Time Warp

They did NOT want their son, Harvey, to marry our daughter!

They sent reprimanding letters - as did his siblings - warning him against marrying the English girl. They didn't reply to the wedding invitation. No family member attended nor sent a gift.

Yet, my husband and I have initiated three visits to their farm. Why? To build a bridge of friendship. To reach across the cultural fence. To show Harvey we embrace him and his Amish heritage.

I love pictures. "A picture is worth a thousand words" is accurate but, most Amish resist appearing on camera, so I cannot post pix of Harvey's parents. No way!

When I asked Harvey, "May I blog about visiting your parents and post some pictures?" He thought for a nano-second and shook his head.

"No!" he answered. "If you post any picture on the internet and they find out. They'll never invite you back!"

Not a price I want to pay.

So I'll write word pictures allowing you to join us on our most recent, and always treasured experience. As an educator, I want to teach about the Swartzentruber Amish. And since TV shows and some fiction books paint broad strokes about Amish - they're all the same - I hope to explain about this specific, insular, mysterious order.

Our third visit, last month, came on the heels of our postcard asking to visit. It'd be swifter to text but, his parents have no phone, electricity, running water, vehicles, or desire to connect with outsiders. They're cautious of the ones who spawned the English girl their "wayward" son married.

Still, we'd written and waited for a receptive reply.

Early on a cool, drizzly Saturday morning, my husband and I drove over an hour, winding through single, country roads, over railroad tracks, through farming territory. We neared Harvey's 100-acre boyhood farm. I spotted the one-room school house Harvey attended from kindergarten to eighth grade.

In the book I'm writing, one chapter describes the typical Amish school. Students - "scholars" - attend nine months of the year. Most teachers are Amish and paid by the Amish Education Board. Harvey has told me stories of his Amish school days.

We pulled our car into the gravel lane toward the Mawmi Dawdi (daudi) house surrounded by a barn and several small sheds. The Amish custom has a married son and family living in the original farm home after building a new home on the property for the aging parents. Harvey's parents now live - a few hundred feet away - in the new home. The Mawmi Dawdi home. The original home is occupied by married son and Harvey's brother - Jonas - and his wife and six children.

A frisky farm dog scrambled out from under the porch barking our arrival. Another hobbled past us, limping from an accident suffered as a puppy. He didn't bark. Just sniffed us and reclined in a different part of the gravel driveway. I love being in the country and spent many summers with my grandfather who was a farmer. This environment was a throw back to my childhood. Outhouse. Henhouse. Livestock in distant fields. Barefoot children.

My husband stepped up onto the wooden front porch and knocked on the screen door of the Mawmi Dawdi house. Harvey's frail, elderly mom Lydia came to the screen but couldn't see who was knocking. She's loosing her eyesight due to diabetes. When my husband spoke, she recognized her anticipated guest, opened the screen door, and stepped out on the porch.

Immediately, amid the dog barks and slamming of the screen door, the elder Harvey - the settlement's bishop - exited the barn. His long, white beard wafting in the wind. His once brown hair and wiry eyebrows now white. Stout, short, and stern-looking. The father of 12 children.

The elder Harvey shook hands with us and invited us into their home. Inside he told us where to sit. My husband and I followed them into the living room - pale blue walls bare of pictures, paintings, or calendars - and we sat in handcrafted hickory rockers atop wood floors with a high-gloss finish, sans rugs.

The single pane windows are covered by a one-panel, blue curtain. This morning, each curtain was tied up to one side coaxing in light on the dim morning.



Silence is broken only by conversation. We chatted briefly, exchanging surface pleasantries, then Lydia walked into the kitchen. She began preparing kerosene lamps to add light in the living room on the an overcast morning. I followed her into the kitchen and caught her wiping the glass chimney with a cotton towel. "I try to wash these every Saturday," she explained.

A handmade wood table and chairs, a cabinet with dishes, a wood burning stove, cooking utensils handing from above, and an indoor hand pump comprise her kitchen. One window on the far side overlooks a field, and the screen door is frequently slammed open with grandkids entering.

That morning Lydia lit two lamps and handed one to me. Together we returned to the plain room with hardwood floors and handmade furniture reflecting a minimum of light off the high gloss finish.

Our first visit had been on a brisk winter day. When we'd approached the door to leave Lydia scrutinized my head and asked, "How old are you?"

