Growing up in the 70s (gee! that sounds soooo long ago!), television was limited to a handful of channels and there weren’t that many programs for children. The Internet hadn’t been invented yet and cell phones were decades away from infiltrating our lives. So what did children do in their spare time?
Play and read.
For me, growing up on a small cul de sac with no children in the neighborhood, reading was my refuge. And my favorite books? The Little House on the Prairie series, of course.
In 1978, my grandparents took me on a great adventure. Seated in-between my grandfather and grandmother on the front seat of Pop-Pop’s Cadillac, we drove from Harleysville, Pennsylvania to Lancaster County.
That day changed my life.
You see, forty years ago, the general public did not know much about the Amish. The movie The Witness would not hit theaters for another seven years and the Amish romance genre wouldn’t be discovered for almost twenty years. The fascination with the Amish was limited to surrounding communities and cultural enthusiasts.
For me, a young nine-year-old girl, I immediately fell into the latter category.
There is something magical about a community that is willing to forego the conveniences and trappings of society in order to be closer to God, family, and community. The Amish people live according to their interpretation of the Bible, an interpretation that stresses living plain and simple lives with a heavy focus on honoring God.
My nine-year-old eyes saw horses and buggies, bright colored dresses, one room schoolhouses, and fields full of waving corn crops. I felt as if I had been tossed back in time to the days of Little House on the Prairie.
For years after, I obsessed over the Amish. I ordered every book that I could find from the small, local bookstore. I remember waiting weeks for that phone call that my book had arrived. I’d have to wait, impatiently, for my parents to arrive home and take me over to the tiny mall in Cedar Knolls, NJ so that I could buy my treasure.
My admiration and love of the Amish culture and religion never waned. In 1987, I spent a summer living on an Amish farm in Leola, PA. It wasn’t easy to find a farm that would rent me the dawdihaus. Remember…no cell phones, no Internet. But I managed to find a family that was willing to take me in.
For three years, I spent every free weekend and college break living on that farm. I can still shut my eyes and smell the pungent odor of the sixty dairy cows which, to me, wasn’t offensive but the welcome scent of being at home. I remember attending birthday parties, swim parties, canning bees, family gatherings, and even worship services.
Thirty years later, I’m still friends with that family in Lancaster. Their granddaughter calls me for advice about horses (and tries to finagle her way to come spend the summer with me!!!). And while I don’t visit as often as I’d like, it’s nice to know that I’m still considered family.
I’ve also made new Amish friends in different communities. It’s a humbling experience to be accepted into their circle…not everyone can experience such intimacy with these amazing people.
While I write my novels based on some of my experiences— I always strive to present an accurate and authentic view of the Amish communities.