March 16, 2018

Vagabond Traveler: Amish Black

Category: News — admin @ 5:52 pm


The sight of these closed golden houses with their warmth of life
awoke in him a bitter, poignant, strangely mixed emotion of exile
and return, of loneliness and security, of being forever shut out…
of being so close to it that he could touch it with his hand…

—Thomas Wolfe

It was a lazy Saturday, a few weeks ago. And I didn’t have much of anything particular on my mind. Well, other than normal, I mean. I’d stop by the home of some of my good Amish friends for coffee that afternoon. The late February skies were spitting random specks of snow and drops of rain when I pulled into their drive around two, all spiffy in my new black Jeep. I showed myself in through the first door and walked up the stairs and knocked.

The housewife opened the inner door and smiled in welcome. “Come on in.” I smiled back and thanked her, then took a seat at the kitchen table at my usual spot. And the housewife walked to a doorway and called into the back room, where her husband was working in his office. I heard the words clearly, even though she wasn’t talking to me. “Ira is here,” she said. “Come for coffee. Then we will go shopping with Amish Black.”

Amish Black. Oh, my, I thought. Where did she come up with that? Was that my new nickname, now? You never know, around these Amish places, what they’re calling you behind your back. It was fine, though. Nobody meant anything bad, I was sure. But still. I asked her. What in the world is Amish Black?

“Your Jeep,” she said. (She might as well have said, “Duh.” But she didn’t. She just explained the obvious to a simpleton.) “Your Jeep. It’s Amish Black.”

I laughed. Oh, my. I said. I’m not quite sure how I feel about you naming my Jeep like that. I guess if it sticks, it sticks. She smiled. She didn’t say it, but thought it, I’m sure. “What do you mean, if it sticks? Of course, it will stick.”

We sat at the table and drank our coffee and caught up with our visiting. And then I took them on their Saturday afternoon shopping run, in Amish Black. First, our usual stop at Miller’s Health Foods, on the other side of Monterey. And then on to Lantz’s Discount Groceries just outside Leola. As is the custom, I got to sneak a few items into the cart, that my friends paid for. The perks of hauling Amish around, I guess. And it was a little tight, having a person in the back seat with boxes and bags of groceries. There’s not a lot of room in a two-door Jeep, not the kind of room Big Blue had. But we made it work.

And I have thought about it a lot since that day. The name the housewife gave my Jeep. Amish Black. It sure has a ring to it. And that ring might echo all the way to the title of the book I’m working on sporadically these days. It’s catchy, and people will remember. Amish Black. File those two words away in your head. You’ll see them again down the road, I’m thinking.

A few days later, then, the next week at work. An Amish builder walked in one morning to order a few items. He’s young married. I’ve known him, or at least known who he was, since he was a kid, going to work with his Dad. I hadn’t seen him in a while. I spoke his name. He spoke mine. And we chatted for a few minutes, before I realized something was different. I looked closer. He was all cleaned up, with stubbled face, and wearing an English denim jacket. Which is no big deal, for the Lancaster Amish. Around here, the young guys dress about half English, anyway. I glanced outside. There was no driver sitting in his Suburban, waiting, like Amish drivers do. He had driven himself.

He’s a quiet guy, and a little shy. So I slipped it in, after we had written up what he came for. So how long have you been driving? He grinned. “A few months,” he said. And I asked him how it went. I remembered his father well, he was a good friend of mine. He passed away unexpectedly several years ago, the father did.

And I remembered a little thing that happened, soon after my book came out. The father, who will remain unnamed, stopped in one day for some materials. I was gone that day. He placed his order, then asked about buying one of Ira’s books. My coworkers told the man. “Ira is gone today, but we can sell you a copy.” The father considered the offer for a moment. Then he shook his head. “I’ll wait, and get it from Ira,” he said. I was touched, later, when they told me. The next time the father stopped in, he bought a signed copy of my book. I never forgot.

And now, here stood his youngest son, or close to the youngest. He was the first in his family to leave the Amish. It had to be hard on his widowed mother, I figured. Not that I mentioned any such thing. I just asked how it’s going with the family. He smiled again, a little shyly, and my heart went out to him. “They’re taking it pretty hard,” he said. “I haven’t seen any of them in a while. But they’ll get over it, I think.”

I nodded. Yeah, I said. I hear that. I know how it is, a little bit, to walk that road.

