1. If you don’t talk about it, it never happened.
I’ve always wanted to hear about how my Amish grandma met my non-Amish, motorcycle-riding grandpa in 1942 but she would never tell me. Anyone who can do simple math can figure out she was already pregnant with my father when they married later that same year. Always a devout Christian woman, I think that she simply choose to ignore her ‘sin’ of sex before marriage as though it never happened. Whenever I asked, she would avoid the subject altogether, offering me instead some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies from the oven or a story about how my Dad would get up every morning at 5am before school to help milk the cows, then walk the two miles (uphill both ways) to get there.
2. Hard, physical work is essential in getting what you want.
My grandmother was never afraid of hard work. During the time when my dad and uncle were growing up and they ran a dairy farm, she would always be the first one up to make coffee and breakfast then she would head out to the barn with them to start the milking. When they decided to open a plumbing store to supplement their income, Grandma learned what parts and supplies to order, balanced the books, and managed the scheduling of jobs. She singlehandedly ran that shop for 20 years along with the dairy farm. I’m pretty sure she never really slept.
3. Indoor plumbing should be celebrated.
The house my grandparents spent their whole lives in didn’t have indoor plumbing at its inception. According to legend, there was a good old outhouse on the property that was in operation until my Dad was about 10, or the year 1952. At that time, my grandfather, with the help of his friends, installed two of the largest bathrooms I have ever seen in their old farmhouse. The one on the second floor occupied what was once a bedroom. The tub and sink were a huge island in the center of the room and the toilet was in the closet. Even today, in large, expensive houses or hotels, it is rare that I come across a bathroom as spacious as that one was.
4. The quickest way to build a barn or a garage is to hire Amish.
Amish barn raisings are real. They happen quickly, efficiently, and expertly. To watch one happen is a marvelous study in coordinated team work and carpentry skill, a beautiful dance where everyone knows their moves by heart.
5. Practice slow travel whenever you can.
Even though she married out of the Amish clan, my grandmother still took many journeys in a buggy with a horse. She loved the sound of horses’ hooves and confessed that they often lulled her to sleep. She liked to see the countryside out the window, to watch the fields go by at a manageable pace, as she called it. She did learn to drive but never liked it much. She (nor my grandfather) ever once boarded an airplane.
6. Watch the sun rise and set every day.
I spent many summer days and weeks at my grandparents’ farm. Grandma would always stop whatever she was doing at sunrise and sunset and walk to the back porch to watch. She’d take a tin cup with her — in the morning filled with coffee, in the evening, whiskey — sit down in her cane rocking chair, kick off her shoes, and watch. Every time she’d say “Ah, that was a good one today, Lord.”
7. You are stronger than they think.
It still boggles my mind that Grandma was able to extract herself from the Amish culture. I’ve always wondered what drove her so recklessly to do so. There were whispers and implications that her father was a bit too heavy handed and she embarked on the one course of action that would guarantee her being allowed to leave his house — she got herself pregnant. I have no actual proof to this, only conjecture. I imagine it took every bit of courage she had. I wish I could go back and meet that 16-year-old Amish girl. I’d tell her that everything was going to turn out just fine.
8. You can’t take it with you.
My parents, my siblings, and I always imagined that my grandparents were socking away oodles of cash. I don’t know why exactly we thought this — maybe because they didn’t buy a lot of extravagant things and we just assumed it was because they were ferociously saving every penny. As it turns out, they somehow managed to leave this world with essentially no money left and no debt. It appears they paid cash for everything through their life — every vehicle, every piece of property, every trip to Florida and back, every present they bought us. They had somehow managed, in the 90+ years in this world, to break perfectly even.