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What are their joys and pains, roles, social and family life, work? The profiles of ten Amish women give a window into their lives.
1. I Was Once Amish 2. They Were My Grandmothers 3. She Is My Mother 4. She Likes Being Amish 5. Of Doughnuts and Children 6. Of Swiss Chalets and Amish Roots 7. Heaven Is of Great Interest 8. I Love My Community 9. I Am a Shepherdess 10. Of Mountain Homes and Amish Ways 11. I Am Glad to Have Been Amish About the Author
Excerpt from Chapter 4 She Likes Being Amish For me it is, quite literally, a drive down memory lane. The one-lane gravel path which I remember has been replaced by a smartly paved rural road. The farmstead, though, looks much as it always has. Even the old smokehouse, now missing its roof, still stands on the high bank above the house. During my childhood I had often come to this place-the home of one of my father's sisters and her family. As I drive into the farm lane, my cousin John, who now owns his father's farm, carries the youngest of his six children along the walkway from the barn toward the house. It is the same path where his younger brothers and I had often laughed and played, whiling away many hours of an Amish Sunday afternoon. When I meet him at the door, John opens his home with the same sincerity and warmth which I remember in his mother. I have come to visit with the woman who became John's wife. A woman whom I have admired and respected since the day we met. Susie and I sit by her kitchen table, sipping coffee and talking about the meaning of life while John returns to his woodshop in the barn. She has chosen a path quite different from the way chosen by most Amish women. She is a watercolor artist. In addition to her busy life as a wife and mother, she tries to find at least ten to fifteen hours a week for painting. Her studio is her kitchen table and several of her original watercolor paintings line the walls of her house. "I have always been creative. I remember coloring until I had calluses on my fingers when I was a child. In school I loved when the teacher asked us to do freehand drawings." From sixth to eighth grades, Susie's teacher was Anna Hurst. Also an artist, Anna taught Susie how to blend colors, how to do shadows, and how to work with tempera. "She awakened my spirit." Then at the end of Susie's last year in school, Anna gave her an elaborate watercolor paint set. Susie's eyes glow and she gestures warmly, "I remember thinking she knew exactly what I wanted." As a teenager, Susie drew and painted in her spare time. It seemed, though, that her sensibilities as an Amish young person provided little room for the idea that she might be an artist. Painting became a secondary interest, but the passion never left. In the early years of their marriage, she and John were caught up in their new life together. They were young and trying to make a living on his father's farm. They worked hard and long hours. Susie helped in the fields. They got up every morning before the sun to milk their large herd of Holsteins. There was precious little extra time. "Today I sometimes wonder why I didn't paint during those years, rather than waiting until we had the children." John and Susie were married nine years before they had children. She notes reflectively that perhaps she needed the children to give her the sense of personal fulfillment required to sustain her life as an artist. As she speaks about her hopes for each child, Susie again becomes thoughtful, "I am happy with what each of my children is right now. Why wait until they are grown to see what they will become? Each one of my children is a whole and complete person right now. Too many of us think if we just have one more thing, we will be happy. This I try to instill in my children-to be content with what they have. To be themselves right now." "This is also how I feel about myself, even as an artist. The point is not to become great; the point is to keep learning and growing-yes-but also to be who I am now. And to be content." That is the great passion of Susie's life. To be content with who she is as an artist. While the Amish church has never said she should not paint Susie has had intense personal struggles, juggling her gifts with her responsibilities. Her family. Her husband. Her home. Her community. I tell Susie that I think she would be exactly the same person even if she were not Amish. For a moment, she agrees. Then she shakes her head vigorously, "No." With deep conviction, she explains herself, "As you know, we Amish are not perfect. All the elements of life which are morally wrong are present in our society. We are not free of any human problem." Then Susie's voice changes and she looks full into my eyes. It is her abiding personal faith in the central truths of Amish understandings which holds her life together. It is her strong belief in the centrality of community and family which provides safety and satisfaction. It is her hope in the Amish way which makes her world complete. A woman of deep intuition and striking intelligence, Susie turns to me as I prepare to leave. "I like being Amish" she says. Copyright permission by Good Books