Another weekend came, then. The Saturday before, I had stopped at the thrift shop over in Leola. I rarely do that, but that day I had a few minutes for a quick walk-through. I found a pair of brand new khakis, just my size. (Well, my new size, since my One Meal a Day diet.) Tommy Hilfigers, still with tags. 38 x 32s. They’d never been worn. I shelled out the $4, and dropped them off at the dry cleaners. I got them back the next Saturday and tried them on. The waist fit fine, but they were one fold too long at the bottom. I grumbled to myself. Come on, the tag lied. It was what it was, though. I thought about my options. And I settled on a plan.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled my Jeep into the drive of the home of some Amish friends, where I often stop for coffee on a Saturday morning. No, this is not the place where my Jeep was unceremoniously dubbed Amish Black. This here was another couple I’ve known for years and years. I count them among the best of all my friends, anywhere. That’s how well I know them, how long I’ve been coming around. I parked and knocked on the front door. It was almost lunch time, but they knew I wasn’t hedging around for food, what with my One Meal a Day and all. (And yes, I still feel fantastic, every day. And no, not a drop of alcohol since late August. Knocking on wood, here.) After greeting everyone and visiting a bit, I laid my khakis on the table. And I told the goodwife. Esther, I said. These pants are too long. I have a flicca job for you (Flicca means mending in PA Dutch.). She took the pants from me and I showed her. One fold up, inside or out. That’s all I need done.

She scoffed. “Inside is where you want it folded, not outside,” she said. “Do you want to look like Farmer Brown, with your pant legs rolled up?” No, I said weakly. But an outside cuff can be stylish, too. She scoffed some more. OK, I said. Inside it is, then. I’ll just leave them here and pick them up next week sometime.

“What’s wrong with right now?’ She asked. And the woman unlimbered her sewing machine and got to work with nimble hands. The sewing machine hummed and clacked. She snipped away at the thread, and it was done in ten minutes or so. I sat and visited with them all, there at the table. And then I hemmed a bit and said I must be going. I thanked the goodwife, took my Hilfigers, and left. And I thought to myself, as I was driving along in my Jeep. I bet there’s not a lot of single guys out there who got such good connections as I have, to get stuff like this done while you wait. I mean, it really is quite remarkable.

The days rolled on, then. And looking back, I can’t quite remember that such a thing ever happened before, there at work. A husband and wife stopped in to price some snow guards for the roof of their pole building. The building package had come from Graber a few years ago, through a local contractor. They really liked it, they both claimed. But all that snow this winter coming off the roof tore the gutters right off the building. So they wanted snow guards. I priced what they asked for, the stainless steel snow guards we stock. They got to telling me, then. They needed someone to install the snow guards, and there was some more repair work other buildings to do, too, from the snow damage. I was writing up their invoice, when the door opened and another man walked in.

He came right up to the counter and interrupted us. Inserted himself, is more like it. He wasn’t shy at all. He was just driving by, he told me, and he wanted to stop and thank me for referring my Amish contractor friend, Levi, a few months ago. He had called different people who claimed to do remodeling work, and no one would pay him any attention, or give him a quote. Until he called my buddy, Levi. He came out, he gave a quote, and then he came and did the work. Levi did what he said he would, and he did it right. The first couple looked on and listened with extreme interest. Then they got to asking the second man. Who was this Levi, and what had he done for the guy? They were looking for someone, too, to come and do repairs on the snow damage on their pole building.

The second man jumped at the open door. He got all dramatic and descriptive, all of a sudden. He waved his hands this way and that. And he told the man and wife. He had almost despaired of finding a contractor. Then he stopped in and talked to Ira, here. (A wave at me.) And Ira connected him to Levi. The man then pulled out his smart phone with a flourish. He had before and after pictures. He whipped them up on the screen. The husband and wife “ooh’d” and “aah’d.” The first pic showed a dilapidated old building, on the verge of collapse. The second pic showed a beautiful building, all new and dressed up and gleaming with painted metal roofing and siding from Graber. I didn’t even have to say much, other than exclaim at the contrast the pictures showed. The second man did all my selling for me. The husband and wife practically salivated. They wanted Levi’s phone number. They were going to call him right away. I wrote the information on the back of my business card and gave it to them. Mention my name, when you call Levi, I told them. He’ll take care of you. It could have been a scene in a movie.

They all walked out then, and I saw the second guy standing there, talking and waving his arms with great vigor, practically accosting the other couple. He was still selling for me and Levi, right out there in the parking lot. You can only shake your head in disbelief when such a thing as that comes at you. I mean, the timing has to be perfect. I just smile and look to God with a grateful heart for all the little blessings flowing around me in the course of an ordinary day.

Another weekend came, and I went on an adventure. There was a gun show at the Harrisburg Farm Show Complex. It had been a few years since I attended a gun show. Pre-Sandy Hook, I think. And that was in 2012. I called my buddy Amos, the horse dentist, the day before. Hey, it’s been a while since we hung out. Do you want to go the gun show with me tomorrow? Of course he did. The place opened at 9:00, we got there around 9:30. There was a long line outside, about four people wide and several thousand feet long, snaking halfway back around the building. It took us half an hour to get in. Many stern signs warned. NO PICTURES. STRICTLY ENFORCED. I couldn’t blame the show organizers for that. All kinds of whack job leftists would be taking all kinds of unflattering photos and posting them with false narratives as fake news.

