What It's Like to Be Amish

What It's Like to Be Amish

by Sam S. Stoltzfus


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Sam S. Stoltzfus spills over with stories that are centered in the Amish community where he has belonged since childhood. Told completely from inside the Old Order Amish world, Sam’s 33 stories cover amazing ground, including: the hazards of driving a horse and buggy on public roads on a dark night; the drama of a bank robber hiding in Amish country; the process of “going in with the boys," or being old enough to sit with his peers during church; the hard work of rebuilding after barn fires; the adventure of three inexperienced Amish cousins building a traffic-worthy bridge on an uncle’s farm; and more. Now a grandfather, Sam Stoltzfus tells the truth, and gives just enough background so a reader from outside the Amish community can understand what’s happening, and its significance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781947597020
Publisher: Walnut Street Books
Publication date: 09/01/2018
Pages: 206
Sales rank: 811,956
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Sam Stoltzfus and his wife Katie live in eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, on a 40-acre dairy farm. They have nine adult children. Sam operates a shed and gazebo business and also processes horseradish to sell. His hobbies include writing a column for an Amish publication and keeping up with local and Amish history.

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Going In With the Boys

Back in the summer of 1951, when I was eight years old and life seemed large and wondrous, a big event was coming up in my small boy's world: "Going in with the boys." In our Amish church services, this first happens usually when Amish boys turn nine.

We closely follow a routine for entering the house or barn where the church service will be held. At about 8:00 in the morning, the ministers walk in according to when they were ordained. They're typically followed by visitors (the men who are present but don't live in our district), and then come the married men, also by age, all walking in single file. The men usually sit on one side and the women on the other side.

Then the haus doddy, the man whose family is hosting church that day, comes outside at about 8:00 or so and tells the boys to get ready to go in to the house or barn. The boys always shake hands with the ministers and then sit on benches, usually behind the ministers. In our district in 1951 there were approximately 45 boys, so it took three to five minutes for all of the boys to enter, shake hands, and be seated. The service begins when someone announces the first hymn.

Going in with the boys is a big ritual in our Amish world. It is the first rite of passage between boyhood and being nearly an adult. The next big step is turning 16 and getting our own horse and buggy. Somewhat similar to the first day of school as a first-grader, going in with the boys is a big milestone.

In 1951, my cousin Johnny had been going in with the big boys for over a year already. His brother Chester was a bit younger than me, and we both hoped that our time would soon come. We were double cousins — our fathers were brothers, and our mothers were sisters — so our genes were maybe about the same. Every Sunday morning, we'd watch with near envy as the boys were going in, looking so big and important.

My mother's stipulation

But there was one big task I had to do first. My mother insisted that I had to memorize the "Lobelied" (Hymn of Praise), the 28-line hymn which is always the second hymn sung at Amish church services. This felt like a big task for an eight-year-old with lots of other things to read. I had learned several small prayers and the Lord's Prayer before this, but the "Lobelied" was harder. There were four verses with seven lines each, all in High German. I recall saying it again and again, a verse at a time, often stumbling over a word or two. Mam would praise me, but frown if I missed a word.

All through August I worked hard, but try as I might, I didn't quite know every line by my ninth birthday on September 8th, so Mam said I would not go in with the boys. That following Sunday when we had church, I felt rather disturbed. All the church boys knew when my birthday was, and they all wondered why I didn't go in with them. Most likely, as any small boy would, I thought Mam would allow me to go in with the boys even if I didn't quite know the "Lobelied," but she didn't permit any shortcuts. One of my church buddies, Samuel Beiler, turned nine on September 23, and he was allowed to go in with the boys, even if he didn't know the "Lobelied."

So it was study more and recite more and more "O Gott Vater wir loben Dich" and all that followed, until finally I could say the 28 lines without missing a syllable. Mam smiled and said, "Now you may go in with the boys."

Also at age nine, boys got low shoes and a telescoped hat. I recall how special I felt with my new shiny shoes and my new hat as I got ready to go in with the boys.

