I never dreamed I would end up in an Amish community. I love how this holiday has evolved, right from the beginning it has been driven by our desire to connect with friends and family outside of Australia, and of course see the world! This led us to Frank and Marilyn, who we had met on a bike and barge trip in France three years ago, and their wonderfully relaxing home at Spirit Lake, Iowa. For the first few days I literally had no idea where we were. We arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and quickly crossed into Iowa, leaving the big cities behind, through prairies planted with lush green corn as far as the eye could see. I had a very poor understanding of the geographical layout of the Midwest states, initially didn’t have a map, and with no internet connection, I was simply somewhere with complete faith that Marilyn and Frank would lead me to wherever I needed to be.
After Steven’s accident we needed to change our activities from biking and boating to reading on the veranda and car trips around the area. Our first stop was Okoboji, where we visited Abbie Gardner’s cabin, the site of a violent confrontation between European Settlers and Native Americans in 1856. The brief video did an excellent job of placing the confrontation in a historical context and explaining both the European and Native American perspectives. Abbie’s family were all killed in front of her and 13 year old Abbie was captured but released about six months later. Remarkably Abbie returned to Okoboji as an adult, purchased the cabin and ran it as a tourist attraction, charging visitors to look inside. She also forgave the Native Americans for the massacre and developed a lifelong respect for their culture. Sounds like she was quite a woman.
The four of us spent a night in Decorah, a town of 8,000 which had a large number of Norwegian settlers and is a centre for Norwegian-American culture. Marilyn is a member of P.E.O. a philanthropic women’s group who motivate and educate women through scholarships, grants, awards and loans. As part of their fundraising some of the members across the country open their homes for bed and breakfast to other members, and we spent a delightful night in the home of a PEO who was about 80 years old. She was vibrant, interested and interesting, shared her passion for books with us and was actively engaged in the community. I found her a wonderful role model for my later years.
When Marilyn suggested that we do an Amish tour in nearby Harmony, Minnesota, we jumped at the opportunity. What could be more fascinating than finding out about the quaint appearing Amish who choose to forgo modern technology?*
This means no electricity, no phones, no computers, no internet and no cars, therefore the tour was billed as where the “past comes to life”. The Amish sell handmade products from their small farms. The tour was a visit to their stores where products such as quilts, woodwork, baskets, jams and relishes were on sale. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see inside the houses or have meaningful discussions with the Amish, nonetheless it was a very interesting day out.
The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian Church fellowships, where community, not individualism, is the dominant practice. Large families are valued and children are educated in multi age, one classroom buildings until eighth grade, usually by an unmarried Amish woman who has had the same limited education. Some of the men work off the family farms in a variety of jobs for the “English”, as non-Amish are called, however the woman are only able to work out of their community as cleaners. I wish I could say that their simple clean living way of life resulted in healthy and hale looking people, but that’s not how it appeared to me with both the adults and children presenting as quite dower. It was a fascinating peek into a completely different way of life, but one that seemed unnecessarily hard to me.
Farewell Marilyn and Frank, and the cute little squirrels. Thank you for sharing your corner of the world with us. We look forward to you visiting us down under and will have the esky stocked with a couple of cold cans. Until then, don’t drop your daks in public and have a good poke nose when necessary.