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

Monday, December 23, 2013

E&S Sales

When we are in Amish Indiana, we almost always stop in at E&S Sales in Shipshewana.  This is another place that I drove by for years without stopping to investigate.  A bulk foods store doesn’t seem like a very vacation-like destination—but these days, we never get out of there in less than 20 minutes or for less than 20 dollars!  

I pictured a bulk food store as having 40-pound bags of flour and gallon jars of ketchup.  But as the pictures indicate, it isn’t anything like that.  Along with the usual things, there are hundreds of items there that just aren’t found in regular grocery stores, at least not where I currently live in suburban Chicago.  Bagged things like cookie and soup mixes, dried fruit snacks, dozens of kinds of pretzels, all kinds of candies, cookie decorations, nuts, popcorn, spices, beans, noodles, snack foods you’ve never heard of, and lots more.  Things in jars like jams, jellies, preserves, Amish peanut butter, apple butter, pickles, honey, canned fruit, relishes, maple syrup, and more.  It goes on and on.  It’s something you have to see, to believe.

E&S recently doubled the size of their building, and now they have more things like refrigerated and frozen foods and fresh bakery goods.  But the old favorites are still there, with lots of new ones.  It’s a nice place to rub shoulders with the Amish, learn about the local culture, and bring back some delicious and interesting items that you’d never find at home.  Be aware that they don’t take debit or credit cards, just checks or cash.  And like most retail stores in Amish Indiana, they are closed in the evenings and on Sundays.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Amish Homes: Breaking Through the Stereotypes

I’ve heard some funny questions about Amish homes, from those who have never seen one.  “Do they have indoor plumbing”?  “Do they have refrigerators?”  “Do they have furnaces?”  The answer to all three questions is “yes.”

Walking into an Indiana Amish kitchen, at first glance you wouldn’t notice anything different from your own kitchen.  There is a stove, refrigerator-freezer, sink, and lots of countertop space and cabinets (often beautiful ones).  If you look more closely, you can see that the appliances don’t plug into the wall.  With no regular plug-in electricity (just power from batteries, gas-fueled generators, or, increasingly, solar panels), there are no outlets on the wall.  Many of the appliances are run on propane and are specially built for Amish consumers right in their own community.  Looking overhead, you see there is no light fixture, but rather a hook on the ceiling where a lantern can be hung.

The living room looks like that of a farmhouse in my grandparents’ time; this photo is a good example.  Lots of seating, simple linoleum floors with area rugs, not much decoration on the walls, and lots of natural light.  Each lamp rises out of a cabinet which holds a propane tank—but increasingly, it might hold a large battery instead, and the light is LED rather than a gas flame.  Again, they are specially built for the Amish, often right in their own community.   

The bathrooms look just like what you would see in any home, except for the electric lantern sitting on the counter.  The sink, commode, and shower look and work just the same as ours.  Amish homes don’t have very many bathrooms by our standards, since the girls don’t spend hours primping and preening!

Amish homes tend to be large and are usually white (although not always).  Often three generations live on the same property, with the parents turning over the farm to the youngest son and retiring to the “Dawdi Haus”—a smaller home right on the farm which may or may not be connected to the main house.  Vegetable gardens are common and often situated in front of the home, with flowers on the side facing the road.  (What a lovely idea!)  

I hope this clears up some misconceptions.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Yoder's Department Store

If you’re a people watcher like me, and you find yourself in Amish Indiana, then Yoder Department Store is a good destination to keep in mind.  There is excellent people watching to be done in the rocking chairs which can be found in the central corridor.  Often men can be found relaxing while waiting for their wives to finish their shopping.  I like to while away the afternoon hidden behind my sunglasses, watching life parade by.

Yoder’s is a favorite with both locals and tourists alike.  On one side of the central corridor is the famous Yoder Department Store.  On the other side, in the front, there used to be a grocery store; this has been replaced by a quilting store and a snack shop.  Further down the corridor is Yoder’s Shipshewana Hardware, an old-school hardware store.

Besides people watching, there are lots of other reasons to stop in.  It’s a good place to come in out of the rain, cold, or heat. The shopping is good.  You can get a snack.  And—there are decent restrooms!

Yoder Department Store, 60 years old and going strong,  is legendary for its quilting department, where over 12,000 bolts of fabric can be found at last count.  But there’s lots more.  A quick look around makes it obvious that Yoder’s serves the local Amish population with clothes, shoes, hats, and lots more.  There are also large sections of hunting apparel, work clothes, and other types of clothing.  We often buy high-visibility yellow items here for my husband, who is required to wear them at work.  We also buy his flannel shirts here—they stock a brand called “Big Bill” which fit his outlandishly long arms.

Yoder’s Shipshewana Hardware is, as I mentioned, old-school.  There are lots of local products, tourist trinkets, and just plain useful stuff.  Their kitchenware department is especially outstanding.  We have purchased a birdhouse and birdfeed there.  I’ve bought work gloves.  We have found all kinds of garden things that we liked.  Once I found a replacement rain gauge glass tube that I hadn’t found anywhere else.  It’s the kind of place where you can wander down the aisles, just seeing what they’ve got.  You can even purchase garden seeds by the scoop.

This is another place where one could spend an hour or two, learning more about the local culture than any book or museum could teach.  And like I said, it’s a great place for people-watching.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Shaklee Chris

I took this photo on the road in front of a certain Amishman’s farmhouse.  That Amishman could only be “Shaklee Chris.”  I have written about him before, when he and my husband went to a car show.  Here’s the story of how he got his name.

Chris was born in an Amish community in Kansas, but has lived his adult life in Lagrange County, Indiana, where he had eight children, all of whom remained Amish.  One of his sons runs the farm now, and Shaklee Chris lives in the “Dawdi Haus” across the driveway.  (When one of the children takes over the farm, his parents usually move into a smaller home on the same property.)

Anyway, Chris is in his mid-eighties now, but for quite a few years he has been a dealer in Shaklee products (health and cleaning products, sold by home distributors like Tupperware or Mary Kay Cosmetics).  He has a small retail-like shop set up in a back room, and once a week for many years, he has had a driver take him on his rounds, picking up Shaklee products and then delivering it all over the countryside.

Chris is a very, very good Shaklee dealer.  Quite a few years back, he received a letter asking him to attend the annual Shaklee convention in California.  He didn’t take the letter seriously, he told me; besides, California is a long way from Indiana by train.  (The Amish don’t fly.)  But after a few more letters, he asked his Shaklee supervisor, who assured him that his sales were so high, that he qualified to attend. 

Once there, he discovered that his sales were high enough to qualify for a car!  (A program no longer in existence, for the top Shaklee distributors in each region.)  Obviously he had no use for a car… so Shaklee made him a special deal.  They told him to select and purchase a brand-new buggy and a buggy horse, and send them the bill.

Over the years Shaklee Chris won eight (8) horses and buggies.  Each time he purchased them and then passed them on to one of his grandsons who was coming of age.  I can only imagine the publicity that Shaklee got from this!  But Chris tells the story with amusement and pride.  This is one special Amishman—and he still sells Shaklee.

Postscript - Shaklee Chris passed away on April 5, 2017.