Watching the big boys

I don't recall where church was that day, but I remember that I walked there, first going out the back field lane to my cousin's farm, carrying my shoes so they wouldn't get dusty. At my cousin's place, I put on my shiny, black patent leather shoes, and then we walked across their meadow and over the Pequea Creek on a creaky foot bridge. We were a foursome — 10-year-old Johnny, eight-year-old Chester, seven-year-old Sam I., and me. We walked up Paradise Lane to the farm where church was being held and stood by the barn hill, watching the big boys — those over 16 — drive in with their horses and buggies. We always knew who had the fastest horse and which harness was the fanciest.

Finally at 8:00 or so, the farm's owner came and said, "Get ready to go in."

The big boys would comb their hair, one holding the mirror while another combed. A comb and mirror were prized possessions. We'd all use the "rest room" (a nearby horse stall or corner in the barn) and then we were ready. Soon after 8:00, the farmer would come and lead us in.

Mam made sure I understood that I should shake hands just with the ministers, the ones with their hats on, and not all of the older men. The men who were not ordained would remove their hats when the boys came in; the ministers took their hats off when all the boy were seated and the hymn was announced. We boys put our hats on the empty benches or in a nearby shed.

I well recall how good it felt to walk in with the boys that first time. I remember shaking hands with the ministers. They looked so reverent with their hats on — Amos U. with his old, wise face; Ephraim, who always had a smile; Uncle Sylvan looking so kind; Deacon Aaron who was last and had such twinkling eyes. Finally, we boys were all seated on the pine benches. I was the next to last one. Someone announced the first hymn, and the service started.

There we sat, Sammy Beiler and me, holding the Ausbund hymnbook. When the "Lobelied" was started, I helped along with the lines. All forenoon we had to sit still and listen to the preacher. Most likely the text was John 3. Mam had warned me that if I didn't behave, I'd have to sit with her. I recall it happened once or so!

Amish boys go in with the boys till they move into their own homes. Weddings are usually held in late fall, and then in the spring, the newlyweds move into their own homes and start housekeeping. From then on, the husband goes in with the men and the wife with the women. This is the next rite of passage. Going in with the boys is over.


The First and Last Amish Parachute Jump

It was one of the first nice days of spring back in 1954 when three of my cousins — Johnny, Chester, and Sam — and I were out on a Sunday afternoon trek. You could call it a small boy safari. For us young boys, imagination was 95% of our play. We were pirates on the high seas, cowboys running on the range, or Lewis and Clark on their expedition.

We started out our field lane, wandered across the fields and along the fence rows. We decided to check out Pete Lapp's trash hole, or to state it properly, the neighborhood dump. Years ago it had been a small quarry, and then later a place for neighbors to dump their trash. Remember, this was in 1954. There were no garbage trucks or dumpster boxes. Folks just threw their rubbish in such places. We found broken toys, hay strings, baler wire, and worn-out farm implements.

Hey, what's this? Looks like a big sheet of plastic about 20 feet square. "Look what I found!" I called to my cousins. "Let's make a parachute."

I don't recall my cousins' reactions, but there were some words. Johnny said, "Huh ... you'll be too scared to use it."

Chester said, "I'm not jumping off anything more than six feet off the ground with that parachute."

Sam said, "Yes, I'll help make it, but you must take the first jump."

So we all yanked the plastic out of the trash pile, cleaned it up, and lugged it back to our barn 500 yards away. Now you must remember those ancient times way back in the mid-1900s. A big sheet of plastic was as scarce as a straight-A report card.

These three boys were my double first cousins. Our dads were brothers, and our moms were sisters, so our genes were similar. But my uncle's boys always seemed a bit ahead of me in common sense. Our farms were three-quarters of a mile apart. Our dads shared hay and threshing equipment, sold their crops together, and were in the same church district, so we were often together making hay, cutting corn, and threshing. So it's no small wonder that they loved the parachute idea but didn't want to be the jumper.

The plan

We took a big pile of strings and knotted them together to make parachute strings and a sort of harness to go around my belt and under my seat to fasten the parachute to the jumper. We talked about braiding the strings, but our impatience to make the first jump soon squashed that idea. It didn't take us long to make the parachute, even if we had no directions. By now the cousins were clapping their hands with glee. They could hardly wait to see me take the first jump. Me ... I was getting a bit sweaty and wished I had never thought of such a dumb thing as an Amish Parachute Jumper.

