What I Learned in Amish School

8 Jan

The summer before my 8th grade year, my family moved out to the eastern shore of Maryland.  It’s weird out there.  Everyone eats crabs and talks funny.  For instance:

You say water:  They say wooter.

You say house:  They say hoose.

The public school system must’ve been liken to Auschwitz, because my parents got the brilliant idea to send me to a Mennonite/Amish school located in Delaware.  My first thought was that I had become a victim of parental cruelty.  Really?  A Mennonite school?!

For those of you who have NO idea what “Mennonite” is….the easiest way to explain it is this:  Amish Light.  They’re similar to the Amish, only they can drive cars and have electricity.  There are more differences, but those are the most obvious.

I don’t remember my first day.  The fact that I was even permitted to attend had me skeptical from the beginning.  Like these folks were in cahoots with the parental units.  Grades 1st thru 12th were all in the same room and we all studied with the Pace curriculum.  Our desks had partitions on either side to prevent chatting and whatnot during study hours.  The beauty of it all was….you got to work at your own pace.  When you completed your goal, you put up a little flag and a teacher would come over and give you permission to check your work in the Answer Book which sat on a table in the middle of the room.


I got busted halfway through the year for cheating.  C’mon.  You put the Answer Book 3 feet from me and expect me to maintain my moral character? My parents were quoting the “What Would Jesus Do” thing LONG before there were bracelets.  My response of, “How would I know?  I don’t wear sandals” was never fashionable.  Not even back then.

Amish school had some kickin’ honor roll trips.  Of course I was on the honor roll!  We visited Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.  Yeah, there were gawkers.  Not because of the plain dresses and bonnets….but because of the big-haired chick with the silk Miami Vice jacket walking amongst them, daring anyone to say anything.  I got real protective of my people.  I say “MY” people, because that’s what they were to me.  In all of my 12 years of education, those two years spent in Delaware were when I felt most welcomed.  A peaceful sense of belonging.

I used to feign illness because they didn’t have a school nurse.  No.  You got to go lay on the sofa at someone’s home and listen to the women sitting around the quilt loom, talking smack about the younger girls with their rising hemlines and how they couldn’t sew a straight stitch even if someone held a gun to their head.

During harvest season, the boys left school to help run the farm.  If someone was in need, the community came together and took care of them.  They built houses in a day, plowed fields with horses and mules, grew and raised their only food source and never once did you hear a complaint.

Remember a few years back, when that idiot walked into an Amish school and shot everyone?  Then the Amish community came out and gently said they forgave the man?  People were horrified to hear this!  They couldn’t conceive of it!  But it didn’t surprise me a bit because the Mennonite and Amish are those rare souls who walk their talk.  They don’t speak of love and peace, then smack you in the face.

Never once did these people judge me.  Never once did they make me feel like an outsider or an outcast.  It didn’t matter that we wore different clothes and led different lives.  For those few hours we spent together every day, we were all the same.  I felt loved.

I marvelled at their tin lunch pails that carried whatever was in season.  Fresh tomatoes on thick slabs of homeade bread with freshly churned butter.  Water in vintage thermoses.  In the winter, there was warm soup and crusty bread.  They eyeballed my Twinkies and bologna, no doubt feeling sympathy for my lack of good sense, resulting in a chronic case of constipation.  And one day a month….there was Hot Meal Day at the school.  All the Mennonite women would come early and start cooking.  By lunchtime, there’d be a full meal with dessert.  And we ate until it was all gone.

I come from a very musical family and grew up playing the piano and singing and I have to say that the Mennonites taught me the most about music.  They don’t use musical instruments.  They’ll give you the key on a pitch-pipe, then you sing in that key.  It’s the most beautiful sound you’ve ever heard.  The perfect harmony, the richness of their voices.

There are times when I wish I could go back to that place of simplicity.  During my freshman year, I was one slice of cornbread away from snagging an Amish dude and converting my worldly ways.  But then my parents thwarted my plan by announcing we were moving back to Ohio.  I know, I know….there are Mennonites and Amish people in Ohio….but they weren’t MY people.

MY people taught me how to sew a blind stitch and make the perfect pie crust.  MY people taught me to color butter with pulverized dandelions.  MY people showed me how to make homemade ice-cream with fresh cream and rock ice.  MY people taught me that the most beautiful instrument in the world is your own voice.

Here I am…literally surrounded by those who taught me the lesson of acceptance and unconditional love.  I’m chubby because they hog-tied me and made me eat like a pack-mule after a long day’s work. But the coolest thing about these peole?  They’re all on Facebook.


2 Responses to “What I Learned in Amish School”

  1. hillbillyzen13 January 8, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    This one got me, chick. Laughed, then got all misty, admired your loyalty, laughed again, then got this big ol’ sappy grin on my face because you’re still in touch with YOUR people. Excellent writing from an excellent soul. Thanks for sharing this.


  2. Another 12 Novels in 12 Months January 8, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    This is an amazing post. Thank you so much for sharing this, it made my day.


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