Amos and I went our separate ways and agreed to meet up front around noon. I strolled about, taking my time. I am very much at home at a gun show. The place was packed out with a very diverse crowd. There were a surprising number of women (that’s my kind of woman, right there, someone who is totally comfortable around guns), and I saw several young couples holding toddlers or pushing a baby carriage. Getting’em started young, there. I loved it. Warmed my heart, it did.

And I looked at all those people. Young and old, and every age between. Graybeards, moonshiners, rum runners, and just plain old country redneck working class, a lot of them were. Plenty of professional people mixed in there, too. And I thought about it. These were the people who voted Trump into office. Salt of the earth, they were, the kind of people who would feed you if you were hungry. They’d shoot you, too, if you tried any stupid stuff with them. And these were the people the left is determined to disarm, with their silly little high school walkouts. It’s so ludicrous and so wrong, that young people are being manipulated into marching and demanding to give up their rights. Only a brainwashed people would do or support such a thing. Shades of “1984.” It simply boggles the mind. Whatever the brainwashed students think they’re “marching” for, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. The left will keep trying, though. Disarming the common folks will always be a wet dream to people who love and worship the vile false god that is the state.

I bought a few odds and ends, stuff I didn’t really need. But you gotta get something at a gun show. I did pick up my first ever Zero Tolerance assisted-open knife at a better price than I’ve ever seen on the internet. So that was my splurge for the day. I overheard snippets of conversation, here and there. One old vendor stood behind his tables loaded with long guns and other shooting stuff for sale. The man had a magnificent gray beard flowing all the way down to his chest. I overheard him chatting with a prospective customer. “Yeah,” he said. “My wife is a vegan.” The customer looked startled, and I hung close, straining to hear what Graybeard would say next. He chuckled. “Yep,” he said. “She’s a vegan, she is. People are surprised when I tell them. We make it work.” I drifted on, then, as the old man muttered illogically. “I sure do love my dog.”

Hey. That’s the kind of scene you see and hear at a gun show. Amos and I met up, then, and headed out for home. It was great, just to catch up with my old friend. Amos has some really fascinating theories about Amish blood and Amish history. He makes a lot of sense, too, I gotta say.

And the next day was a Sunday. The Amish had church at a farm about a mile from Chestnut Chapel that morning. I saw all the buggies parked in rows on my way to church. And I saw their service was over as I was heading home from mine. A young Amish girl had just left and was walking home along the side of the road toward me, in my lane. She was a teenager, maybe twenty, and she was alone. Her face glowed with life and health and joy. She smiled and waved at me as I approached and passed. I waved back, pleased and a little startled. I’m not used to seeing pretty young Amish girls waving at me for no particular reason. But then the realization clobbered me over the head like a sledgehammer.

She wasn’t waving at my handsome bearded face or my Territory Ahead shirt and matching tie or my Burberry trench coat. She was waving at Amish Black.

February 16, 2018

Old Order Mennonites and Me…

Category: News — admin @ 5:32 pm


We are the sum of all the moments in our lives – all that
is ours is in them: we cannot escape it or conceal it.

—Thomas Wolfe

It was a nippy spring morning, almost twenty years ago. Still early enough in the year to be cold. Mid to late March, if I remember right. And I had a “home” appointment that morning, over close to Ephrata. The client had called. He needed a Will, and he wanted someone to stop by. We made arrangements. And I set out from the office where I worked as an attorney, in suit and tie every day. Not that I would have needed to be all dressed up. Where I was going, they wouldn’t be that impressed. That’s because my client was an Old Order Mennonite.

I trundled down Rt. 322 in the little white Dodge Spirit I was driving at the time. And then off on a side road. There was no GPS back then, so I slowed as I got close. Looked for the mailbox number. And there it was. The farm. A little more raggedy and unkempt than neighboring Amish farms. The Old Order Mennonites don’t rush out with a rake to attack every leaf as it flutters down from a tree, like the Lancaster Amish do. So their farms look a little more rough. More like the places I grew up in. Well used. Make do until it wears out. The barn roof might well have two or three different colors of metal. The OOMs are more about functionality, and less about neatness. Which is totally OK. I understand the concept, and I understand the mindset.

