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He Who Shall Not Work Shall Not Eat: Part One of the History of American Homesteading by Barbara Bamberger Scott

Easy as Pie: The Myth of Simple Living by Sheri Dixon

Time Traveling with the WPA: Missouri by Barbara Bamberger Scott

Weather Lore and Superstitions by Sherrie Taylor

Fishing Without Chena by Clark Johnson

Non-Electric Dreamin’ by Barbara Bamberger Scott

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Signpost to Simplicity - Wanda Urbanska Points the Way by Barbara Bamberger Scott

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The Plain Paper - Letters From The Budget by Barbara Bamberger Scott

What I Learned From Poultry by Diana Barker

American Farmers Today - Part One by Karyn Sweet

What is Your Homestead $ Number? by Tony Colella

Homesteading in Appalachia by Karyn Sweet

 

 

 

The Plain Paper

Letters From The Budget

by Barbara Bamberger Scott

For the third time, my husband Donnie and I were making a foray into Holmes County, Ohio, home to the second largest population of Amish families in the United States.  To enter Amish land is to leave the “fast life” behind.  No plastic franchise box stores crowd the crossroads.  The byways are narrow, bordered on both sides with corn creeping out to the verges and two-story, white houses—distinctive for the lack of electrical lines running to them.  Navigating the thin ribbons, dodging grey buggies, one quickly feels lost, in a pleasant Twilight Zone sort of way.

So, though we had been there before, and though Donnie, a former trucker, can usually recall any route he has previously taken especially if there’s a hot dinner at the end of it, we gradually realized we needed help to find an eatery.  So we pulled off on a small triangle of cleared land at the edge of a dense stand of corn, where a young Amish woman had parked her buggy and was selling handmade baskets.

We disembarked from our car which, being of the large American variety, looked wholly out of place in the scene, and Donnie asked the young woman where we could find a “good Amish restaurant.”  The young woman smiled and put on what I would describe as a “merry face”—though it did not seem even slightly artificial.  Along with giving us what turned out to be precisely correct directions, she said the following:

“Some people have told me that Miss-riz Yoder serves good food.  If I have told you right, you will find it on that road.  I do hope you find it.”

Taken in combination, these statements conveyed to me a sense that the young lady (I am guessing she was no older than twenty) had a high value for honesty, modesty, and human kindness.  We later had similar assistance from a teenage girl in an Amish-run plant nursery—a very literal interpretation of our needs, a determination to be sure we were satisfied.

Naturally we wanted to buy some of the buggy girl’s wares to repay her gracious assistance, but I had been discreetly eyeing the Amish-made baskets and found that we could not afford even the smallest one, especially with a home back in North Carolina embarrassingly full of gew-gaws.  However, she was also selling square cardboard punnets of black raspberries.  We bought one punnet for three dollars, and I later regretted we had not bought all she had.  The berries were fresh, ripe, not a single spoiled one hidden in the bottom—quality through and through.  I popped about a dozen as we followed her directions to “Mrs. Yoder’s Family Restaurant” where we had such a lunch as gastronomic dreams are made on, served by pretty young misses in starched white head coverings and long aprons. We noted that among the customers were many Amish or Mennonites distinguished by their somber apparel.

Not for the first time, I was under the Amish spell.

A trip to Lehman’s Store is de rigueur when visiting Holmes County, and at the check-out counter I saw a newspaper called The Budget, on sale for a dollar (no tax).  I plunked down four quarters, little knowing what a treasure I had just procured for so small a price.

Click to enlarge

For most of the rest of the day I read through The Budget, regaling Donnie with its contents.  By the time he got to read it himself, I feared he might be jaded by my enthusiasm, but he was as enchanted as I.  The part of the paper that most intrigued us was a full 40-page section known as "The Letters."  They came from 34 states and Canada, the Dominican Republic, Belize, Israel, Ukraine, Honduras, Liberia, Haiti, and Guatemala—places where the Amish and Mennonites, commonly known as Plain People, have chosen to hang their flat black hats and fulsome hand-sewn bonnets.

According to P. J. Huffstutter, writing about Holmes County for the Los Angeles Times (September 20, 2009), all the letter writers, known as scribes, are volunteers, their “pay” coming in the form of a yearly subscription to The Budget ($42.00, and worth every penny).  Most of the contributions arrive at the newspaper office in Sugarcreek, Ohio, handwritten, some delivered by buggy.   Though the paper reports on all local county events among non-Amish and Amish alike, the Letters are like tiny beacons held aloft to be seen from outpost to outpost all over the Plain world, a slow world within our own fast one.

Huffstutter reports that The Budget has refused to “progress” into the realm of online advertising (though it does maintain a modest website), and the ads one sees peppered through the pages are as plain as the people to which  they’re targeted.  One such ad screams, “Quality Amish Spectacle Frames—Great Price” and another raves “Heit’s Wholesale—Full Line of Elastics, Buttons, Stretch Lace, Plastic Snaps, Metal Snaps, Raschel Lace, Venise Lace, Full Line of Various Ribbon.”  To peruse the ads is to step back into a simpler era.

In the July 7, 2010 edition of The Budget, there were more than 600 letters.  And every week there will be at least 600 more.  By the time we got home to North Carolina I had not finished reading half of them.  They were riveting.  By studying these letters, I was convinced, one could learn more about the path to simplicity than by watching a TV special or renting a DVD promising sensational revelations about the secretive Amish.  This was news from the field: hand-written, sincere, unvarnished by fancy journalistic technique.  For someone who is constantly mining the media for well-told tales of rural life, this was the mother lode.

At this point, it’s probably appropriate for me to confess that I once worked for Mennonite Central Committee for a year, in Kenya.  While working in Botswana for Quakers—not exactly slackers in the vineyards of community development—I was quietly informed that Mennonites were the real heavy haulers in Third World agricultural initiatives.  The Mennonites, be they of plain dress or modern attire, were dedicated to restoring the soil and, by daily example, restoring to peasant societies the joy of the dignity of farm labor.  I determined that my next overseas assignment would be for Mennonite Central Committee, which sometimes hires Quakers with whom they are doctrinally aligned.

It took a few years and an eye-opening two-week orientation in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to get that dream off the ground.  The year I spent in Kenya—deserving of its own campfire tale—I would not trade for two spent in safe, manicured streamlined Western luxury, no matter what the salary differential.  We were poor, poor like the Maasai we worked among, and we were guided in our daily determination to exist at their level by the Mennonite principle of Gelassenheit: a wonderful Amish/German word meaning, "putting oneself below the higher."  Gelassenheit, according to noted Mennonite scholar Donald Kraybill, is the essence of the Amish way.  It informs the culture at every level, from the most extreme Old Order Amish to the very blended and modish Beachy Mennonites who set the standard for fastness among the voluntarily slow peoples.  Gelassenheit is the reason why The Budget has not given in to the demands of the market place to develop online ads, and why the Letters are still written by hand and delivered by the Buggy Express, trotting along at a rate of about 25 miles per day, a vital symbol of Amish stubbornness and refusal to let modern inventions get in the way of their ancient principles.

  Continued on page 2   >

 

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