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

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

My First Amish Funeral


So, a few days ago, I went to my first Amish funeral (and visitation).  And it wasn’t just any funeral—it was the funeral of my beloved “Mrs. R.”  I wrote about her death here  Today I’ll write about Amish funerals, using hers as an example.  I’m going to have my friend Ruth proofread this before I post it, to be sure I’m giving a good representation of Amish funerals in general.  (Thanks, Ruth!)

Mrs. R. died on a Sunday, and the visitation took place at the “shop building” at her residence.  (Many Amish farms have a big open shop building for buggy storage, home businesses, big projects, and often for hosting church.)  As I entered, there was some coffee and homemade cookies, a guest book, and a framed memorial about her late husband, as well as one for her infant daughter Mary who died many years ago.  Mrs. R. was married for 29 years, lost her husband at about 52, and was a widow for 31 years.  Wow…

I then viewed her body.  She looked good—better than she did the last time I saw her.  Ruth told me that mostly a black dress is worn for burial, but years ago, Mrs. R. had made a white dress which she wished to be buried in.  Along with her white prayer cap, she looked ready to meet her maker. <3

After that, her large family sat on a couple rows of benches facing each other.  Other benches were set up behind on one side, for anyone who wanted to stay for a while.  Mrs. R. had six surviving daughters and six sons, along with 60 grandchildren, so there were a couple dozen relatives there when I walked along the line, shaking hands (and hugging) members of the family. I’ve made a number of dear friends in this clan!

The funeral was two days later, at the shop building of the farm next door, at 9:30 a.m.  I sat with my friend Ruth, who kindly walked me through the whole morning’s events...  Benches were set up in a U shape, about 10 benches deep on each side, with the ministers at the top of the U shape.  It was said that there were 400-500 people present.  I sat with the women of the home church district.  Mrs. R. had quite a few “English” relatives, including four of her sons, so there was a liberal sprinkling of “Englishers” there.  A busload of her husband’s relatives from Lancaster County were present.  The coffin was closed during the service and sat up front.

The first sermon was by a minister of the home district and lasted about 20 minutes.  I caught enough of it to know that the ten commandments were one of the themes.  Then a visiting minister from Kansas (Mrs. R. was born in Kansas) gave a sermon of about 20 minutes.  After that, the bishop of the home district gave a sermon of about an hour.  Nearly all of this was in “Dutch,” so I didn’t catch much, but I felt like I needed to be there anyway.

At about 11:00, the pace changed.  Firstly, there was a prayer, with nearly everyone kneeling. Then the obituary was read aloud (in English).  Then the other minister of the home district read aloud a chapter of scripture (in the Old German language).  After that, while some of the men sang from the Old German Ausbund (hymnbook), each row of mourners took a turn filing past the coffin, with the relatives coming up last by family groups.  As son Sam and daughter-in-law Mary stood by the coffin, their faces looking so grief-stricken, the tears started to flow for me and many others present…  All at once there was sniffling to be heard all over the congregation.

After that, the funeral ended.  Because the family was so large, quite a number of those present lined up in buggies behind the coffin wagon, or in cars (including mine) for the trip to the cemetery for the graveside service.  Arriving at the cemetery, I felt it was okay to take a couple photos, from a respectful distance, with the approval of my ever-present friend Ruth.  (These were cropped from photos taken from a greater distance.)

At the graveside, the coffin was lowered into the ground, into an open wooden casket, by the pallbearers, and then the lid of the casket was put in place.  After that, there were some words from the home district bishop, and then, as some of the men stood by and sang, the pallbearers picked up shovels and began to cover the casket with dirt.  Others from the family, mostly young men, took turns with the shovels, until the soil was up to ground level.  Then the pieces of sod, which had been laid to one side, were placed over the grave.

While we were at the graveside, the others ate lunch, back at the home farm.  Then when we returned, we had our meal.  This took place in the family shop building where the visitation had been.

I hope this description helps you visualize an Amish funeral.  It was a new experience for me, but a good and necessary one.  Farewell and Godspeed, Mrs. R…  I hope to see you again on the other side.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Saying Goodbye to Mrs. R.

Yesterday I said goodbye to my beloved Mrs. R.

In the last few months, an ulcerated leg, which she was able to recover from last year, flared up on the other leg—and this time, nothing could be done, and hospice was called in.  Her body was just too tired to win this battle—and so a few weeks ago, I knew my moments with her were numbered.  I broke my own rules and took this photo about two weeks before she died, when she could no longer sit in her wheelchair.  As I sang to her, she still sometimes opened her eyes—and always smiled at me, as she had so many times before.

