Vol. I, No. 3
In my last blog entry, Growing Up Pennsylvania Dutch, I recounted how I briefly had met the Amish through buying consumer goods. In my mid-twenties, I became aware of the Amish Country’s incredible beauty contrasted with my nine-to-five work environment in Center City Philadelphia. So I decided to take a vacation to Amish Country. That decision, and what lay ahead of me, changed my life.
After flying over Lancaster County many times just to get home to Philadelphia, I saw such a beautiful quilt-like patchwork of fields, and I knew that I wanted a close-up experience. Balloon rides are a standard offering in the tourist trade here, and I booked one. As I met the balloonist and his staff that evening, he told me he was on the fence about whether to go. He had clocked seven mile-per-hour winds and felt that it might get bumpy. Of course, I wanted to go, and he acquiesced.
Once we got in the air, a whole new world opened up to me! The beauty of the last hours of daylight cast its angled, golden glow on the fields, barns, homes, and windmills. I shrunk from the first blast of hot air when he pulled the cord to raise our elevation- I thought it might singe my eyebrows! But I got used to it.
It was so very silent up there. When we floated over a group of small Amish boys playing softball, I don’t know what came over me. I felt compelled to yell down, “Hey! How are you?” After all, they were already looking up- balloons are quite an exciting thing here despite their frequency. I was stunned when a boy replied, “Hi, we’re fine!” I had no idea that sound traveled vertically so well.
Finally, it came time to land. The balloonist prepared me for a hard landing because of the crosswinds on the ground. As we came down, it all happened so fast. Looming large just ahead of us was a small home. We came down past the far corner of the roof, and lo! A horse appeared, reared up on his hind legs, and we continued past. All of a sudden a field of hay bales became just about the biggest thing I’d ever seen. We –thunk!—skidded—thunk!—across a few bales, and boom! The balloon basket fell over on its side.
My body ached all over as my stunned mind realized what had just happened. As I struggled to my feet, I heard voices and realized that a group of ten to twelve Amish young people, ranging from about toddler-size to a 16-year-old, were now talking to the balloonist. I got up, dusted myself off, and realized that they were just as curious about us as we were about them. I asked where we were, and they replied Bird-in-Hand. They started to ask questions about the trip. I looked around and fell in love that night- with the Amish culture. Imagine the sun, low on the horizon, giving a golden glow to a fertile green valley, dotted with 80-acre farms. White windmills turned gently, corn and alfalfa sprouted as far as the eye could see, and cows grazed quietly nearby. I had discovered Utopia.
My friendly rescuers wore vibrantly colored dresses and shirts with black pants or aprons and pinafores. They helped the staff put away the balloon—it’s a big feat—and as I parted ways with them—ever so reluctantly!--I noticed a roadside stand beside their farm. It was closed because of the hour. I decided then that, no matter what they were selling, I would return the next day. I had to be a part of this. The following day, I kept my resolution and returned. Two little girls, ages 8 and 10, were minding the stand. “Look!” exclaimed the older girl, “It's the balloon lady!”
For six months, I visited that stand and bonded with the two girls. I just had to keep interacting with them. Then, on my birthday in December, my mother and I were invited inside to meet their mother. I became a regular fixture around the home on the weekends, washing a dish occasionally, telling many stories, learning many facets of the Amish culture, and learning their Pennsylvania Dutch dialect.
I have stayed close to that family, and honestly believe that Providence, God, whatever Higher Power you may hold dear, brought me to them. Since then, I’ve married, my husband and I moved to Lancaster County, and we started a business, Almost Amish, that sells Amish-made quality items.
Twenty-two years after my balloon accident, the Amish man whose children came to rescue us amidst the hay bales now has thirteen children and forty-six (I think) grandchildren. We've attended each other's weddings and shared each other's sorrows. The girls from the roadside stand are now wives and mothers, with growing families of their own. The older of the two girls has moved with her family out of the area, but Ken and I are very close to the younger girl. We jokingly refer to her as our “Amish daughter” and her children as our “Amish grandchildren.” I will write much more about her and her family in entries to come.
So now you know how I wound up in Lancaster County, first as a tourist, and finally as a transplant. And if you choose to follow my blog, as I hope you will, you will learn much more about my adopted family, and my experiences with the Amish.
NEXT TIME: AN AMISH CHRISTMAS