This evening I took a walk down the country gravel road. The sun had already dipped below the horizon and the navy blue sky was edged in pink. On each side of me the road was banked with the blooms of shoulder high Queen Anne's Lace. The half moon shone down on the fields where the fireflies sparkled and flickered, reminding me of a concert crowd waving their Bic lighters for an encore. We don't have fireflies in Oregon and they are a special part of Midwestern summer that I miss. They are other-worldly, like fairies rising up at twilight with their magic light.
The frogs and crickets began chirring their night music while in the distance I heard that there were still Amish out and about although it was almost completely dark. This local community is not allowed to use rubber so the steel wheels of their wagons, carts and buggies make a loud crunch and clatter on the gravel road that can be heard half a mile away.
As I passed one Amish farm the family with their six small children was eating dinner at a table on the porch with a lantern glowing in the middle. I thought this was charming and odd at the same time. Enos, the father, had just visited us an hour before while we finished our al fresco dinner on Katie's deck. I wondered if we had somehow inspired him to have his family eat on their porch. Nathan confirmed to me that he has never before seen an Amish family eat a meal on their porch. When I passed the farm again on my way back home, several of the children came running out to give me some freshly baked bread. Ruth, their mother, appeared from the house to chat with me and I asked her if she had been baking on this terribly hot day.
Ruth: Oh yes. That is why we were eating on the porch. The kitchen is so hot from baking.
Me: Do you have a wood cook stove?
Ruth: Yes, my oil stove isn't working so well so I'm using the woodstove.
Me: I suppose you do all your canning on the woodstove in the kitchen too?
Ruth: Oh yes, I do. Tomorrow I'm going to bake blackberry pies too. I want to bring you one.
Me: You need a summer kitchen, don't you? So you can be outside.
Ruth: Yes, that is what I am dreaming of.
These families that work so hard to sustain themselves without modern conveniences not only don't have electricity but they also don't have indoor plumbing. Their farmhouses are often very large, with expansions and additions. The other day I marveled at the cost for the average man of building such large houses and was reminded that the Amish don't wire or plumb the houses which greatly reduces the cost of construction. They simply frame the walls and put them up. So poor Ruth, after baking all day in 95 degree heat on a wood fueled cookstove must then wash up her dishes without the convenience of hot and cold running water. When she retires to bed she can only hope for a breeze to come through the window to cool her because they use no fans. There is also no cool shower to wash away the sweat and grime of the day.
This all saddens me because their ascetic lifestyle seems so pointless. Their arbitrary rules, which are different in each community, are bent when they can be. Some members move to other communities where the rules might be less oppressive. If anyone chooses to leave the Amish religion, they are shunned by all, including their own families for the rest of their lives. The initial appearance is that the Amish lifestyle is simple and without modern-day stresses and yet it is actually very difficult and lacking in rest or comfort. My son-in-law, Nathan, who is a minister of a church here, has had conversations with them about religion and he says their focus is on their rules, and they have trouble even talking about Christ Jesus at all. I can't help but question whether they know the true freedom of the Gospel message of Christianity.