I first met Mrs. R. four years ago—I wrote about it here.  She had a stroke shortly after I met her, and—wanting to do something to enrich her life—I began stopping by nearly every week, hymnal in hand.  Mary, her main caregiver and daughter-in-law, would make me some coffee, and often Sam and Mary and I would sit around their kitchen table and talk.  But mostly I came to sing…

Although her stroke had left her unable to talk very much, Mrs. R. would smile and smile at me as I sang, and her sterling silver blue eyes would sparkle.  Sometimes she would be able to sing along with me—“Some glad morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away…” 

We always ended with “Jesus Loves Me,” and any family members who happened to be in the house would join in and sing it with us. 

Sam’s wife Mary (and four daughters of Mrs. R. who sometimes took turns caring for her in their respective homes) thanked me regularly for coming over, and told me how much my visits meant to their mother.  But it was I who was being blessed!  The more I sang to Mrs. R., the more I loved her—and the more time I spent with her, the more she became like the sweet elderly mother I never had. 

A few days before she died, I came to sing.  By this time, Mrs. R. had become mostly unresponsive, but I sang anyway...  Several times she opened her eyes and I saw the old smile.  As always, I ended with “Jesus Loves Me”—and her eyes opened, and for a few lines, she was able to join me one last time as I sang it!...  That was the last time I saw her alive.

So, as I write this, yesterday was her funeral.  I’d never been to an Amish funeral, and that’s what I started out to write about in this post...  But I think I’ll save the description of my first Amish funeral for another day, and let this post be about a sweet lady I came to care about greatly, and her large extended family, who became like family to me.

I plan to return to this living room at her son Sam’s house regularly, because Sam and Mary have become dear friends, as have many other members of Mrs. R.’s extended family.  So in that way, she will keep on giving to me, far in excess of what small comfort I could give to her.  I will never forget her.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Rest in Peace, Mrs. R


Lydia Fry Riehl -- "Mrs. R."
Born 22 Jun 1939
Died 17 Oct 2021

May she rest in peace

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Pie Critic: Pumpkin Pie

My husband loves pie!  And he's one of those annoying people (mostly men) who can eat just about whatever he wants without worrying about calories.  (We hate him.)

Used to be he liked just about any pie, but since we moved to Amish Country, he's gotten quite spoiled.  When he can manage it, he loves to get his hands on some pie made by our friend Ruth—but the rest of the time, he haunts the local bakeries, and he's got some definite opinions.  

I finally asked him to put his mouth where his money is, and write a few guest opinions for me!...  So this is the first in a series, I hope...  Remember, it's all in good fun, and your opinion may differ from his, so don't get terribly upset if you disagree!

Our first pumpkin pie is from Das Dutchman Essenhaus Bakery in Middlebury, our new home town.  Gary was able to purchase this one as a half-a-full-size-pie.  It’s nice to have choices.

Gary rates this one 2.5 forks (on a scale of 5).  His reasoning?  “I thought the pie itself was kind of thin—the pie crust wasn’t all the way filled, as if they were stingy with the filling.  As for texture, I prefer the texture of pumpkin pie to have some body, but this was very fluffy or whipped—too much air in it.  The crust was “meh.”  As for the actual taste, it was very good.”

Our second contender is from Country Lane Bakery, south of Route 20 between Shipshe and Middlebury.  This is a small Amish-run bakery that we visit often.  One plus here is that he was able to purchase a small-size pie instead of the full-size, so as you can see, the quarter-slice looks smaller on the plate.  Also, they offer two types—traditional pumpkin pie and pumpkin cream pie.  This is a review of the traditional.

Gary rates this one 4 forks.  “The consistency of the filling was very good—not fluffy or whipped.  The filling had settled a bit, but still filled the crust as it should.  The taste was good, but I took away ½ a fork because I thought it could use more pumpkin spices—it was a bit bland.  The crust was not as flaky as the ideal pie, so ½ a fork subtracted for that.” 

The third pie was from Blue Gate Bakery in downtown Shipshe.  Although it’s not our favorite restaurant these days like it used to be, the bakery still is top-notch, and we sometimes go there for pie and coffee.  Expectations were high for this one, since Blue Gate is the champion for the “Fresh Fruit Pie Trifecta”—a topic for another post, next summer!

Gary rates this one 3.5 forks.  He says, “Appearance is good; crust is topped off with filling.  The texture of the filling, however, is too fluffy or foamy and not heavy as I prefer.  The taste is bland—not enough pumpkin spices.  The crust is traditional and very good.”

Last up?  A pie from Rise N Roll Bakery, on Route 20 between Shipshe and Middlebury.  (I’ve written about this place before, here.)

Gary gave this one 4.5 forks.  The report:  “The crust on this one was topped off with filling; you could tell it settled as it cooled, but that’s a given.  The crust was traditional (very good).  The texture was good—solid, not fluffy.  The taste was nice—just the right amount of pumpkin spices—not bland like some.”

So the votes are in, and Rise N Roll is our winner when it comes to pumpkin pie! 

Gary says that, like a crabby professor, he doesn’t give anyone an A…  That’s because a 5-fork pumpkin pie would have to be as good as his mother’s pumpkin pie, and that will never happen!  <3