It was sometime in 1934 when my father drove up to Arthur, Illinois, with Doc Sheare of the Decatur Herald & Review in the front seat and I was 4 and in the back seat. Amish houses do not face the highway but toward the barns.
There was the oldest Lee sister standing at the gate looking at my father and I remember her saying, “I see you brought that newspaper reporter with you. Well, the Elders weren’t happy but come in. We got the money and saved the farm.”
The Lee sisters were five girls, orphaned when their parents died on crossing the Atlantic to immigrate to America. The crossing was more difficult than you could imagine and thousands died, leaving their children orphans. There would be an orphan train that they would be put on that would cross America and stop at towns where people wanting a child could come and adopt a child. There was an Amish couple that went to the orphan train that stopped in Arthur and they picked out one of the Lee sisters to adopt. But they had all agreed that they would not be separated and would stay together, so she refused to be adopted unless all five were adopted, and the Amish couple agreed.
One thing about Amish is their lack of bigotry. There is no prejudice against any race. All life is sacred to them and they will not serve in any military where they would be taught to kill, and that is that. The Lee sisters probably were reared in the Catholic faith but they found the Amish ways with peace and no war to their liking. They made good Amish girls, making their own dresses, learned the cooking, and lived without electricity. But after their adopted parents passed on, they inherited the farm and borrowed some money using the farm for collateral and the bank was going to foreclose. There is no heart to bankers. That’s the way they make their living. Like the undertaker in a town, they would have the largest and most opulent looking house.
Anyway, they were happy that someone read the story that Doc Sheare wrote and loaned them the money. My father explained to me that there were people who would invest in bonds that were more secure than stocks and shares or property and that was the way he would take Doc around to write up stories like the Lee sisters. And Doc’s stories saved quite a few. The government also offered loans through a local ward heeler, but they would ask for a kick-back of $500.
But once inside the house, the sisters invited Papa and Doc for an evening meal and I remember the night we all came to dinner. Chicken, ham, potatoes, a buffet to say, with yellow candle light and kerosene lamps lighting the room. It was really lovely.
My father knew many of the Amish as they would buy his purebred Jersey cows, calves, and bulls that Papa raised. They were high milk producers and the quality is high, with butterfat content from 6 to 8 percent. While a big Holstein could produce more milk, it also consumed more hay and grain, but the milk was thin as water, as Papa would say. Jersey milk made the best ice cream, butter, cottage cheese.
I have always had this love and respect for the Amish. They take care of their own. Don’t plan on government subsidies, pensions, Social Security, and keep to the old, no cars, electricity, running water, tractors or trucks. I was wanting to buy some cabinets for a house I built and it was either Graber’s lumberyard or the cabinet store in Arthur that told me to visit this Amish woodworker. I got the directions to his home and drove there. He was most genial and open and show me his workshop.
I was amazed. No electricity, but a long wooden crankshaft I guess you would call it, and long wide belts he would flip onto this rotating shaft and you had a saw, drill, lathe, wood sander, anything you would like, but no electricity. When I asked what drove the rotating shaft, he took me outside and showed me his wind mill; he knew the speed he needed and likes to work with.
I think the Amish have the answer to life. There is no spite that tries to take revenge, or narcissism that will destroy anyone who will not recognize their superiority. No war, no killing, and no sociopaths or psychopaths amount them. No guns, no rifles, no security needed as none of them will ever steal. Never a complaint or critical talk of anyone. No politics as they do not vote. A psychologist or psychiatrist would go broke as no one has any psychological problems.
Around the age of 18 or 19, the young people have a choice. For one year, they can work and live outside the community to decide if they want to stay or leave the community. They do have affiliated Amish that can and do buy cars and tractors. There are also colleges from affiliated Amish groups.
I love the weed-free gardens as I drive by their homes. No chemicals, pesticides, or whatever. Sounds like heaven on Earth, but I could never join. For one thing, I might have to kill a chicken or have a cow or pig slaughtered for my family. My mother would have me kill chickens for her and I didn’t like it. Loved fried chicken and did eat chicken and fish.
I like their attitude about race. I grew up without any bias against any race. I met Zohra Washington in Washington, D.C. back in 1961. Washington still was color conscious and Virginia still had black and white schools and there were all black cinemas. J. Edgar Hoover wouldn’t hire Afro-Americans. But I dated Zohra and we went to regular movies. After all, she was a direct descendant of President George Washington from both her mother and father. So some people would see us in a cinema and take down my license plate and that was America before Jack and Bobby Kennedy enforced civil rights. Civil rights were in the Constitution but never enforced by any president.
The Amish in Honduras accepted this beautiful ebony colored Honduran girl who wore her bonnet and showed every bit that she was Amish just like the Italians who nominated a girl of African descent who was Miss Italy in a Miss World Pageant.