Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Our gentle friends. . .

A couple of your comments mentioned the Amish community becauseI had posted about our visit through their countryside on Tuesday, so I thought it might be a good time to think a little bit about our family's bond with the Amish we have known in our lifetime. I was happy to see others of you have considered members of their community to be friends. We definitely have good and lifelong friends from the community around our home town. It would be hard for me to know when the relationship began. I believe during the late 80's as my dad became less able to do huge construction jobs himself and his friends were also aging, he turned to hiring the Amish men to come and help. Their quick, hardworking ways fit in so well with my father, who would rather have been working hard than doing any "fun" activity one might mention. I know Amish men helped build my deck, built a little barn next to my parents' home, added on a room, worked with painting, cattle, and fencing. They helped tear down my grandmother's home and witness my melt down as I begged my father at the last minute to save it and move the whole two-story wonder to my home. I remember their smiles as my dad surprised me with Gramma's back porch on a wagon.... they helped him "toenail" the structure to the back of my kitchen.

I think it was for my dad's 70th birthday, we realized just how much they cared for him. The men asked me if they could do something for Daddy's birthday to let him know how much they appreciated him. My dad was always ready to take Amish families to destinations far away. He and my mom took families to doctors in Kansas City, to Belgian horse auctions, to weddings, for chemotherapy, and to funerals. My parents were not chauffeurs and accepted no money for this. I loved to watch my dad offer the little ones and their parents ice cream cones and McDonald's happy meals. The mutual respect there was always quite special.

So, for Daddy's birthday about fourteen years ago, one of our Amish friends approached me with the idea to have a surprise party. And so we did. We rented a van, took all our vehicles, cooked tons of food at my house, and made a procession to Amish country to pick up the guests. We were blessed with frienship that night, and my dad was truly SURPRISED as he watched the caravan unload its celebrants in his own front yard. After counting way beyong 30 people in the yard, Mom said he turned to her and whispered, "I don't think I have enough ice cream!" But we had taken care of that, along with tubs of potato salad, cakes, cookies, hot dogs... you name it.

Mother and Daddy were invited to attend two Amish weddings, and through the years we have enjoyed work, stories, friendship, and visits. Many of our friends and families moved farther away to get different work, and still they kept in touch. If family business or celebrations took them anywhere near our farm, they usually asked their drivers to stop by for a visit here. My dad had bought a gallon of chocolate chip ice cream during his last shopping trip to make sure it was available if a van of our friends stopped by on a transit by our house. The men who have worked here run from one side of the house to the other pointing out places they have hammered, sawed and labored.

During the 80's I went through the midwestern fad of decorating in Amish country keepsakes, and it was fun to watch them point quietly at my paintings of dark buggies against wintry skies. I always feared to offend them, and my parents demanded we keep their privacies and their beliefs respected and valued. I certainly hope that we have done so, and I believe we have.

The true measure of our bond came during the sad evening of my father's funeral visitation. Despite the high costs of fuel, renting vehicles, and giving up a day's labor, the Amish friends we have made demonstrated their respect and admiration and love for our family. Midway through the evening, we looked up during the visitation, and there, forming a silent, respectful line from beyond the back of the auditorium to the front where my mother and I were seated, a queue of Amish friends made their slow and sweet way through the crowd. They had rented transportation from communities near and far, extending to the Iowa border and beyond. They came to pay their respects to my father and to give my mother comfort. It was such a tribute to my dad's quiet and unpretentious ways. I have never seen such a sight in my life, and many of my friends have told me it was so moving to them to see the line of quiet dark dresses, hats, babies and old men... as far as the eye could see..... and I will forever be humbled and grateful to them for telling us all with this presence just how much my dad meant to them.

Since August several Amish friends have visited, called, and sent us letters. I have left the days of "decorating Amish" or reading much about them. I no longer collect their dolls or hang their baby shoes from my walls. But I do respect them for their hard work, their loyalty to my sweet daddy, and their kindness to my family.


Becky K. said...

Here in Lancaster County it is very normal for us to enjoy friendships with the Amish around us.

I was so moved by the stories you told.

I have some Amish friends whom I regularly make candles for and I always look forward to visiting with them as I pick up their glassware and then deliver the candles. I admire the work ethic and family relationships I observe in the Amish around us.

Becky K.

black eyed susans kitchen said...

That was such a touching story. It did my heart a world of good today. I knew that you were raised by good shows in your writing. Susan

Lisa said...

I remember driving to the funeral home the night of visitation. I told mom, "look, look at that". There were a line of Amish standing outside of the funeral home waiting for the turn to go in. At that moment I thought to myself, "I wish I could take a picture, Gayla would love this". I'm sure he had a wonderful view from Heaven that evening. It really was tremendous.

Remember the time we went to Jamesport. You drove. We saw the little Amish boy fishing on the bank of a pond. We ooed and awed wishing we had a camera that day too. I think of that day often wishing I could paint that scene.

The other favorite memory of that day was driving home. The road curved and a gravel road went straight ahead, we did a Starsky and Hutch jump and land kinda action. I still get tears to my eyes thinking about that. What a great day...hugs.

Mary Isabella said...

This is a beyond words uplifting story.....Smiles from me to you

CIELO said...

A wonderful story..... a great lesson for everyone!

Have a great night


Heaven's Walk said...

Oh Gayla....I was in tears reading this post. What an incredible life you have had with those gentle, caring Amish neighbors. I truly wish that we had some Amish friends. That may sound very strange, but I must say, when Ray's crew was here working, I felt such a strong sense of...peace? Safety? I don't even know how to describe it. I could tell that my husband felt it too. I just knew that I felt drawn to them and wanted to get to know them -- but I feared imposing on them or offending them in some way. I actually Googled "Amish living" and learned so much about their quiet, beautiful, faith-filled life. I have always held them in highest esteem because of their incredible faith and devotion, and
the strength and commitment in turning away from worldly ways. It astounds me. I am in awe. I want to live with that strong faith and devotion in my own life. I want that peace they so gently show in their every move and word. I want that total devotion they show the world around them in such a humble way.

So thank you for sending me this post, Gayla. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story of love.

Sending you hugs and love, my friend.

xoxo laurie