We decided the first practice jump would be in the barn from the timbers to the four-foot-deep straw mow. We tied the parachute to my body. Johnny crawled up first, carrying the parachute. He stood on the tobacco rails four feet above me and held the chute. Chester and Sam were to the left and right of Johnny, keeping the chute spread out. I stood there a bit, then jumped, plop, into the loose straw! I wasn't sure if the chute slowed my fall or not. The cousins weren't sure either, so Practice Jump Number 2 was necessary.

Wise Johnny seemed to think I must go way up to the peak of the barn for the next jump, so back up the ladder and up to the top tobacco rail I went. Johnny and Chester stood on either side, holding up the chute. Cousin Sam was on the rails yelling, "Come on! Jump, Sammy!"

More daring

Wow, it looked so-o-o far down to the straw mow. (It was only 25 feet or so.) I jumped, and sure enough, I felt some tugs from the baler twine harness. Now I was ready to jump again and prove that the chute worked, or so I thought.

The brave jumper and his parachute bearers marched outside and crossed the barnyard to the chicken house where Jump Number 3 would take place. Up the ladder we went and onto the roof. It was a breezy spring day, and the air readily filled the parachute, so that I had to pull on the strings to get to the high part of the roof. This time I didn't hesitate because I knew the parachute worked ... or so I thought. I ran across the roof, my chute-bearers faithfully running with me, and then I jumped up as high as I could, and into space I went.

KERPLOP! I hit the ground like a rock. If the chute slowed me down, it sure wasn't noticeable. I had terrible pain in my back, side, and bottom. And my pride was hurt to the nth degree. I recall hollering and moaning while the cousins were bent double with laughter. No pity for poor me!

Well, they cut the parachute harness loose, and we put the chute back on the trash pile. That was the last Amish Parachute Jump.

I recall limping to the house and lying on the couch, trying to nurse my pride back to normal. At first my cousins thought I was hurt, although I don't think they had a cupful of sympathy. Once they saw I wasn't hurt much, Johnny, Chester, and Sam went home (it was chore time), still laughing, clearly not realizing the significant part of history they had witnessed.


When Doddy Closed in His Buggy

In 1960, when I was 17, Doddy Sam said, "Sammy, let's close in our carriage so we won't freeze our noses going to church when it's cold!" Of course I was glad to help.

So one day Doddy and I took the shafts off their carriage and pushed it into the shop, fired up the stove, and the fun began. Doddy had suffered a stroke in 1954, which made his left hand weak. He couldn't use power tools, but he could tell me how to do the work. I enjoyed working with him, and Doddy was a good teacher.

Doddy was born in 1882, got married in 1908, and then worked four years in Eli Riehl's carriage shop near Lancaster, where he became an accomplished carriage-maker. After he quit farming in 1945, he built carriage and buggy bodies for Harry Moore, who had a buggy shop in Ronks. I can recall many days in my childhood when I watched Doddy in his shop making a carriage body, assembling it all with hand tools.

Now Doddy took out the front seat and cut off each end so there would be space for a sliding door to roll past. Mommy redid the cushion fabric at each end.

Next Doddy showed me how to make door sills and seat rails. We got a stack of oak and poplar boards out of the shop upstairs and put them through the planer. We made the oak boards ¾? thick and the poplar ½? thick. Then I cut the poplar boards and fitted them into the front of the carriage to make the dashboard. Next we made an oak sill for the windows to slam against.

Doddy heated up his stinky, animal-hide glue. He showed me how to first fit and screw the boards on dry, then take them off, spread the glue on them, quickly clamp the boards on, and run in the screws before the glue set.

Doddy the tutor

Doddy was very patient with his greenhorn helper. In his prime working days, he could have done the job in a day or so. But for this project, we just worked at it in my spare time, because my main job was helping Dat do the farm chores. In fact, helping Doddy gave me a great excuse to slip out of the barn work. For me, shop work was much more fun than barn chores.

The next part of the project was making the doors and windows. Doddy showed me how to rip poplar boards and cut out the window frames on his gas, engine-powered table saw. We put the frames together, cut glass from some old window sash, and fit the glass in as we assembled the windows and doors.

