That summer was filled with trips to Amishland. Mamma had always found a reason, whether it was a sack of raisins she needed for a batch of cookies, or a sack of flour for baking fresh bread at home, she would pack up her load of children and make the 20 mile trek from home.”Miles,” Mamma said with fervent glee, “We need some noodles!” Her face beamed and the smile could not be hidden. Miles beamed right back, “Amishland!” They knew it would mean a full day of adventure for them.
“Pretty dress!” Molly said as she wiggled her head through the opening of her pink flowered dress. Mamma was gently sliding the dress over her little arms and buttoning up the long row of buttons that followed up her back. Getting ready for a day with the Amish seemed to be filled with much activity. Meggy was propped up into the corner of the old flowered sofa mamma covered the year before. Molly would climb up to read her baby sister a book. “Birdies. Meggy, see. Birdies,” Molly would say as if she were actually reading the picture book and Meggy looked at the pictures as if every word spoken was written on the pages.
The morning sun shone over the hard wood floors and Mamma set the baby on the floor to feel its warmth on her little legs. Megan would creep and crawl over the floor while Mamma would tie shoe laces and fix collars until it was her turn to get fixed up. Meggy would find little Japanese beetles that were getting in around the untrimmed windows. Those pesky beetles were in no short supply.“Yucky!” Mamma would say as she would take another beetle out of her mouth, as she would study the other beetle that was held between her little fingers. Soon Mamma grabbed her up from the hot summer floor, pulled a cotton dress over her head and poked her little arms one by one through the little arm holes. By now, Molly and Miles where racing around in circles awaiting the last bit of their morning dressing session. Mamma grabbed her white bonnet and clipped it to her head with a couple bobby pins. After the response she had received when she first put it on, Mamma was thinking she better wear it.
Mamma was standing with Megan at the hip, and like little ducks, the other two followed her out of the house and into the van. After strapping them in their car seats, they were headed down the road. The bright sun came through the trees as they journeyed up the old 47 to Bonduel and it was like a strobe light. It flickered and flashed and the children would blink their eyes to accept it.
The rolling hills that were peppered with black and white holstein cows were also home to the occasional sightings of deer, and many geese. As they turned on the lane that was lined with Amish farms, they passed a big black buggy on the right. “Look, children!” Mamma yelled, “A buggy!” All they could see were a set of eyes peering through the envelope sized window on the side of the buggy. It was mysterious in a way, as they wondered what those eyes were thinking as they caught ours in passing. Were they on their way to school or better yet, were they on their way to the same store? Mamma’s heart pounded with anticipation.
They followed the lane until it curved to the old Amish store. The slowing of the wheels made a dull sound of gravel being crunched under the weight of the van and they knew they were there. One by one, Mamma unbuckled Miles and Molly who jumped from the van while she worked to free the baby. Katie saw the van from afar off rolling down the lane, so the creak of the door and the chime of the bell announced her greeting. Katie had a smile on her face, pushing the round cheeks up around her eyes and Mamma mirrored that smile. It felt like she was home.
Katie was extra excited because she had big project for the day—canning corn! “Oh, can we help?!!!” Mamma desperately pleaded, “I really want to learn!”
“Alright! Let’s get started,” Katie said in sheer gratitude, “I just picked the last cob this forenoon,” as they looked upon the enormous piles of green husk covered cobs with brown puffs of hair billowing out the tops. Mamma gathered Miles and Molly from the fence where they were looking out at the horses through and brought them over to the pile of corn that needed husking. Just then, Rosie came out with a stack of large shining metal bowls. She greeted each of the children with a hug and smile as she always did.
“Okay,” Mamma said as she endeavored to teach her little ones how to help, “See here, you just pull this side down and then the other.” With wide open eyes, Miles and Molly each grabbed a cob and started pulling the husks off one by one. It was sweet corn, and the hairs were sticking to their little fingers and occasionally they would touch their face and soon enough you would see the silky hairs hanging from their cheeks. That did not seem to phase the two little helpers as they picked one cob after the other standing in our little clutch. Mamma gave pieces of the husk to Meggy as she sat in her seat under the old shade tree. She seemed to keep busy pulling strands of the tiny sticky hairs that clung to her fingers.
Rosie was on the left and Katie on the right of Mamma, sitting on chairs under the shade of the big tree. The breeze was heavenly. It was a subtle cool breeze that gave relief from the heat of the sun. They could hear the birds chattering above in the limbs of the tree. Everything seemed to slow down as they were transported to a different time where time just didn’t matter as much as the work that needed doing. Katie just talked and talked of her married children. Verna, Mary, Jacob, Sam, and Elsie. Michael and Rosie were the only two still at home. Mary had the old harness shop in the community. Verna was on a dairy farm nearby. Jacob lived in Indiana. Sam was in Montana. Elsie was her oldest daughter who lived on the other side of Amish town. She had a dairy farm and a row of little ones that would follow out for chore time. Two of her children were in school. They attended a one room school house.
