Chapter Three: Green Beans & Amish Bonnets

The garden was in and the little family waited to see signs of growth.  Everyday the children would run out to check for green beans to pick.  Daddy was out every evening tending and weeding that big garden.  Living next to some low land, the mosquitoes would swarm out as the sun went down.  It was a deafening hum—the kind that made you anxious about going outdoors.   Daddy was brave to work out there as he was literally eaten alive.  He would hoe and prop the ever growing vines up so they would bring forth fruits to harvest.  Soon came the day they had all waited for.

“Daddy!   I picked a bean and I ate it,” Smiled Miles.  “There are tons of beans out there! Come on, lets pick em!”

It’s funny how a child can find one bean and say there are tons when in reality, there were a handful or so.  But all the same, it was exciting.  The little family had officially grew some hearty green beans and it was a thrill.  Mamma knew that soon there would be too many to just eat fresh.  Once you see that first bean, well, before you know it, there are tons and you better be ready to pick them.  They will keep producing more and more the more you pick.  Within a week, the bushes and poles were full of beans.

One hot summer day, Mamma took her children out to the garden for picking green beans.  Mamma just hated going out early in the morning or late in the evening when the mosquitoes  were out.  The only other option was to go in the heat of the day.  It was so hot and humid that it was making their hair curl in a hundred different directions.  The children had tiny wet curls all over their little heads as they helped Mamma in the garden, pulling beans from the vine.  Their white blonde reflected the sunshine until they looked like little light bulbs running about.  ​

Mamma stuck baby Megan in a stroller so the rest of them could work hard.  A baby can only appreciate so much as they peer out a non moving seat.  As you can imagine, there is only so much time that a Mamma has before the inanimate stroller becomes a wild frenzy of screams from boredom.  Sitting in the dirt with their arms stuck in between the scratchy vines, they pulled and pulled.  Snap, snap, snap.  Molly and Miles soon got distracted with baby chicks and kittens so Mamma was left to herself in that big web of vines.  She knew that the few minutes of picking would have to be enough for the little ones, and soon the contented baby would begin her fuss, unless she came up with a game that would cause the children to regain more interest.

“Children,” Mamma hollered since they were already out of sight.  She crawled out of the cluster of vines, brushing the dirt from her dress, to take a look across the barnyard for clues to where they could be.  As she took in a deep breath from the overwhelming heat, Mamma bent down to pull off a vine.  Out of habit, she shook the green leafy tendril in front of the baby, for she knew, that a baby needs something to touch and experience if they are to remain contented.  As her mouth opened wide, Megan’s tiny hands trembled with excitement grabbing for the vine.  Since the baby was busy again, Mamma turned her focus back to the barnyard,  “Children!”  As Miles and Molly came running toward, she said with a twinkle in her eye, “Would you like to play a game?”

“Yes, Mamma!” Miles said with enthusiasm.

“Okay…let’s see who can pick the most beans.  Here is a bucket for you, Miles,” Handing him an empty bucket, “And one for you, little girl.”

That was that.  The game began and whole vines were being yanked off in a whirlwind of competition.  Of course, Miles was a bit more motivated due to being a boy and you know how boys like to win, win, win.   Mamma sat there with a smile on her face and a giggle in her breath as she watched the children enjoy the garden game.  ​

On Saturdays, Daddy would get the back hoe and continue to clear out the rubble that surrounded the little homestead.  That big yellow piece of machinery was of great interest to little Miles.  Every time the key would turn to reveal that loud thunderous growl, Miles would be racing out to help drive it! And daddy loves teaching Miles to be a man! Gruff, ruff, ruff, goes the engine and the digging begins.

Days passed and beans were cut up and put in freezer bags to be kept frozen for use in the coming months.  More and more she was feeling like a pioneer woman.

​There was still a longing in Mamma’s heart.  A longing to have a family cow.  She did not know how or where to find one, but she knew that she wanted a small one.  As she drove across the countryside, she would see big black and white cows.  Holstein cows are in no shortage there in Wisconsin.  The country is peppered with big dairy farms filled with hundreds of Holstein cows that weigh over a thousand pounds.  Mamma figured she would be crushed by one bump from a cow that size if she were to milk by hand.

One sun shiny day, as Mamma gathered the children into the van for a country ride looking at cows, she noticed it was time to fuel up.  All the children had to be hauled into the small gas station just to pay at the counter which can be a project in itself.  As they piled into the shop, there was a man, a tall lanky man standing off in a corner.  He had a beard, a straw hat, and he looked to be Amish.  That was the first time Mamma saw a real Amish person, for she had no idea they lived in Wisconsin, much less, that they would be in a shop near her home.   Or, heavens, what would an Amish be doing in a fueling station? Her heart was racing as she approached the unsuspecting man.

“Are you Amish?” Mamma asked quickly as she tapped him on the shoulder.

“Yes, I am,” he said as he grabbed his long beard and looked at Mamma standing there.

“Where can I find a family cow? A Jersey cow?” She stammered, “You know, for hand milking?”

“I don’t know, but if you drive about 15 miles North of here, there is an Amish store.  Follow the signs.  You can’t miss it.  They just might know where to find one.”  He said in a hurry as he rushed out the door to get back to his job.

