Part of the allure of the Amish and Mennonite lifestyle is that many Englischers believe it is next to impossible to get an inside look at the culture.
That is not true, but you do need a highly extroverted personality.
My parents are both extreme extroverts, so they had no trouble introducing themselves and our family to the first Mennonites we discovered in Kentucky, who reminded us of our Mennonite heritage that we left back in Lancaster, Pennsylvania when we moved to Tennessee.
The Kentucky Mennonites we met were an elderly couple who owned a store called Grandma’s Cupboard. They sold crocheted items, beaded necklaces, dried fruit, and ribbon candy in clear plastic bags.
The couple lived in a small home next door to the store, and as their conversation continued with my parents, the older gentleman in the long white beard and black suspenders invited my family for supper.
By this time, I was accustomed to being placed in unique situations. Therefore, my brother and I sat and ate our simple meal of soup and bread as our parents continued speaking with the store owners.
I remember the dimness of the home; the heavy wooden furniture, shellacked to a cherry-red gleam. I remember watching the kinship being established between my parents, who were both dressed in bold Englischer clothing, and the wizened Mennonites in their dark Plain garb.
For years after this meeting, our family would journey up to Grandma’s Cupboard and visit with the elderly couple. The scent of beeswax and book dust became as comforting to me as the scent of home.
And then the owners sold Grandma’s Cupboard and moved closer to their daughter’s family. The person who purchased the store dusted the book shelves and replaced the beeswax candlesticks. It wasn’t the same, and yet I still liked to journey up there with my mother and purchase an ounce or two of ribbon candy that never tasted quite as good as it looked.
So if any of you are eager to get an inside look at the Amish or Mennonite culture, you only need to show a genuine friendliness before they will open up their homes and hearts right back to you.
Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling and award-winning author of The Outcast, which Library Journal gave a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. Jolina’s sophomore novel, The Midwife, taps into her and her husband’s unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. They now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughter. Whenever she’s not busy chasing this adorable toddler, Jolina is hard at work on her next novel.
Purchase Jolina’s books here.
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