My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Westview Warriors

It's the tail end of basketball season, and in Amish Indiana, that can mean only one thing in the Shipshewana community:  Westview Warrior fever.

Even the Amish are followers of the local consolidated high school and their excellent basketball program.  Those English farm boys can play!

Here's a video:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Amish Converts

Here's an interesting article on the handful of "English" who have managed to successfully convert to the Amish faith.  (The above photo was taken from the article.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Topeka Hay Auction

While driving an Amishman around the other day, my husband found himself at the Topeka Hay Auction—his Amish friend James needed to stock up for his buggy horses—and he learned a few things.

Gary listened awhile, as the auction truck moved down the row—that’s the auction truck on the right side of the photo below.  It was hard for Gary to understand all the auction chatter, but what he heard was this: It seemed like some of the loads were just a few thousand pounds, while others were as big as 18,000 pounds—and yet they all seemed to be selling for about $200!  When Gary asked James about that, James was amused!  He said, “That $200 is the price per ton.”  Well, that makes more sense!

Gary asked, “Do the first truckloads sell for more, and then less as they move down the line?”  James answered that it is more like the opposite, because as they get towards the end, if you still need hay, you have to pay whatever they’re asking.  James bought about nine tons of hay.

Some of the bales were big square ones, weighing perhaps half a ton apiece.  Gary asked James, “How long will one of these big bales feed your five horses?” and James answered, “About a week.”  Gary said to him, “Hmm… I’m trying to figure out your mileage…”—which drew another laugh from James and his brother.

I’m not such a farm girl myself…  When we first moved here, and we wanted some bales of straw, I had to ask an Amishman what the difference was between straw and hay.  Quite a difference, as it turns out…  The horses use straw as “bedding” (i.e. to poop and pee on), whereas hay is a yummy food!  “Straw” is the leftover stalks from oats or wheat.  “Hay” is various grasses which are grown because they are good horse feed.  Or as Wikipedia puts it hay is “grass, legumes, or other herbaceous plants that have been cut, dried, and stored for use as animal fodder (feed), particularly for grazing animals such as cattle, horses, goats, and sheep.”  But, I digress. 

Some of the hay at the Topeka auction came from as far away as Ohio, Gary discovered.  There are other local hay auctions in our area, most held weekly.  There are a lot of horses to feed in Amish Indiana!

Here's a video of the action:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Amish Schools, Part Three: What They’re Like

So, what are Amish one-room schools like? 

The first thing to know is that it is an integral part of the Amish religion that formal education ends after eighth grade, around their children’s 15th birthday. This bothers some outsiders, but it’s not my place to either judge or defend.  All I need to say here is that the Supreme Court determined in Wisconsin v. Yoder in 1972 that for Amish children, an eighth-grade education was more than sufficient to equip them for their farming- and craftsmanship-oriented lifestyle.

An Amish child begins first grade at about age seven.  Up until this time, they have spoken only “Dutch” at home (a colloquial form of German unique to the Amish culture).  So the first order of business is learning English, which is the language used in their schools.  Most of them have picked up plenty of English by this time by paying attention to the adults and older kids, but they haven’t spoken it.

Most of the schools have two teachers, and a curtain can be drawn down the center of the room when needed.  One teacher might have grades 1-2 and 5-6, and the other might have grades 3-4 and 7-8.  That way, the older ones can help the younger ones.  But they can also be divided according to how many students are in each grade.

The subjects taught are set down in a booklet called “Regulations and Guidelines for Amish Parochial Schools of Indiana,” published by the Amish leaders to help their local school boards follow the state guidelines.  The curriculum includes:

  • Reading (including phonics for younger students) – at least 4 times weekly
  • Math (including fractions, decimals, and measurements) – at least 4 times weekly
  • English (grades 3-8) – at least twice weekly, plus it’s the spoken language in school
  • Handwriting – at least once a week
  • Spelling – at least twice weekly
  • Geography and History (one semester of each) – at least twice weekly
  • Health and Safety (including buggy safety) – twice weekly for one semester
  • German (the language used at church) – once a week

Students (or as the Amish say, “scholars”) are expected to be well-behaved and respectful.  Parents are encouraged to visit the school frequently, and most schools have a guest book for this purpose.  Parents are expected to dress their children according to the “ordnung” (rules of the local Amish church); the children’s clothes are nearly identical to what their parents wear.