“Elsie is a good seamstress. She can teach you to sew if you would like to learn how to make your own dresses,” Katie said with pride. Oh, how Mamma wanted every piece of that lifestyle and sewing clothing would be the next step.
“I would like to learn!” Mamma returned. It was everything she had ever dreamed of—learning from other women, how to can, bake, cook, and even sew!
Rosie immediately bounced out of her chair and into the house and returned quickly with a white cloth in her hand. “I made this apron for you,” she said as she began to fit it on Mamma. “I remember you telling me the kind you liked, does it suit you?” Mamma pulled the strap around her neck and professed, “Oh, yes, it truly is exactly what I had envisioned. What a meaningful gift, thank you so very much,” Mamma said gratefully. With a spring in her posture, Mamma worked with her new apron on and the experience seemed a bit more authentic.
After all the cobs were cleaned off, they marched into the dark kitchen with metal bowls in hand and golden cobs stacked high above the rims. As they sat around the table, Rosie opened a squeaky drawer and grabbed several small knives for cutting the corn off the cobs. Miles and Molly found their way to the plastic toys that were strewn in the room beside the kitchen and you could hear gentle sounds of feet, sliding toys separated with sounds of excited squeals and laughter. These are the kind of sounds that tell mothers that everything is well.
The three ladies sat there in the dark cutting corn for hours, filling more metal bowls with golden kernels. The more they would scrape, the more juices would flow and sticky kernels were everywhere but Mamma was in her element. There was no other place on earth that seemed quite as serene and beautiful even though her hands were tired from holding hundreds of cobs and nearly breaking from the force of a knife rolling down each side. It wasn’t the atmosphere of the dim and dark room that held her heart, it was the feeling of being in different age. The age of community life, the one she read about in story books of country folk that lived life as kinfolk and neighbors working together for the common good. She pondered life in a whole new way as if that was what she was created for. Something that had been lost was now found and reclaimed.
A simple lunch was served. Noodles, corn, bread, pie, jello, and cake. A typical Amish meal graced the table with a stack of plastic bowls and a pile of spoons. Melvin came in from the store and he quickly said in their simple language, “Purty saya!” Which means stay pretty, but what they really mean is, prayer time. And with prayer time all is completely silent as they bow their heads in gratitude. Ever so quiet, you could only hear the sound of the clock ticking and
with wind blowing in from the small window that was above the sink. Mamma looked around waiting for a prayer to no avail. No audible prayer, just quiet. She was learning their ways, so she quietly was taking notes in her mind what the proper etiquette was in an Amish home, and this was just the way it was. She accepted it. The prayer was ended with Melvin clearing his throat to let the others know that it was time to eat.
Mamma made a small plate for each of the kids and then fixed a plate for herself. She was a bit bewildered at the amount of starchy foods and sugar provided. But all the same she was thankful to be there, so she would not question the ever mounting piles of sugar the kids would consume that day. Mealtime was always the time that Meggy would fuss for she wanted her portion so Mamma took her from the high chair and began to nurse her as her baby blue eyes became heavy, looking back to her mother. She laid the baby down in the other room on top of a beautiful hand sewn quilt. Bellies full, the little children ran back to their play in the other room.
The jars were filled to the neck with corn, water, salt, and some kind of canning acid to keep it fresh tasting. Canners were set to boil and steam filled the hot, dark room. It looked like a cloud was forming and with the darkness one would expect rain to fall, but nothing of the sort happened, of course. You could smell the corn cooking and the sound of jars rumbling in the rolling boil of the water. Mamma thought for a moment about time for it was surely standing still in her mind. The clock struck four and she soon came back to reality and that soon daddy would arrive home and she needed to make sure their was a meal at the table for the family.
Off they went in the van for the 20 mile trek home. As Mamma drove down the road she smiled for she had found what seemed to be to her at the time, a hidden treasure and her ticket in was the cap upon her head with the will to work hard. And hard work was no no foreign language to this growing family. As soon as they arrived home, Mamma took the children out to their own garden to pluck the ears off their own corn stalks.
Miles conquered the stalks like boys do, “Here’s another big old ear, Mamma,” as he launched each ear clear across the beans and passed the row of peppers. Molly just heaved and pulled, yet her strength could not pluck the ear away so Mamma came to help wiggle it free like a tooth.
Even before daddy came home, the little corn husking team sat there and ripped the outer layers until the golden corn cobs toppled over the rim of their metal bowl. Everything that was learned earlier that day was applied and the family enjoyed corn on the cob for supper that evening. Daddy sat there and began to see his little wife in a brand new light as he could see the fervor in her spirit. Buttered and salted cobs were chiseled away. Kids with greasy hands and kernel littered smiles, it was a happy evening on the little homestead. He and Mamma talked over a table full of cobs long after the children were tucked into their beds for the night. The remaining corn was cut from the cobs and frozen.And the remaining days of summer were filled with a plentiful harvest. God supplied the life to the vines and Mamma enjoyed sharing with family and neighbors the fruits that came from their labor. She was learning the art of community life.