I pulled in the drive and parked. Got out. Straightened my suit coat and tie. Then I walked up the cracked and uneven walkway to the house. It looked battered and old, like the barn. A few lean cats lurked about. And a dog, too, whined inquisitively. Not that great a watchdog, are you? I muttered. I walked up the steps and stumped across the wooden porch floor. Knocked on the weathered wood door. From inside, the sound of faint stirrings. And then the door opened. An old man stood, peering out at me. Well, he wasn’t old, necessarily. Older, I’d say, in his sixties, probably. Beardless, in plain shirt and barn door pants with galluses. He was lean, and you could tell he was fit. He looked at me with a half-smile on his wizened, stubbled face.

I greeted him. I’m Ira Wagler. I have an appointment about a Will. “Oh, yes,” he said. And he opened the door wider and motioned me in. “Come on in, and we’ll sit at the kitchen table.” I thanked him and stepped through the door into another world.

The room was drab, colorless. It was nippy outside, and it was downright chilly inside. Near as I could tell, there was no heat at all anywhere. By the wall in the kitchen stood an old dry sink. And it was ancient, probably worth a small fortune. Still used every day, just like it had been since the time it was made. The housewife smiled from across the room, where she was working at something, sewing or ironing. She got up and walked over to join us. Over in the corner, an old woman sat motionless, as if frozen, huddled in a shawl. She was actually old, and she looked cold. No. She was cold. The grandmother of the house. I didn’t see any grandfather. Probably passed on. The OOMs take care of their own, like the Amish do. It was like stepping into a Whistler painting, that moment. Stark contrasts and stark shadows, but only in the earthy tones of black and shades of brown and pale green.

We sat there at the kitchen table, me and the man and his wife. The old crone in the corner sat, huddled, silent, unmoving. I sneaked a glance her way now and then, as we talked there at the table. The whole scene kind of gave me shivers. It was a threadbare existence, the lives these people lived. Threadbare, like this old house. And I am not criticizing. I’m simply opining, from what I saw that day. What you are is how you live.

We chatted. Made small talk. I think I spoke in PA Dutch, at least some. I do that a lot more freely around the OOMs than I do around the Amish. The Amish glance at you, all startled, if you speak to them in their language. And then they start mumbling uncomfortable questions about whether you ever were a member of their church. If you were, are you now excommunicated? If you are, we can’t deal with you. That’s how it goes, with the Amish. The OOMs could not care less, if you were ever a member of any church but their own. And it’s pretty plain to any insider that I wasn’t. So I let down my guard and speak PA Dutch to them a lot more.

I went through the usual list of things I need to know to write a Will. Full names, including middle initials. Full names of the Executors, Guardians, and Trustees, if there are any. After I took down all my notes, we visited a little. I asked a bit about their history. Their lives, their stories, who they were. And somehow, the old man got to telling me about the day he bought this farm, way back when they were young married.

It happened a long time ago. The farm was sold at auction. And it was located right in the community where the young marrieds lived, or wanted to. The old man leaned in, across the table, as he talked. He was sitting right there, across from me. But in his mind, he was seeing a big thing that happened a lifetime ago. The bidding went hard and fast that day. And before he knew it, the price was up and above what he had planned to pay. But he counseled with his wife. And his Dad. They kept bidding. Higher and higher. And then the sale was knocked off. The old man had done it. Back in that day, when he was young, he paid a record price for a farm in that immediate area. He spoke the price. I forget what it was. Compared to the farm’s value today, it was barely a pittance.

And it was what happened after the sale, it was what happened then that the old man remembered. The wound stabbed down deep, and he felt the pain as vividly on the day he told me as he had felt it forty years before, when it happened. He and his wife were standing around, after their high bid on the farm. Kind of shy and unsure of themselves. And a neighboring OOM man came up to them. I think the man’s name was mentioned, but it wasn’t important to me. What was important was what the neighbor man said.

That day, that morning, the old man leaned across the kitchen table, as close to in my face as he could get. His wife sat, smiling self-consciously. She had heard this tale a thousand times before, over the years, I have no doubt. And the old man asked dramatically. “Do you know what that neighbor man told me, that day? Do you know what he said?” No, I said, shaking my head, but not acting too eager. No, I don’t know. What did the neighbor man tell you?

The old man paused, once again. He was back there, and he was reliving a pain he had dragged along with him through all the ensuing years. And the words came rolling from him, he almost spit them out. “He said, he told me. The neighbor man said, You’ll NEVER get this farm paid for.”

And the old man leaned back, sitting there at the kitchen table, looking for me to make the proper noises. Obviously, he had paid the farm off. He would have worked himself to death if he had to, just to prove that neighbor man wrong. He didn’t have to. Not physically, anyway. Emotionally, I think something had died in the old man a long time ago, because he had allowed the cruel words someone said to take root in him in a way that deeply affected him all through his life. You gotta feel a little sorry, to see someone suffering so senselessly like that.