I answered.

"Why don't you have gray hair like me?" she quietly inquired.

With a slight grin, I answered, "Because I raised two children. You raised twelve."

On this morning, we ventured out into the damp field to oversee their garden. They have a large patch for selling produce. A smaller one is the family garden. Jonas, his wife, and children tend the garden. Usually barefoot. Weeding by hand.

Scrambling out of Jonas' house were three of his older daughters. With their plain blue, handmade frocks they studied us and giggled. One little girl joined us in the garden and began grabbing handfuls of strawberries to pop in her mouth. "Little" Harvey - Jonas' oldest son - joined us in the garden. Barefoot. Blue work shirt and overalls.

We talked about the weather, the crops, Harvey and our daughter, and safe, surface topics. Then we strolled back up to the porch and inside the living room.

Since Harvey's dad is the bishop, my brother is a pastor, and other family members have served as clergy, we began sharing the differences in our clergy to the Amish. The Swartzentruber bishop is chosen by casting lots. When a man receives the lot, he cannot refuse. It's God's will they claim. Bishop, preachers, and deacon must serve a lifetime, unpaid responsibility. They must obey all rules and lead and discipline the settlement but without looking pious or be accused of pride.

Our visit that Saturday was short due to other appointments. We rose to leave and the four of us went back outdoors. For a few minutes my husband and the bishop Harvey sat together on an old church pew they'd placed on the porch. What a precious image. My son-in-law's father and father-in-law, world's apart yet for a moment together.

Gathering Rhubarb
I gathered my purchase of two dozen large, brown, fresh eggs from Jonas' wife. She kindly picked rhubarb stalks to give my husband. With our farm treasures we headed toward our car.

Everyone said their goodbyes - including the dogs - and we backed out onto the lone country road.

When will we see them again? Only when we write a postcard inviting our visit. They won't initiate but they'll respond.

Thanks for reading this blog. More than 150K readers worldwide now come to learn accurate details or entertaining stories about the Swartzentruber (and sometimes Old Order) Amish. Even Amish fiction authors subscribe. The great minds are always learning.

You can conveniently get my posts in your email inbox or on iPhone by typing your email address on the right column of the homepage BrendaNixonOnAmish.blogspot.com.

I've taken my suitcase of Harvey's clothes with me to libraries and other locations to speak on the Amish. You need an interesting speaker? Your audience will love my suitcase of authentic Swartzentruber Amish clothes as I explain customs/beliefs/behaviors of the Amish. Let's talk about me speaking at your next event - speaker2parents @ juno.com.

(C)Copyright, 2014, Brenda Nixon.


  1. I always enjoy your posts Brenda I am glad you all are able to visit and enjoy some time together, that is special
    D Horton

    1. Thanks for reading! I'm glad you enjoy. Yes, *we* (unsure about his parents) treasure our time together for 2 reasons: opening a relationship door & learning about a different culture (which helps us understand our son-in-law).

  2. An Amish family bought my grandparents' farm in western Pennsylvania. Your photo of the barn looks like it was taken at their farm! We had a family reunion nearby one year and trouped over so dad could have a look. They welcomed us (though not inside) and they had a few questions for dad... the most important being the location of an underground spring on the property. He was sad that the farmhouse and the property looked in such bad shape. I don't know whether they couldn't afford repairs and a coat of paint, or whether it's just not important in their culture.

    1. Nancy, that barn pic was taken in Ohio near me :-) It must've been laundry day as the woman of the house had her clothes hanging to dry. The lower pic is a one-room school house near the property where our son-in-law grew up.
      Wow, an underground spring - wonderful! I can't answer for the Amish family's reasons for the property looking in bad shape. Perhaps, they are like some I know who feel any adornment, upkeep, modernization, or landscaping is vain and prideful. Perhaps they're too busy working the farm to do repairs.

  3. Fascinating! I loved your answer to her hair color question. Also I appreciate your heart to build bridges and reach out.

  4. Such a descriptive and beautiful narrative, Brenda! Thanks for sharing! I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  5. Always interesting!

  6. I am going to suggest that what Nancy Kennedy said about the run down condition of the farm, many of them are making mortgage payments on the farm and therefore let it run down. Some communities everyone tries to keep their buildings in top shape but other communities consider it pride to have painted buildings and they will let them run down as a result. Sad.