maintained a twinkle in his eye as he answered. 

Once the horse was properly shod and Rex noticed a pause in my line of questioning, he pulled me toward the car, we said our goodbyes, and were on our way.

Overall it was a marvelous experience and I highly recommend flagging down a buggy or interrogating a working Amish girl next you get the chance.


  1. that is the COOLEST story EVER!! It was our family night story. Jenny, I just love you, don't you know? You are so cool that you just wanted that experience and you just figured out a way to get it. I love it, love it, love it. So, how DOES an amish couple court? All those questions sounded intriguing to me.

  2. Jenny you are amazing. They make movies out of this kind of stuff! We met an Amish family 4 years ago while taking the train from Utah to San Francisco. It was so fun to sit and chat with them. The grandfather of the group was amazed by Dallin's Nintendo and Harry Potter books. We still send them Christmas cards and they write to us every year!

  3. Oh my goodness...Oh my good, goodie, goodness! You are now my favorite Songer. (Sorry Kates!) Did you know I've been reading your blog pretty much since you started it? I LOVE IT! Anyway, this post finally drew me out of lurkerdom because you are the most awesome person in the world. And yes, if you had been my parents on one of our family vacations, you would have been the MOST EMBARRASSING person on earth! I just love that you did that-do you even know how cool you are for doing that? You can tell this story for eons!


    P.S. I'm also totally intrigued as to what you learned.

  4. you are so cool. wish we could have come too!

  5. I was thinking that I could play Harrison Ford in the Harris Family Amish experience. I don't know who would play me (maybe Tom Cruise)? In France it would be a little confusing as it would be about a Mormon family moving in to learn about the lifestyle of a Mormon family (dang translators).

  6. Hah! You are the coolest, most-embarrassing mom ever! I could never have done that, but I wish I could.

  7. Wow!!!! Some day your children will appreciate just how brave you are.

  8. Ditto. You are so cool. You did what all of us would want to do, but don't dare. Rex is cool too for not disowning you. I haven't read Andrew's version yet, but I'm going there next. I will always remember this story when I'm trying to be brave. You are my inspiration.

  9. I hope you saved their contact info so that everyone can have a truly Amish experience. I love your stick-to-it-ness.

  10. You are so awesome!! I love that you went to ask if you could camp in their yard. That sounds like a really cool experience. I'm thinking your kids are not so embarrassed about you anymore.

  11. Only you could have pulled that off with such perfection! Next time you go on a road trip can I come? That sounds like the most wonderful amish visit!

  12. That is the coolest story ever. I am glad that you were so brave. What an experience that you will never forget. :)

  13. Loved it even better this time and with the pictures. No standing outside the fire for Jenny Harris. (country music reference, it's my new favorite thing)

  14. i cannot BELIEVE you actually had the nerve to even ask! i would have NEVER! and look what happened! you got a true amish experience! FUN! i love your story! :)

  15. Thanks for sharing! At the huntsville 4th of july festivities i heard about your amish blog entry and i couldn't wait to read it, so inspiring, truly! While traveling my grandpa Larsen used to ask strangers if they could set up a tent in their yard...my mom has some funny stories about their experiences but i think yours takes the cake! That is awesome.