Still. What he had told me, well, I just gaped at him. Good Lord. Why would any person go up to a young couple who just bought a farm at auction, and spew such brutal words? It didn’t surprise me all that much, though. That’s the kind of thing an Old Order Mennonite might say. They can be blunt and cutting. That’s what I thought to myself.

Old Order Mennonites. They’re a strange breed of people. And yeah, I know. That’s a mouthful, coming from a guy who came from the Amish. I mean, how much more strange are you going to get than that? But the OOMs are different, there is no question. What that means to you depends entirely on your experience and perspective. I see them as people who are a little peculiar in their ways. As they see me, I suppose, and as they have every right to do.

It’s different blood. Way back, before the radical firebrand, Jacob Ammon, got all slap-happy with his banning and shunning of any group he had the slightest conflict with, way back then, it was all one big happy family. Then Ammon broke away. And the people who followed him became a distinct people, all on their own. The Amish. The Mennonites who didn’t leave, they slouched back and licked their wounds. Ammon cut a wide swath with his condemnations. You don’t agree with me? I’ll show you. You’re excommunicated, you and all your blood. And shunned, as worse than a whoremonger. I banish you to judgment and hell. That’s how Ammon worked. He was not a nice man.

And today, you got lots of levels of Mennonites out there. Lancaster County has them all. From high-strung, whack-job, leftist, state-worshiping gun grabbers, all the way over to Plain horse and buggy Old Orders. And every shade between. All claim the heritage and legacy of good old Menno Simons, who would be extraordinarily startled, I think, could he return for a day and see for himself who his “followers” are.

I don’t know the detailed history of the Old Order Mennonites. I suppose one could google much of it. I can only speak from my perspective, and the things I have seen and lived and felt. The OOMs have surnames that are nonexistent or extremely rare among the Amish. Names like Horst, Hurst, Hoover, Martin, Weaver, Sauder, Shank, Reiff, Nolt, Shirk, Newswanger, Oberholtzer, and a host of others. Their culture is distinct, as are their physical builds and the bone structures of their faces. You leave either group, the OOMs or the Amish, and I can usually tell that you did, no matter how long ago you left or how English you try to look. I can tell which group you came from by how you act and how you talk. Almost always, I can. It’s just an insider’s perception.

It’s fascinating to me, that another group held onto a Plain lifestyle, all on its own. The defining moment in the OOMs, as with the Amish, happened when the group rejected the automobile. That was one of the few things in the two groups that were similar. Otherwise, both developed on their own. And they sure developed different.

They were there in my Aylmer world from my earliest memories, the OOMs. I think they have numerous settlements in Ontario and a few other locations in Canada. Elmira is the place I remember. They connected with Dad, at least a few of them did. And they visited back and forth some, my parents and their OOM friends. I remember the men as wiry and lean and dark clad, with hard thin faces shadowed from the stubble of decades of shaving. They wore short-brimmed black hats and spoke in singsong voices. Their women tended to be plump, and they wore patterned, flowery dresses and white head coverings and funny little pointed black bonnets. Dad and Mom went to the OOM church services, even, when they visited there. I remember them talking about how it went. It was all very different than Amish services. Starting with a church house. OOMs congregate in church houses.

A little bit of an aside, because now my memory roams ever wider back there in my childhood in Aylmer. There was a fairly strange Mennonite man named Menno Sauder who used to come around in his little black car. He looked and talked exactly like the OOMs, except he drove a car. I don’t know if Menno had joined a “Black Bumper” car church, or if he had just struck out as a renegade on his own. He was an intellectual eccentric. A writer of sorts. He cranked out little religious tracts and exceedingly dry tomes of dogma and doctrine. I can still see his little black car parked under the trees by the sand box beside our looped gravel drive just west of the house. I don’t think he ever stayed for the night. But he came around often enough that I remember his name and his face.

When Menno Sauder died, Dad and Mom went to his funeral. I think this was before we moved out of Aylmer, although I can’t say for sure. It doesn’t matter, I guess. I know my parents went, and I know Menno got a full-fledged OOM funeral. Maybe he had recanted and rejoined before passing. I think that’s what happened. Anyway, Mom told us what the preacher had said at Menno’s funeral. In his sermon, the preacher proclaimed that Menno always was so faithful and tireless in his efforts. He fished and fished. Nobody fished harder than Menno. But sadly, he always fished from the wrong side of the boat. That’s what the preacher said. The wrong side of the boat. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but I never forgot that phrase. And Mom never really let on, whether she agreed with the preacher man or not. She was just telling us what he had said.