On one of my visits to an Amish school, I was accompanied by a school board member.  The teacher had the children stand up, one family group at a time, and then each child introduced himself by name, starting with the oldest first.  It was very impressive, actually!

Amish schools must be in session for 167 days per year, which is the Indiana state standard, and school days must be at least five hours long.  Their agreement with the State of Indiana requires a 97% daily attendance average, which they usually exceed.  Absences for medical appointments, illness, or “attending places where the Word of God is preached” are allowed, but absences for home chores, farm sales, or vacations are not.

The Amish school system, according to a booklet given to every school board member, says that the goals of the school are to prepare the child for a life of Christian service; the Amish way of life; and the responsibilities of adulthood.  From what I’ve seen, they succeed in those goals very well.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Amish Schools, Part Two: How They Came About

In the first half of the 1900s, most Amish kids went to public school.  These days, almost all of them are in Amish parochial schools.  So, what happened?  In a word, “consolidation.” 

Before 1950, schools tended to be small, rural, and controlled by the local parents.  Some Amish fathers even served on public school boards.  But as small schools were consolidated into large districts in the 1950s, the Amish became more and more hesitant about sending their children off on buses to faraway, centralized schools. 

So, they began buying up the no-longer-needed country one-room schoolhouses, and they opened their own schools.  This kept their children near home and their parents in charge of their education.  Students normally walk to school, or take a pony cart, or most often, they ride a bicycle.  Each church district or two has their own school, with a three-member board to hire the teachers, maintain the property, approve the curriculum, and take care of the finances.

Since the Amish child’s education ends with eighth grade, being sent on a bus to a distant consolidated high school is not an issue.  (I’ll talk more about that in another post.)

These days, the supply of abandoned one-room schoolhouses is long gone, so the Amish build their own buildings, such as the one pictured here.  Most have one room, divided in half with a curtain, and staffed by two teachers and possibly a teacher’s assistant.  A few have a third classroom, possibly for “special education” students. A few have four teachers.  There are generally about 40 students; any more than that, and a school district is split in two.

Most have playground equipment, a ball diamond, or a basketball hoop, and the children can be seen playing softball at noon recess.  There also might be bike racks, a hitching post, and a small outbuilding for horses or ponies.  I’ve read many things about Amish schools having “outhouses,” but that’s not true, at least not around here!  There are indoor restrooms, one for boys and one for girls.  Many have a downstairs area for storage and/or social events.

A few Amish children in our area still attend public schools, mixed in with “English” children, but that is getting more rare as the years go by.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Yoder Popcorn

Just south of Shipshewana, Indiana, there’s a place where anyone who’s a popcorn fan might want to spend some time. 

I’ve been a microwave popcorn person for years now—and Yoder’s is the best I’ve found—but visiting their retail store makes me want to branch out!  They stock unpopped popcorn in lots of varieties, popping oils, all kinds of salts and seasonings, popcorn bowls, various types of popcorn poppers, bags of premium caramel corn, microwave popcorn in several varieties, gift baskets, and all kinds of novelties for the popcorn lover.

Rufus Yoder started growing popcorn on his family farm in 1936.  He shared his surplus with friends and family, and soon he had such a reputation for quality and taste that a business was formed.  When Rufus retired, his children continued to market Yoder Popcorn.  Today  Rufus’ grand-niece Sharon and family operate the 1,700-acre farm and the popcorn shop.  

