On Saturday we went to Amish-land. This part of Ohio is home to the largest Amish settlement anywhere, I think—state, country, world, whatever. A twenty-minute drive straight west will put you smack in the middle of where they live and work, and where they smartly cater to tourists. There is an old farm nearby with tours of the house and outbuildings, so we went there to learn about the culture. The house we walked through was built in 1840, and while there wasn't a tour guide on duty, there were plaques on the walls that explained the purpose of the rooms and the furnishings and gave overviews of their culture. We read about their weddings and funerals, how they choose their bishops, and how teenagers are given an opportunity to leave or own up to the Amish life. 80% of them stay.
There was an Amish woman in the kitchen making strawberry preserves. She had already baked bread and cookies, and of course, all of it was for sale. She demonstrated how she made the strawberry stuff (with J-ello!) and then pointed out her cookbook that was also for sale. We chatted with her for a little bit, bought a cookbook each and had her autograph them. Her name is Alma, and she contracted polio when she was a little girl, so she uses crutches and wears special shoes. Still, she stands in the kitchen all day as cheerful as a person can be and talks up the visitors.
We had lunch at a hot spot for tourists who like Amish-land and then went home to read about Alma and her cooking. Really, I can't stand Amish food, but I liked the woman so much I had to buy her book.
Then today, we drove north about 15 or 20 minutes and toured the historical site of a separatist village from the 1800s. A group of Germans felt persecuted because they were mystical Christians, and their odd ways didn't go over so well in their homeland. So, they found their way to middle Ohio, bought forested land sight unseen, and moved in with practically nothing but the clothes on their backs. They built their community up from scratch, living communally so that no one owned anything, and everyone shared everything equally. If you were a tin smith, you provided tin items for everyone. If you were a baker, everyone ate their share of your bread. And if you wove fabric, everyone wore clothes made from your effort. I fantasize about living that sort of life.
They lived a celibate life at first because they could barely feed themselves, much less more children, but as they became more prosperous, they gave up that practice and let their numbers grow. They worked their garden together and traded with travelers who passed through on canal boats, and at one point, their communal value was worth $1 million. Keep in mind this is the mid-1800s, so they were obviously smart and industrious. The thing that killed them was when the travelers started showing off how much fun the rest of the world was having outside of the commune, and the younger separatists didn't want to be so separate anymore. After almost 100 years, the group finally agreed to disband.
In the center of their garden was a giant tree that represented Jesus, and twelve small junipers around the tree represented the disciples. Twelves paths lead away from the big tree so that the separatists could see that no matter where they were in the world, there was always a path to Jesus. When the group broke up, one of the members was so upset, he chopped down the Jesus tree. This garden has been recreated and is meticulously maintained by volunteers, and we got to walk through it on our way to an ingenious greenhouse devised by the separatists.
Fascinating stuff. Tonight, we watched a two-hour documentary on the life of Winston Churchill, which might have been dull had my mother not interjected her own personal memories of WW II. She has vivid memories of the family sitting around the radio and listening to news broadcasts of FDR and Churchill. She talked about how she registered young men in her town for the draft, including one of her brothers, and how she registered everyone else for the ration coupons. Everything from sugar to gasoline to shoes was rationed for the war effort, and she remembers being allowed only two pair of shoes a year.
Like I said, quite an educational mother visit. Here are some photos Eustacia took of the separatist village with my iPhone:
The garden as seen through one of he house windows. In the distance, you can see one of the volunteers who maintain it.
The greenhouse as seen from the gardener's attached house. In the 1800s, wealthy Clevelanders would send their tropical plants to the village by canal boat for storage through the winter.
One of the main buildings in the village—built with two layers of bricks with three inches of space between layers. They piped hot air into the space to heat the building; and in the summer, the space served as insulation against the heat.