An Amish store?  Really?  She could hardly believe it.  That was the most incredible news.  She packed the kids back into their seats and followed the signs to the Amish store he told her about.  Well, there were two Amish stores at the time, and the first sign said “Miller’s Bulk Foods”.  That had to be the one he was talking about.  Mamma unloaded the children and walked into the store.  The sound of the little bell ringing brought a thrill to her heart.  I guess it transported her into a different world.  She looked across the tiny store to see bags of flour, beans, stacks of rices, noodles, and candy.  Isle after glorious isle, she touched the sacks of food, hoping she had enough money to buy a couple things to make this trip worth her time.  Thoughts swirled around in her mind as the children started pulling things off the shelves.  The bell rang again, announcing someone’s entrance to the store.  Mamma peered through the bags of flour to see the most wonderful site.  It was an Amish woman!  She had a blue dress with a white apron tied around her rounded figure, a white bonnet covering her wispy grey hair, and a pair of glasses fixed on her round, cheerful face.

“Well, hello!  My name is Katie! Katie Miller,” the woman said with utter joy.

“So nice to meet you, Katie!  My name is Erin, and I have three children,” Mamma said as she gathered them proudly at her side while adjusting the baby higher on her hip. “I just love your store.  I have waited my whole life to see a store like this!”

“Welcome to our store.  Do you where dresses all the time?” Katie said as she noticed Mamma’s long drab jumper.  Just an old thrift store rag of a dress.

“Yes, I do.  I guess I try to dress more like a lady,” Mamma continued, “I used to wear pants all the time, but I kinda thought it would be fun to wear dresses like the women used to a hundred years ago.  I like old fashioned things!”  Mamma said with a sense of pride, since most people she knew thought she was over the top for dressing that way.  It was not a popular way to dress in those days.

Katie smiled, “Do you do it to please the Lord?”

“Well, I guess so…” Mamma said half heartedly for it was all that popped out of her mouth with such a bold question.  Mamma tried to figure out what to say since I guess she never considered it anything but defiance against the ever changing culture she found herself in.

Katie grabbed her arm and pulled her into her home this time.  The children scurried close behind.  The home was dark and drab, panelling on the walls with linoleum flooring.  Not what she pictured an Amish home to be.  In her mind, she saw hard wood floors, wooden rockers, kerosene lamps, and white walls.  Maybe a row of hooks that held black hats and coats.  You know, just like you see on Amish calendars and postcards.  Instead there were big, fake leather chairs and sofas covered in big, colorful blankets and towels, plastic toys strewn all over the floor and piles of books.  It was a disappointment at first, but mamma was excited to be “in” an Amish home.

They sat and visited for hours, until Katie convinced Mamma that she should wear a head covering if she wanted to please the Lord even more.  A head covering for the Amish is a thin, hand sewn and pressed white bonnet with strings that hang down the
front of the dress.  Mamma, being as teachable as she was, embraced the idea that very minute.  Katie fetched her youngest daughter Rosie to find her a proper covering.  Rosie was about seventeen years old with dark brown hair and rosy cheeks to match the name.  Her slender figure wrapped with a polyester, drab-colored, blue dress was all cinched at the waist with a white apron.  Quickly they fitted Mamma with the white bonnet and because it was so stiff, it slipped off soon after.

“Oh, my!” Katie said, “Rosie, gep mich und schpel funs Erin.” (In Pennsylvania Dutch, this means: Rosie, get me a pin for Erin.) Half the time the Amish will speak in English and the other half they speak in Dutch.  Some words sound like our words that have been “dutchified”.  Like the word snack, for instance.  They would say “snacka”.  Rosie pulled two pins from her dress, as they use them to close their dresses instead of buttons.  Buttons are only for little girls who can not handle the sharpness of the pins.  Rosie grabbed Mamma’s head with the bonnet on and shoved a pin on both sides, quilting it into her hair.  Now that the bonnet was fastened to Mamma’s head, Katie started to jump and cry for joy, “Oh, how the angels in heaven rejoice! For what was lost is now found!”

Mamma saw the tears stream down Katie’s glowing cheeks, and it thrilled her heart to know she would be one of them from now on.  It was like a new beginning.  She had a place to call home, a new family to visit, and a whole new world to discover.  Even though Mamma knew that the bonnet on her head did not save her soul, she sure enjoyed every minute of the new friendship and the acceptance it brought.

Oh, the cow?  Well, that will come later.  For now, Mamma and the kids drove back home, bonnet and all.  In the whirlwind of excitement, Mamma just simply forgot about why she journeyed so far from home in the first place.  When Daddy walked up the stairs after a long day of work, he had to look twice at mamma, for he never saw anything like that before.

“Why do you have an ice-cream pail on your head?” He asked with sincerity and a half hearted smile.

“It’s a head covering!  1 Corinthian chapter 11 talks about it,” Mamma went on, “By the way, I met the Amish today!”

Daddy giggled with her and said, “Take off that pail and give me a kiss!”

That would not be the end of that “pail”, for mamma found something that would bridge the gap between two worlds.  The modern world and the world of the plain folk.  And the rest of the world would find that strange enough.

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