Our next job was painting. Doddy instructed me to give all the bare wood a coat of gray primer, then sand the boards, and finish them with a coat of glossy black. Doddy did some of the painting, showing me how to brush with vertical strokes so the paint wouldn't run. I recall that we painted the whole carriage because it hadn't been painted for years. Mommy looked pleased to see such a shiny carriage, although she expressed some fears that the church people would wonder why these old folks had to have such a shiny, black, closed carriage.

Doddy said, "Humph! You're the one who always wants to stay home if it's cold. Now we can go to church in comfort."

Our last step was putting in the doors and windows and making a bonnet to fit over the front windows, so, as Doddy said, "It would look like a market wagon."

How buggies have changed

Let me explain a little about Lancaster Amish carriage history. Soon after the Civil War, many plain folks started going into the city of Lancaster to operate farmers market stands. They always traveled by open buggies, and due to dusty roads and sometimes driving rain or snow, the market goods didn't always arrive in good condition. So the church leaders permitted these wagons to be closed in. They came to be known as "market wagons." They were eight to nine feet long and quite heavy, and they were drawn by two horses.

On Sundays, we were not to hitch up our teams (the Ten Commandments teach us not to work on Sundays), so folks walked to church. Only elderly women or boys rode horseback. By 1880 or so, open carriages were permitted on Sundays, as well as open buggies for courting-age youth. And either by default or convenience, market wagons were getting shorter and lighter, and big families and the elderly began using them to go to church services. This became more common between 1930 and 1940.

Then around 1950 or so, some daring Lower Pequea or Conestoga carriagemaker installed sliding doors, windows, and a canvas dashboard in open carriages, and closed them in. Of course, our more conservative Upper and Middle Pequea church leaders, as well as those in the Millcreek district, frowned on this.

Progress and comfort prevailed, and the storm front, as it was called, was here to stay. Soon the canvas dash was replaced by a permanent wooden dash, and light switches were mounted on the dash. Even a glove box was added. But the more conservative folks always wanted a bonnet to keep the traditional market wagon look. However, a carriage had its rear wheels behind the carriage. A market wagon had its rear wheels under the body by about eight inches. Today, carriage and market wagon bodies are the same size, 38? wide and 72? long, but their running gears are different.

Doddy showed me how to fire up the forge and bend ½? rods to make the bonnet frame. Then we stitched canvas over it — and the old carriage now looked like a market wagon.


Excerpted from "What It's Like to Be Amish"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Sam S. Stoltzfus.
Excerpted by permission of Walnut Street Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Hello, Everyone —,
1. Going In With the Boys,
2. The First and Last Amish Parachute Jump,
3. When Doddy Closed in His Buggy,
4. A Railroad Move to Kansas,
5. Home on the Range in Lancaster, Where One Buffalo Still Roams,
6. The Differential,
7. The Summer of the Bridge,
8. Uncle Joe's Train Wreck in 1928,
9. Slow Orders Through Gordonville,
10. Cowboy Sailors,
11. Wheat Threshing Time with Joe and His Steam Engine,
12. The Intercourse Airport,
13. The Woman and the Baby in the Snowstorm,
14. Taking Doddys to Church,
15. Life on Our Farm: Several Grandchildren's Views (from a few years ago),
16. Barn Fires Span a 10-Year Period,
17. A Brief History of Supervised Youth Groups in Lancaster County,
18. A Year on an Amish Farm,
19. The Responsibility of Being Amish Parents,
20. How Our Amish Church Districts Are Formed,
21. An 11-Hour Getaway in Upper Pequea,
22. Horse Training,
23. Hosting Church,
24. All Aboard for a Buggy Ride to Church,
25. Some Thoughts about Choosing a Cemetery Plot,
26. Living in the Doddyhaus; Our Semi-Retired Years,
27. A History of the Gordonville Fire Company Sale, aka a Mud Sale,
28. Canning Turkey Meat in the Lower Pequea,
29. The Nickel Mines Tragedy Some Years Later,
30. A Sabbath at Conestoga Retreat,
31. Life in God's Hands,
32. A Week Without My Gordonville Peach,
33. A Connection Wedding,
About the Author,

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