The Simple Life

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

It was high noon—really hot; already 93 degrees. The young girl wore a long denim dress buttoned haphazardly from the high neckline to the ankle length hem. The dress was worn under a linen apron. It was not the crisp clorox white you see in the movies, and the pretty teen’s black cotton cap, its strings hanging loose alongside her cheeks, was limp and as dusty as the rows of thigh high corn in the field next to her Amish family’s barn and windmill. She tucked her head like a duckling, shyly glancing up only when we asked the price of a jar of golden pear preserves which looked like the sun had been captured inside the jar. She spoke with a strange cadence and accent–Old German perhaps–unknown in Pontotoc County, Mississippi except among this tiny enclave of Amish farmers.
We had driven miles along gravel backroads, through acres of scrawny pines and scrub oak. Roadsides were lined with rusted trailers, shacks with falling-down porches, sagging carports and overgrown yards piled high with the remnants of some kind of ancient mile-long yard sale. Residents had opened their doors and “chunked out” broken down sofas, recliners, rusting appliances, creating pyramids of rat and snake infested trash right next to their homes. These were not the neat, well-trimmed Mississippi farms or three-acre home sites I knew; this was something out of Erskine Caldwell’s “Tobacco Road.” Dozens of junk graveyards held the wrecks of muscle cars, four wheelers caked with red clay, and stacks of tractor tires taller than my head.
The ditches were covered with mounds of creeping kudzu and thick with mimosa trees, their pink frothy flowers were reseeding themselves in a frenzied attempt to take control of the land. The vine was imported from the Far East to stop the devastating erosion brought about through poor crop management. A Curse. Kudzu.
We were searching for the Adirondack-style lawn furniture made by local Amish craftsmen. We had not yet seen any furniture listed on the crude signs at each gravel drive. “Baskets, Mud rugs, Jam and Jellies. Goats.” Lots of goats.
We pulled into an area stacked with large slatted boxes, then parked next to a white-washed house. A girl moved from the shadows of the porch, down plank steps, her black work boots stirring small clouds of dust as she floated wraithlike across the yard and took up her post at the door of a shed filled with jars of canned fruits and vegetables, crocheted hot pads, and incongruously, a small box of handmade ornaments. I bought a shiny beaded chandelier. Each Christmas, it will be a strange reminder of our time here.
The pretty girl had straight, shiny brown hair. Every child and adult we would see on our visit to the farms had the same hair and the same silent blue stare. They had finely shaped features, all quite beautiful, but when they spoke, for they never smiled, their teeth were marred with cavities that had eaten away the enamel. The Amish do not believe in the expense of dental care.
After we made our purchases, I asked about the boxes, “We are wait-ting on the sweet poe-taa- toes to be red-e,” she enunciated oddly in a soft, pretty voice. Her short oval nails were rimmed with dirt from several day’s chores. My niece learned that her “grand-fa-der” was just down the road a bit, and following her directions, we found men and boys working silently together to finish a furniture order for an ” English” (as anyone who is not Amish is called), who was waiting patiently for the beautiful arbor.
The rockers, swings, and lounge chairs were being made from cypress; Bill was impressed with the craftsmanship displayed. The men never looked up or acknowledged our presence; with the exception of one 83-year-old gentleman. Visiting kin in the only Amish settlement in Mississippi, he was from Tennessee and was quite gregarious, a pleasant surprise. He told the same tale over and over. Seems he has 217 grandchildren. Nineteen children. You do the math. I did, and asked him if all of his nineteen children had more than ten children each. “Well, shu-er,” he said, and he went back to telling me the same story of having been brought here to the Yoder farm for dinner and when they saw there was so much work, his son pitched in and the old gentleman still had not had dinner. That was alright though, because as he explained to me he was on “Slow Time” and his kin were on “Fast Time.” Or maybe it was the other way around. I was still busy trying to figure out how many children each of his nineteen kids must have sired and how many great-grandchildren he would have; his grandfather had 872! True Story.
Each Amish community can make their own rules. These Ordnances are not written down, just learned by watching and copying elders. Most operate on the simple principle of recognizing that everything is God’s Will. They do not have smoke detectors; if the house burns down, it is Gotts Wille. No photo IDs. They do not own cars or drive. Except a horse and buggy. They pay no taxes and draw no Social Security upon retirement. Most states have special laws which exempt the Amish from these things.
They have no electricity and ….Oh! Sorry! I have raced off on a tangent, offering you facts and statistics that I learned after yesterday’s visit. I was fascinated. Do the research if you want to know more about these folks who choose this quiet, industrious, simple life. What might that be like? You aren’t allowed to marry your first cousin! Nor your second. An Amish lad from Mississippi might need to travel to Ohio or Pennsylvania to find a bride who isn’t close kin. By Greyhound, I guess. I forgot to ask my gentleman friend from Tennessee how he traveled..

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