My family moved to Bloomfield, Iowa, in 1976. And we left the world of the Old Order Mennonites behind. There were none in the Midwest. Well, that’s not quite accurate. There was a fledgling Black Bumper settlement just south of us, in Rutledge, Missouri. Black Bumpers are pretty much OOMs with cars. Kind of like the Beachys are Amish with cars, I guess. Back then, there were no OOM settlements anywhere close to Bloomfield. There have been several large groups settling in Kentucky, I’m not sure of exactly where in that state. And in central Missouri, too, I know there’s at least one settlement. The lure of cheaper land led many OOMs on an exodus from Lancaster County to places like Virginia and Kentucky and Missouri and Penn Yan, New York.

We moved to Bloomfield in 1976. I broke away for the final time sometime in 1988. A twelve-year stretch, there, where I saw enough personal turmoil to last several lifetimes. And during those desperate years of hard and frantic running, the OOMs were just about as far removed from my mind and consciousness as they could have been. And they stayed that way until I wandered into the historic, blue-blooded lands of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

It’s seems a little astonishing, looking back. After more than a decade of angst and turmoil and hard running and fractured dreams, I finally broke free from my people. And within two years, I meandered right back into one of the oldest and largest Amish communities in the world. Lancaster County. I liked it. Here, I thought, here at last is a place where I can rest. I will never live the life of my people, but at least I can live among them. It was a comforting and natural thing.

I connected with the youth group at Pequea Amish Mennonite Church. Beachys. The youth were polite and accepting of me, a traumatized guy who had drifted in from the Midwest. I will always remember those first few summers as some really good days. I enjoyed the youth, and I enjoyed their activities. I participated in organized softball games for the first time ever, in my life. The Pequea church was always cutting edge Beachy. Always on the forefront of hard-won progress. They still are, from what I hear told. Not that I hang there, anymore, anywhere close to that world. Haven’t for decades. I recently heard that the Pequea Beachy Amish church allowed its women to discard their covering strings. Just snip them off and throw them away. Oh, my. Slipping fast, they are, there at Pequea. Like Waylon sings. Slippin’ and a’sliden, playing dominoes.

Anyway. I soon became aware, after I came to Lancaster. There is a large community of Old Order Mennonites here. They settled back when the Amish did, or real close to that time. So the footprints of these people and their ways are woven into the very fabric of the land. The Pequea youth had a term for the OOMs. Maudy. Which is Martin, in PA Dutch. It was a derogatory term, kind of. When you called someone a Maudy, you were talking trash a little bit. And you were calling that person a few different things, none necessarily pleasant.

Some years ago, I heard where the term came from. Maudy. The Amish are scattered pretty much all through the county. The OOMs live up north. North of Rt. 23 is their country. The further north you go, the thicker they get. The Amish and the OOMs live side by side a lot, where they overlap. And mostly, they get along. They share their school houses, send their children to the same schools. They mingle there, but that’s one of the few places where they do. They never, never intermarry, not unless they leave the Plain culture. Even then, it’s very rare for someone from Amish and OOM blood to connect in marriage. It happens, but just not often. The two cultures are too different, I figure. And there is an undercurrent of one-upmanship out there, too. Not with the older people, so much. You get battered by life, and you let such things go, mostly, I think. But with the youth, there is. And this is the story I was told.

At the local farm sales and mud sales in spring, the Amish youth and the OOM youth played Cornerball, a form of Dodgeball. It was a tradition for generations. I think the game recently got banned in some venues, because it got too violent. And in the heat of these competitions, decades ago, the OOM youth took to calling their Amish counterparts a derogatory name. O-mish. Which in PA Dutch roughly translates into the word, manure. Misht is manure. The OOM boys chuckled and chanted, as they hurled the stinging Dodgeball. “O-mish, O-mish” (Oh, manure, oh, manure). The Amish boys looked grim. They wouldn’t stand for that, not for long. And soon they came up with a chant of their own.

I don’t know who first said it. But it’s the term that stuck. At least part of it. The Amish chanted back the name, Martin, in PA Dutch. Maudy. But they added a word. Maudy-poopers. The O-mish word got lost over the years, as did the “pooper” part of the Maudy taunt. But Maudy stuck. And in all honesty, I can’t confirm that any part of this tale is actually true. It sounds like something that probably happened. So there it is. That’s why OOMs are called Maudys, if you ask me.

The OOMs are distinct when it comes to Plain cultures. And an undercurrent washes through, a hint of meanness, and a cantankerous character. You can dig into their history a little bit, and see. They have had splits and splinter groups and all manner of harsh disagreements. There have been fights about contract disputes, boundary lines, and whether there will be preaching from a pulpit at the church house. I’ve heard the echoes of the stories.

