This morning was the Quilt Shop Tour of Lancaster County. In a place where a significant percentage of the population is Amish or Old Order Mennonite, you’d better believe there are quilt shops. And because neither of these groups will pay tourist prices for yard goods, the quilt shops have fantastic fabrics for less (way less in some cases) than $7 per yard. This is why I now own a Christmas quilt kit, complete with backing fabric, although if you’re my Beloved and you’re reading this, I’ve had this kit for months.
After dropping Kathy off, I took the scenic route to Intercourse through New Holland, and, I am not making this up, Blue Ball. I don’t know what to think, so I’ll move along. New Holland is the home of the farm implement company, which began about a hundred years ago as an Amish business, but quickly proved too much of a distraction for its owner, who sold it to someone less Amish.
The area around New Holland, Intercourse, and Bird In Hand is a hotbed of Amish-ness, so much so that buggies occasionally outnumber cars on the road. A lot of Amish people ride bikes, too, and there were a fair number of those around as well. Intercourse is all touristy, with gift shops, Amish furniture stores, and restaurants specializing in Amish food. I cannot help but wonder what the Amish think of being a tourist attraction, and I know that I’ll never know. I hope they see it as an opportunity to be salt and light, to really show that they take Jesus’ instructions about not being of the world seriously. Otherwise, it’s just a horrible intrusion.
It felt intrusive, and after a fabulous time at Bitty Kinna’s quilt shop, I scuttled back toward Lancaster at speed. On the way I passed, and I am not kidding, the Amishview Inn, six Amish furniture outlets, the Weaverland Amish School (Tourists Welcome), The Amishland Country Store, and Amish Abe’s Buggy Rides. This last was in direct competition with Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Rides, across the street, the sign for which featured an Amish lad and lass, although no Amish children would ever be allowed to operate such an enterprise.
Meanwhile the actual Amish go about their lives as if this is all perfectly normal. Several Amish farms advertise cold homemade root beer (made me think of you, Elaine). The hand-lettered signs also note that no root beer will be sold on Sundays. Some sell eggs, fresh produce, bread, and baked goods, and many of these have a box nailed to the wagon or stand, so people can pay by the honor system.
It’s actually pretty easy to tell the farms apart. If the house is painted something trendy, like moss green, and has a wreath on the door and a pre-fab swing set with plastic slide, it’s just some English farmer. If there’s no ornamentation, but there ARE two dark gray Buicks out back, the farm belongs to Weaverland or Reformed Mennonites, who share the plain dress of the Amish, but get to drive. If there’s no ornament and no Buick, it’s an Amish farm.
Oddly enough, the use of tractors in the fields is not a predictor of Anabaptist heritage. Many Lancaster County Amish, unless they are hard-core Old Order Amish, use tractors, albeit with steel wheels to discourage their usage as transportation. Kathy and I saw one of these monsters yesterday, and it was truly odd. Rockingham County, Virginia, home to a large group of Old Order families, banned the use of steel wheels because they tore up the roads so much, and the Amish complied by using pneumatic tires like everyone else. Apparently some things can be negotiated.
As soon as I fetch my sister from the clutches of the warehouse, we’ll continue with the updated Field Guide to Anabaptists with the all-new Theological Footnotes. I can’t wait!