We once lived in Ohio less than an hour from Holmes County, the largest Amish-Mennonite settlement in the world. Holmes County was often our day-off destination. Sometimes we would create a field trip to a farm or dairy or business. More often we would just leisurely drive the back roads. We took pictures of the children, picked apples, scouted for bittersweet, or shopped for Sweet Anne. We frequented every craft store known to man and not a few book stores.
At lunch time we would buy what we needed for a picnic. Good cheese was abundant and cheap. It was a treat on homemade bread. On special occasions we would enjoy home-style cooking at one of the wholesome eateries featuring roast beef, chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, dressing, fresh-baked bread with crocks of apple butter and always a variety of homemade pies to choose from.
A couple times we rented a cabin overlooking a valley with a creek running along its bottom. In the evening we would sit around a fire, eat popcorn, chat with guests from other places around the Midwest or just silently watch horse-drawn buggies clop-clop through the valley.
At night I slept in the loft with the children. Before sleep we lay in the darkness enjoying the warmth of the fire. I told them stories, prayed with them and then played my harmonica to put them to sleep. What a sweet thing it would be to have them all small again in that loft all snug in their flannel gowns and PJs.
In the morning an Amish girl would bring coffee and huge pastries to the door of the cabin. We would stir the fire and enjoy a slow breakfast and morning Bible-reading together.
We spent hours admiring impeccable white homes big enough for families our size and farms set among graceful hills. Once we stopped at a farm where an elderly Amish farmer made hickory rockers. Once we visited a farm market were shy children sold pumpkins, squash and Indian corn. One of my favorite pictures is a picture of the children standing around a beautifully restored tractor on one of those carefree days.
We spent time admiring hand sown quilts and woodwork. We gazed on perfect gardens and groomed yards. We slowed to watch an Amish girl shave her lawn with a push mower.
A favorite stop was a bakery near the village of Charm in the Doughty Valley where an Amish woman sold delicious lemon, raspberry, blackberry and cherry cheese tarts. (What I wouldn’t give for one of those with a cup of strong black coffee right now).
Those trips to the Amish country reinforced a conviction that had been forming in our hearts for years. We longed for a close-knit family. We aspired to simplicity, to find joy and satisfaction in unadorned family life, to withstand the corrupting influence of worldly values and philosophies.
Our hearts were settling on a vision of a place where small vulnerable children are sheltered from the influences that would defile them or turn their hearts away from their family. We were committed to a home where the role of homemaker is respected and brothers and sisters are trained together in the ways of God every day.
It is easy to tell that we were not alone in our interest and admiration for the Amish way of life. Amish communities draw thousands of visitors every weekend.
Sitting on the porch one day I got to thinking about that. We live in an interesting time. In modern America simple family life is such a novelty that it has become a tourist attraction.