There are at least three levels of Old Order Mennonites. Joe Wengers are the most common. (and there’s another very important OOM surname. Wenger.) Then there’s the Pikers, who are very plain. The Thirty-Fivers are the latest large group to split. I think so, anyway. Thirty-five families broke away into a separate OOM group. I don’t know when, probably a generation ago or more. They are all intermarried and related now, and they are not allowed to go outside their group to find a partner to marry. First cousins marry first cousins. They don’t even get a marriage license (which I fully support, as an anarchist), they just get married in a church ceremony. Such a thing is simply unsustainable. The Thirty-Fivers are going extinct, I was told recently by a Joe Wenger Mennonite. The Pikers and the Thirty-Fivers are the plainest of the plain, among OOMs, I’ve also been told. Still, I’m not pouring any concrete around any of these details. I haven’t been around these people close enough to know all the intricacies.

Years ago, I was chatting with an old Amish woman, north and west of here, in OOM country. She was a widow, and she had seen many things in her lifetime. And we got to talking somehow, about the differences in the two cultures. I asked her a lot of questions, about the experiences she had lived all her life, around OOMs. She valued her relationships with them, spoke in the highest terms of her OOM friends. It was clear that the telling affected her, the feelings ran in her deep. But still. I nudged her. I know they are really good people. But there’s an undercurrent there. It’s hard and rough. There’s a mean streak. I can’t quite grasp a good word to describe it. Do you know what I’m saying?

She nodded reluctantly. Yes. She knew what I meant. And she told me, almost hesitantly. “It’s not all of them. But I know what you mean. And the best way I can put it. They just can’t let it go.”

And I thought of the old man sitting at the kitchen table, telling me in vivid detail the deep and cutting slight he had endured forty years before right after he bought his farm at public auction. Yes. The Amish widow woman said it best. They just can’t let it go. Some of them. Like the old man had chosen not to.

It’s a complex reality, the OOM world. Yeah, the negatives are what they are. But along with those come the good things, too. There are many. The OOMs value faith and family. Their women bear many children, and most of those children stay in the culture. They work hard, the OOMs, and they are among the most productive farmers in the world. They use tractors to til the earth, tractors with steel wheels. (Every summer, I buy the world’s sweetest cantaloupes from a Thirty-Fiver just north of New Holland on Hoover Road. They’re on a self-serve stand for a buck apiece. There’s a sturdy little wooden locked box to put your dollar in.) And they ride bicycles everywhere, with a little cardboard box strapped on the rack behind the seat. And often on a summer night, the OOM youth will swarm the roads in great rolling convoys of bikes. Right down Rt. 23 they go, their little red blinker lights flashing in wild and random patterns. It’s really quite a sight.

The group is tightly controlled by its leaders. Computers are forbidden, as are smart phones. I’ve said it before, about the Amish. The smart phones are going to affect that culture in ways that the Bishops simply cannot imagine today. And it’s going to happen soon, within a generation, I’d say. The Old Order Mennonites got that horse penned in, kept it from leaving the barn. Long term, I think they have a better handle on their survival as a distinct and separate group. Not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just the way it is.

They are a frugal people. Well, I guess tight would be a more accurate word. More harsh, though. Their farms aren’t quite as cleaned up as the Amish farms. They’re a little more ragged. But their houses look nice and worn and comfortable, too. In a tightly controlled world like the one they live in, being frugal is not only expected, it is the norm.

Years ago, my brother Steve was cruising around a few miles up north, around Voganville, one sunny Saturday afternoon. It’s Maudy country, up there. There were yard sales going on, and Steve stopped to browse a bit at one OOM place. They had a cooler there with ham and cheese sandwiches for $3.00 each. Steve overheard the house father asking his daughters. “How many sandwiches did we sell?” It was getting close to time to shut things down. Apparently they had not sold many. The cooler was still almost full. The house father looked glum. Then he took a marker and discounted the sandwiches from $3.00 each, all the way down to $2.50. Steve told me that little story, and we laughed and laughed. I mean, sure. People are going to rush in and load up on ham and cheese sandwiches for $2.50, where before they weren’t interested at $3.00.

Still. It all comes down to personal experiences, I guess. I deal with OOMs, some, at my work. Sell them building materials, and we have used OOM crews to install Graber pole barns. They are hard-working, like the Amish. And like the Amish, by far, far the vast percentage of them are as honest as the longest day in summer.

A funny thing happened one morning recently at the office. Well, I thought it was funny, at least a little. A local builder stopped in to pick up an order he had called in. He got to talking to one of the other guys in the office. While he was doing that, I chatted with his worker, an alert-looking young man. Turned out he was a horse and buggy Joe Wenger OOM. And he told me, in the conversation. He just got married last year. This was astonishing to me. Looking at the guy, you could hardly tell he was Old Order anything. You can’t really tell, looking at a lot of the younger OOM guys, when they’re wearing a jacket that hides their galluses. I would have guessed that he came from Plain blood, but not that he was a married, current OOM.

