Wednesday, October 04, 2006

First Steps

The news about the recent shootings at the one room Amish school house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania was horrifying. I read that the phone call alerting police to the siege took some time because a teacher had to run to a farm house to find a phone, since there wasn't one at the school. Amish custom restricts the use of such technology.

I know this firsthand; one Sunday evening, when Deacon was 11 months old, our car broke down right in front of an Amish farmhouse. Lolly was driving and my mother was in the passenger seat, while I was in the back with Deacon. Before we even had time to think, "Crap! What do we do now!" a large contingent of Amish men came running across the field. We had been told, at a lecture on the Amish ways earlier in the day, that the area we were driving through included Old Order Amish fellowships. So that meant that they followed strict rules on dress, behavior, technology, and relationships with the "English" as the outsiders are called.

Looking at the people who were coming toward us, and seeing the women who were waiting in front of the farmhouse, I just knew: we had to get help from members of the Old Order. We didn't know if they would.

When the men reached us, they said that we would have to wait until Monday for one of them to run to a neighboring farm to use a phone, since the garage was closed. I was worried. Where were we going to spend the night? We were on a rural road, Deacon was getting hungry and I did not have any extra bottles for him, and my mother was sobbing that she wanted to get home to my father because she "can't sleep well in a strange bed."

Well, we stayed there, at that farm. The men led us to the women, who took one look at Deacon and took him from my arms. The next thing I knew, they had milked a cow, washed out his bottle, and had him seated in Grandma's arms happily drinking away. I was gratified, but also worried because he had never had unpasteurized milk before and I didn't know if that was going to be a bad thing.

This Amish family welcomed us into their home without hesitation, and at the dinner table we all talked and laughed and tried to ask each other questions that would quell the curiosity we each harbored about the other.

The head of the household looked at Lolly and asked him his religion.

LOLLY: I am Jewish.
HOH: Ah, you are a Hebrew!

The food was plentiful, but bland because no spices were used (including salt). There was a big bowl of what looked like mashed potatoes and Lolly was helping himself, putting two hearty scoops on his plate. I noticed that our hosts were staring at him bemusedly, and then at each other.

ALICE: Um, sorry. Is there something we are doing wrong?
HOH *laughing*: Oh, no. It's just that we have never seen anyone who loves butter so much.

We all went to bed early because on a farm, everyone gets up with the rooster. We spent Monday morning helping. Lolly went to the fields to pick watermelons that would be sold later in the day at a roadside stand for tourists. My mother and I were cleaning in the kitchen. Deacon was with the many daughters of the house who cooed over him, played with him, and carried him around.

Toward the end of the day, the car business had been sorted out and we were getting ready to leave. We were standing in the kitchen and Grandma came in carrying Deacon. She looked at me and smiled, and then placed him on the floor. I was going to tell her that he didn't walk yet, but I saw that Deacon was standing and I was surprised into silence. Then, right before us all, Deacon put one foot in front of the other and slowly walked over to me and held up his arms to be picked up. Grandma laughed and clapped her hands.

GRANDMA: There! He's walking! Now you will remember us. You will remember that Deacon took his very first steps in an Amish kitchen, in Grandma's kitchen.

So much kindness from strangers. Their life is one of devotion to the teachings of Jesus, devoid of violence and fear -- until it was brought to a tiny one room schoolhouse.

And from what I have read, the people from this community are still turning to their religious beliefs to help them through this: it has been reported that all the people in Nickel Mines want to forgive the man who committed the murders of the young school girls, and while reaching out to their neighbors who have lost their children, they also want to reach out to his family.

So today, while I read the papers, I remembered. Deacon took his first steps in an Amish kitchen. In Grandma's kitchen.

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