During the week before Labor Day, four years ago, Mom and Dad decided to visit an Amish community in Indiana because they wanted to know why and how the Amish live as they do. Our family — eight children, our parents, and Grandmother — left after dinner and arrived in Shipshewanna as the sun was selling.
Shipshewanna was a small village with a few old-fashioned looking business places, an up-to-date gas station, and across the railroad tracks, a wooden grain mill. Rounding the comer of Main Street we saw our first Amish man. He was just ending a conversation with an Amish friend, and climbing back into his buggy when Dad pulled our Volkswagon bus up in back of him, introduced himself and inquired about camping sites.
A pair of surprised hazel eyes in a kindly face swung around to greet us. Our bus-full must have been quite a sight. His first words were, “How many kids you got in there?”
“Eight!” was my lather’s proud reply.
“Eight?” Who is the oldest?”
“Me!” I said popping my head out the side window. Ten pair of blue eyes were staring back at him with the same surprise and interest. He was a tall, thick-set man, with greying eyebrows and beard, a generous German nose and friendly, gentle, smile. We eyed him up and down — from his dusty black felt hat to his faded, hook fastened, blue-grey trousers to his black leather high-topped shoes.
Considering our request he suggested the wooded lot immediately north of his farm buildings. Mr. Miller drove his beautiful trotter and rig home to do his chores, while we bought groceries, following him later to pitch our tent by his farm and meet Mrs. Miller.
Minerva Martha Miller was a tall slender woman dressed plainly in a medium blue dress with three quarter length sleeves and mid-calf length skirt, covered by a prim light blue apron. Her grey hair was caught in a tidy bun at the back of her neck. She welcomed us with a warm blue-eyed smile and a serene manner. While Mom and Grandma were preparing supper, we children explored Mr. Miller’s farm and were shown his blacksmith shop. His main occupation was primarily horseshoeing and secondly making and repairing wheels, buggies, and other farm equipment.
The shop looked somewhat hap-hazard with tools and long reels of wire hanging on the walls. On the floor in long strips by the back wall were the un-shaped tire rims. Scraps of metal and hand tools lay scattered around the anvil. It was a step backward fifty years.
Darkness fell. We spent a peaceful hour around our camp-fire enjoying the home grown popcorn Mr. Miller gave us. Eight children and three grown-ups slept serenely that night lulled to sleep by crickets and frogs.
Sunday morning we attended an Amish church service in the Yoder home. The Amish hold their services in a different home each Sunday. The service from 9:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. The two shift noonday meal came after a two hour service; the men ate then the women.
The service began with singing in a slow chorale style led by a song leader. The sermon began when the bishop entered, kissed the elders and deacons, and embraced the men of the congregation. The women sat in an adjoining room, separate from the men. In preparing for the midday meal the women of the congregation got together at the home where the church was to be held and helped the lady of the home bake, cook, and prepare the food.
As the buggies arrived for the service the eldest sons of the congregation unhitched the horses, put them in the bam, and lined up the buggies in order; while the men congregated in the door-yard and the ladies went indoors, removed their wraps and talked indoors before the service. There was a special church wagon to convey the benches from house to house for the biweekly service.
We saw many children and young people at the service. They were a quaint miniature version of their parents in dress. They were quiet and very well behaved during the long services. Around the home when there are visitors or when visiting children were “seen and not heard.”
Sunday evening we enjoyed a delicious meal with the Millers. We had potatoes, canned meat, raspberries, strawberries, celery, lettuce, two kinds of bread, honey, butter, peas, corn, beans, water, coffee, peppermint tea, and molasses cookies! Dessert was a custard pudding pie and fruit!
Mrs. Miller showed us her plain unpretentious large home with big simply furnished rooms. There were no curtains but shades only at the windows, varnished woodwork, no pictures on the walls and beautifully hand braided rugs on the gleaming hardwood floors. After a very full day we returned to our tent for another night’s sleep.
Monday morning the little ones were up with the cows and out to watch Mr. Miller at chores. After morning duties were finished Mr. Miller took us all for a ride in his buggy a few at a time. How we hated to leave that afternoon. We had made a true friendship that has been growing ever since.