I asked him a lot of questions about the ways and traditions of his people and his church. There are two preachers in a service. Plus a deacon, who reads Scripture. Much like the Amish, that setup. They sing faster, though, in both English and German. He claimed the New York settlement of Joe Wenger OOMs will soon be the largest in the world. People are moving up there, because you can buy a farm for way less than the millions it will cost in Lancaster County. I found much of it fascinating, what he said. I kept asking questions. Our talk was a very genial.

Eventually, he figured out that I was raised Amish. He asked about it, and I told him. Yep, I wrote the book on that. I pointed to a poster of my book. He had heard of it, he claimed. And he felt like he had to admonish me a little bit. Good-naturedly, of course. “If you leave the horse and buggy, you’re never satisfied,” he said, stoutly.

I chuckled. I’m pretty satisfied, I told him. And I pointed outside. See that black Jeep out there? I drive that. If I had to go back to a horse and buggy, I would be extremely unhappy. I can’t even imagine such a thing. There’s not enough money to pay me to go back to that world.

“Yeah,” he shot back. “But you won’t be happy long, with that Jeep. What’s next? A Lamborghini? You know it’s never enough. You won’t be satisfied.”

That’s the kind of thing I heard many times in Amish sermons, growing up. Apparently Amish preachers aren’t the only ones who talk that way. (Decades ago, a well-known Beachy preacher thundered that young men who get caught speeding will be drafted to drive tanks in the next war. I mean, how ludicrous was that?) I laughed and laughed. Driving a Lamborghini has never been even remotely on my bucket list, I said. It’s just about the last thing I can imagine ever wanting to do. But even if I did, so what? Sounds like you’ve been listening to your preachers, there, a little too much.

I don’t know if he really heard what I was saying there, the nice young OOM man. Somehow, I don’t think my words registered, quite. And that’s OK. It was completely fascinating to me, just to have that conversation. To hear words I had heard so long ago, to hear that same message spoken by a young man from another culture. It was fascinating and a little startling, too. Still. Whatever our conversation would or could have been, it was going to be OK.

And there’s one more scene that happened, right that very week, along similar lines. It all got me to thinking, and then to writing this blog. Late one afternoon that week, a local builder walked in to pick up a few things. He’s OOM, I’ve known him for a few years. Good guy. Today, he was dressed in his Sunday best, with a plain, straight-cut suit and spiffy little black hat like the OOMs wear. I greeted him cheerfully and we chatted a bit about business. And then I asked what that was all about, seeing he was dressed for church like that. He looked somber.

And he told me. His twelve-year-old nephew had passed away the day before, and he was over at the boy’s home, making funeral arrangements. Wow, I said. I’m sorry to hear that. Such a loss has to be tough on his parents and his family. And on you and your family, too. We kept talking, and I heard how the boy was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia just this Christmas, less than two months ago. He never got out of the hospital after the doctors figured out what was wrong.

The Amish always have their stories about eerie and uncanny things. Not dark stuff, necessarily, at least not mostly. But strange and surreal events that unfold, guided by an unseen and supernatural hand. Every Plain culture has its stories of such happenings at such times as this. And the Old Order Mennonites tell their stories of comfort, too.

My friend’s young nephew was still conscious and talking, up until a few days before he died. One of the last things the boy told his mother. He wanted to come home, the next time it snowed. She made no promises, but smiled through her tears. She held her son’s hand and pondered his final wish in her heart.

My friend stood there and spoke the details of the story. His eyes got a little wet and mine did, too, when he told me. “Yesterday, it snowed. And yesterday, he went home.”


And here, I cough politely. How about that Super Bowl? Umm. Who called it? I was a little off on the final score, sure. But I got the winner right.

I got together with some good friends on the big night. Only a few of us were die-hards. My brother Steve and I sat, glued to the game all the way through. We got tense a few times, we did. What a game it was. We shouted and high-fived everyone in sight after Brady’s Hail Mary was knocked down and time expired.

I’m happy for the Eagles. They never were intimidated, not in the least. When they had to score, or when they had to make a fourth down, they did it. That TD to Foles just before halftime was a thing of rare beauty. It was simply breathtaking, the sheer audacity of it. The game was fun and refreshing to watch.

I’m not taking anything away from Brady and the Patriots. Tom Brady played in eight Super Bowls in seventeen years. He won five. That is an accomplishment that will never be matched, I don’t think.

So congrats to Doug Peterson and his team. They are for real. And there’s a real good chance we’ll see more of the Eagles at the big game in the next decade or so.