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

Monday, March 17, 2014

Starting Over

Years ago I attended the wedding of a young Amish couple—we’ll call them Gordon and Kate.  I watched as the young couple began their lives in Amish Indiana.  Gordon took over the family farm.  He was a bright young man, and out in the barn, he began a business of his own making lawn furniture—at first from wood, and then plastic lumber, which was a new trend at that time. 

The business grew, and soon he was employing his father, brothers, and cousins.  When I had a tour of the business around 2008, he was selling to retailers all over the country and was on the verge of a contract with a local university to make special furniture for their sports training room (in the school colors!).  Business was booming.

The next time I visited, Kate’s mother told me that Gordon and Kate were leaving it all and moving to southern Michigan.  Their new farm would be about 17 miles away—a long distance in their culture, considering that a horse and buggy aren’t good for a trip that long.  Kate wasn’t thrilled with the decision, as she was leaving everything she’d ever known to be a newcomer in an Amish settlement unfamiliar to her.  But there had been Amish in southern Michigan for generations; in fact, Gordon’s ancestors had lived there before coming to Indiana.

Later that year I visited their new farm in Michigan.  They owned 8 acres with house and outbuildings and were renting 100 more.  They hoped to make a go of it as dairy farmers.  The house and barns were in bad shape and needed lots of work!  In the winter they slept on the living room floor, gathered around a potbelly stove. 

Later I asked Kate’s mother, why would Gordon leave his thriving business and family farm to move to such a relatively faraway place and start over?  She said, “I don’t know…  I think it was all just too much for him.”  Recently I talked to Gordon about it, and he said, “The furniture business involved a lot of paperwork.  Whenever I could get away from that and be outdoors or doing the farm chores, I felt so much happier.  I could see that as the business grew, it was going to be more and more paperwork, so I decided to make a change.”

One interesting thing:  The farm had been owned by an “English” farmer, so it was wired for electricity.  Amish families who move into homes with electricity are allowed to use it for one year, by which time it has to be removed.  Kate remarked at one point, “I sure will miss that dishwasher!”

Whenever we can, my husband and I like to grab some fresh baked goods and head up there to visit them, and sometimes we bring Kate’s parents along.  Gordon and Kate don’t get a lot of visitors from home, since normally it involves hiring a driver to make the trip.  Amazingly, although a horse and buggy cannot make the trip, Kate’s parents, who are in their late fifties, regularly make the round trip (17 miles each way) on their bicycles!

Gordon and Kate have seven children now.  They are making a go of it in Michigan.  Slowly they are fixing up their house and outbuildings and making a life there.  (And they have a fine new heating stove which heats the entire house!)  At first, during the winter, Gordon had to take a job in a recreational vehicle factory to make ends meet, leaving Kate to run the farm by herself during the day.  But before long their dairy herd grew, and they were able to purchase the 100 acres they had been renting, adjacent to their farm.  Presently they are milking 50 cows, and they have passed the three-year prep period beyond which they can sell their milk as “organic,” meaning more income.  Their two oldest boys are now big enough to help out.  Soon Gordon will purchase more land across the road—he needs to grow more corn to feed his herd.

Witnessing their courage and their struggles reminds me of the stories of my pioneer ancestors on the Nebraska prairie.  I admire Gordon and Kate, and I’m glad I’ve been able to watch their story as it unfolds.

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