When arriving at the shop, visitors are given a free bag of popcorn.  The last time I was there, it was their famous “Tiny Tender” brand.  I never knew there were varieties of popcorn, other than yellow vs. white—but they have loads of choices, in various kernel sizes and colors.  Yoder grows and stocks varieties such as “Large Red,” “Sunburst,” and “Baby Blue.”  On the largest end of the spectrum there is “Monster Mushroom,” and on the smallest end, “Tiny Tender” and “Ladyfinger.”  

Each type of popcorn is described in detail, both in the store and on their website.  For example, “Ladyfinger” has this website description:  “Lady Finger is the smallest kernel available.  It is yellow in color and is completely hull-less!!  Very small when popped.”  The store displays a handy chart, shown below:

The popcorn is grown locally, much of it on their own land, and it is all non-GMO.  Like most local businesses, they are closed on Sundays.

Yoder Popcorn’s motto is, “Popcorn the way you remember it—from the heart of Indiana Amish Country.”  It is available from their retail store and also at other local food shops.  They also have a website with both information about their business and the option of online ordering.  Their address is 7680 W 200S, Topeka, IN.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mrs R.

Okay, so this post is more personal than most.  I’m not even sure how much I’ll share.

Some time last summer I was visiting an Amish farm where my husband was discussing the building of a pole barn with the man of the house, who happened to be a carpenter.  Meanwhile, his wife and I and my Amish friend Ruth were chatting at the kitchen table—the usual thing.

Before long, an elderly Amish lady hobbled in (she had a bad knee) and joined us; she was the carpenter’s mother, and she lived in the dawdi haus adjoining the main house.  (I wrote about the dawdi haus tradition previously.)  To protect her privacy, I’ll call her “Mrs. R.”

Mrs. R. was about 80, and something about her just struck me.  Maybe it was her sweet voice and demeanor; maybe it was the fact that she reminded me of my late grandmother; maybe it was the still, small voice of God, telling me to pay attention.  She was a widow—her husband had died many years ago at age 53, leaving her with twelve children—nine still at home.  All were now grown, and most had joined the Amish church.

I went home that day and couldn’t get Mrs. R. out of my mind.  In fact, I was awake most of the night, to my husband’s bewilderment.  I felt like I was to play some part in her life—but I couldn’t figure out what it might be.  She was well taken care of by her son and her extended family, and wasn’t “needy” in any way.

A few weeks later, she took a turn for the worse.  Her bad knee failed her completely, and during the course of dealing with that, she had a stroke. 

I went to see her with my friend Ruth, and Mrs. R. was much changed.  Her family sadly said that she wasn’t even responsive, most of the time—but we sat down anyway, if only to chat with the family. 

But when Mrs. R. realized I was there, she woke up and lifted her head, her eyes lit up, and a big smile came over her face.  For some strange reason, my presence cheered her up!

So I began to visit her regularly.  But what could I offer?  She had plenty of company—I could see that from her guest book.

After my second or third visit, I was singing a hymn as I drove home, and it hit me:  I could bring my hymnal and sing to her!  No one else was doing that!  The Amish church hymns are long and complex and sung in German, but Amish young people sing English hymns—some of the same ones that English churches use.  So I put my old Presbyterian hymnal in the back of the car.

Sure enough, Mrs. R. loved being sung to.  Her daughter-in-law told me that she had always loved music, and it was hard for her being housebound in recent times and missing church.  As I sang hymn after hymn to Mrs. R., her face would light up.  Some of them she recognized from her youthful days long ago.

It’s the dead of winter as I write this, and I’m still visiting Mrs. R. every week or two, and I’m still bringing my hymnbook.  She’s getting better now, and she can talk a little, although not as well as before—and she is building up her strength.  When she is strong enough, she wants to have a knee replacement so she can walk again.  Since I’ve had two knee replacements recently, I am trying to help her get mentally ready for that challenge by sharing my experiences. And, I sing...

I don’t know how this story will end.  I only know that she has been more of a blessing to me than I can say, and I hope she gets that new knee so we can take a walk together someday.