I remember once, when I was in my twenties, that my dad moonlighted after his regular job for about two months—much to my mother’s dismay and varied protests. But, it turned out that my father had remembered something looming that my mother had not—their wedding anniversary. So, he coaxed mom into the red truck one Saturday afternoon and drove her up to Amish Charlie Zook’s woodworking outfit, deep in the mountains of the Alleghenies. My parents came back, happy and excited, with five pieces of the prettiest furniture I’d ever laid eyes on—rustic and rare cherry wood gleamed in the forms of a bookshelf, writing desk, hope chest, bedside table, and a small coffee table. Hand carved hearts and scrolls decorated the wood, and I knew old Charlie had more than outdone himself this time.
As I helped to carry the pieces into the house, I never thought that less than twenty years later, I’d bring shades of Charlie Zook to life on the page in Amish stories like the one I wrote in the upcoming Christmas collection— Amish Sleigh Ride. Yet, I wouldn’t have had Charlie as such a great story model without the reality of Amish cottage industries….
The Amish have always been deeply connected to the land by agriculture and farming. But in the 1970’s, there was a distinct time of the urban invading the rural as well many modern innovations made to both farming and farming equipment. Many Amish struggled to keep a living in farming and were sometimes tempted away from home with factory work. But the emergence of cottage industries—such as leatherworking, woodworking, custom making of furniture and quilt making became the methods by which some Amish could both make ends meet and keep their children as part of the ongoing home as center. Cottage industries also allowed for connection with the community and older generations.
These cottage industries are usually situated in or near the home—the center of the Amish family. And this center and its connection with cottage industry allows for apprenticed skills, or a trade that typically a buwe can learn from his fater or a maedel from her mamm. Cabinet-making is also in particular demand as well as roofing as the Amish are known, where I live, for their excellent workmanship and fair prices.
And for now, it’s Charlie Zook’s sons and grandsons who run the woodworking outfit—some of the many Amish artisans who are surviving and thriving without farming directly. I wish I could tell you that my mother still has that furniture my dad worked for, but she is graced with finer things now as she went to Heaven in 2011 and my father in 2013. However, my daughter, Gracie, was left each piece of the beautiful cherry wood and she understands the value of both their origin and legacy.
Kelly Long was born and raised in North Central Pennsylvania where there was an Amish hitching post at the small grocery store in her town. She loves to write Amish romance and is the author of a number of different novels including Threads of Grace, Sarah’s Garden, An Amish Love with Beth Wiseman and Kathy Fuller, and Lilly’s Wedding Quilt. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and children.
Kelly Long’s most recent release is The Amish Christmas Sleigh