I went on a tour of Amish and Mennonite farms yesterday, in Southern Maryland. Learned that the difference between the two is that the Amish felt that the Mennonites were moving away from the original tenants of their beliefs of simplicity in faith and lifestyle so broke away in 1693.
The Mennonites are tolerant of innovation, education and technology, feeling that they can be a positive influence. The Amish feel differently.
So riding through the lush green countryside, sniffling, sneezing violently and scratching at my eyes, I got to peek into their lives.
There were 14 of us with a woman who runs “tours to the Amish”. She’s loud, effusive, knowledgable and occasionally funny… all the qualities a good tour guide. She’s lived in this area her entire life and knows the Mennonite and Amish farmers personally. I think they tolerate she and her tours because they introduce potential customers to their produce stands, small shops and businesses. They handed us business cards and fliers when we left and encouraged us to return sometime…without her.
So stuff I learned about my new neighbors…who moved to the area in 1940 to buy old tobacco farms…I’ll give you information as randomly as the guide gave it to us….
1. Mennonites always drive black carriages. Amish always drive gray carriages…because they want to. If there’s a significance in the different colors she didn’t know what it was.
2. They are both Christians. They believe they should live simply in the manner of Christ, which is why they choose to live the way they do.
3.They don’t believe in infant baptism. They believe following Christ in all aspects of their lives is an adult decision.
4. They attend church every other Sunday in this area. The communities are so large they have to split it up…my guess is by alphabet.
5. The Mennonites have small churches, with horse parking garages. Their sermons last 3 hours and the person giving the sermon is chosen randomly that morning…”you…get up it’s your turn…make it a good one.”
6. The Amish meet in their homes…they take turns. Someone is in charge of the tables and benches and hauls them to the next house on the list.
7. On their Sunday off they visit neighbors, have picnics, play ball and enjoy the day.
8. Amish children speak only German the first 5 years of their lives. When they start school they learn English through classroom immersion. They are not allowed to talk to a stranger unless their parents give them permission. They won’t wave and they avert their eyes if you attempt to chat with them…the younger kids don’t understand us anyway. They’re really well-behaved, or so it seems to me, but I don’t live with them.
9. Teachers in Amish schools are young Amish girls…14 and up.
10. Amish children leave school at 14…they feel that any further knowledge will undermine their beliefs and is pointless.
11. Mennonite children attend Mennonite schools, but their education continues through high school. It depends on how progressive the family is rather the child attends a public university. There is a Mennonite University…somewhere.
12. Amish women marry as young as 15. If the match doesn’t work there’s no divorce…there is no infidelity…they suck it up. They can remarry if there is a death…(not going to comment)
13. The kids are seriously the cutest little things you have ever seen…personal observation.
14. Amish clothing is limited to blacks, browns, blues and some prints, but the leader of the local church gets to pick the colors the group wears. You have to hope he has good taste.
14. Amish women don’t have buttons or hooks on their clothes…they use straight pins. I could never be Amish. When the guide asked her Amish friends why the straight pins she was told that it makes sense…women’s shapes change…the pins make it easy to adjust the clothing. Men can have buttons. The buttons don’t match…they don’t care.
15. Amish men wear high waters. They do it on purpose, so their pant legs don’t brush the dirt and wear longer. They wear straw hats in summer, black felt in winter. Women wear white cotton caps when out. Little girls are given their caps and capes at 8 to wear out…fot modesty reasons.
16. Amish women never cut their hair, Amish men cut their hair like I did my son’s when they were small…bowl cut.
17. Amish men have uncut beards they grow after they get married. Mennonite men never have beards. Neither have mustaches…ever. It’s the mark of a warrior and they don’t believe in the trappings of war.
18. Amish and Mennonite do pay taxes, but do not pay into the social security system. They have SS cards for tax purposes, but don’t collect Social Security.
19. Neither group uses insurance…they pay for medical care with products and goods (in this area) and have a community fund to use if a member requires extensive care. No dental plan…They keep their old people at home…no extended care.
20. Their homes are sparten…they make the really beautiful furniture for us, but don’t need it in their homes.
21. There is a family here that just lost their home to a fire two weeks ago. The mother managed to get all the kids out, but didn’t get the dog or cat. The community just finished their new home…with some contributions of wood, windows and such from local businesses. Another family lost their home in a fire a few months back…the mom got all but one of her 13 children out. She and the kids have been in the hospital, the communities in the area are helping with the cost…rather amazing.
22. The Amish and Mennonite men wear their clothing loose to hide their amazing bodies…it’s a modesty thing. Because of the clothing we don’t know if they are lying about their bodies. Women wear their dresses just above their ankles and someone told all of them to wear black tennis shoes.
23. Amish kids make out and have parking spots. They have few incidences of pregnancy before marriage…but then they get married in their teens…good thing because they have lots of kids. They are allowed to go out at night and stay out for as long as they like. The flashlight is their best friend.
24. They shun. The length of the shunning depends on the cause, but it can last for years. The shunned person is allowed to live in the home and eat with the family, but no one passes them food or talks to them. I think THE MAN is shunning me…I threw out some old cinnamon rolls he wanted.
25. The Amish and Mennonites are the only ones in Maryland allowed to grow tobacco. They smoke…
26. They don’t like their picture taken..it’s a graven image thing.
27. They refer to us as English…just like in the movie “Witness”.
28. They bathe once a week…heating water is hard and time consuming. They don’t wear deodorant. I would bet the women don’t shave, but I didn’t ask.
29. The women wear big underwear…saw them on the clothes lines…no evidence of bras.
30. They all use out houses…and they have spiders in them.
There was more, but that’s as much as I could retain without making notes.
I felt weird driving down lanes, poking through barns and peering into their sheds. The residents were in the fields and they left notes saying to honk if you wanted to buy something. Some people went on the honor system…leaving a basket to put money in if you made a purchase.
They told us if they had a sign out they want us to stop by, but still it felt weird…the canned foods are amazing, the vegetables fresh and healthy, the goat cheese smells, the furniture is beautiful and the quilts are museum pieces.
I know a lot more about my neighbors, which is always good… and I know where to get fresh eggs. I have my eye on a table if I can find the farm again and I can tell if you are Mennonite or Amish when I see your carriage…I wish I knew why that was important.