This is the second thing most people ask me when I tell them I write about the Amish. The first is usually “Are you Amish?”
The first time I can remember hearing about the Amish I thought the person telling me about them was lying. Most probably it was my brother who liked to tease me beyond belief. I couldn’t be sure anything he said was actually the truth.
The next time I was watching Witness. I don’t know how old I was (at least seventeen, though). But I remember in the movie, the bad guys are looking for the Lapps. They call the local law enforcement in Lancaster who says, “Do you know how many Lapps are in Lancaster County?”
At the time I had no idea.
After that I didn’t think about the Amish much. I went to college, got married, and moved to the Caribbean. In fact, I probably didn’t think about the Amish again until my agent suggested I write a book about them.
“Yes,” she said. “Write an Amish romance.” I really thought she was joking and when she didn’t call me back and tell me that she was pulling my leg, I went to Mardells and started my research.
For those of you who don’t live in the area, Mardells is a Christian bookstore owned by Hobby Lobby. I went to get fiction books about the Amish to read to get an idea what they were like. I mean, I knew all the elements of a secular romance. How different was an Amish one?
Turns out, they are incredibly different and not so different all at the same time.
But reading fiction books with Amish characters is a lot different than non-fiction books, and I found myself reading and watching everything I could. From Donald Kraybill to Amish Mafia. Yes, I meant it when I said everything.
These days it’s still the same. I absorb whatever I can about the Amish, but my favorite way to do research is to visit the communities themselves. Even ones that I don’t plan to write about.
Why? Because the Amish are fascinating people. I find it simply amazing how the communities differ and the ways that they are the same. When we were in Pontotoc, we were warned by the locals that they were stand-offish and didn’t readily talk to outsiders. We took that knowledge, shoved it in our back pockets, then headed toward the Amish houses. By the middle of the afternoon, we had met Elizabeth Hostetler. She and her husband had moved down from Ohio to be able to farm—land was getting scarce up north. She was canning chicken and couldn’t talk to us long, but managed to share a few nuggets of information including Thanksgiving traditions, when the Mississippi Amish leave school (yes, it is different from Lancaster), and the truth about their rumspringa. I was told on my first visit to Ethridge, Tennessee (the parent community to the one in Mississippi), that they didn’t have a rumspringa or run around time at all. What we learned from our new friend is that they have one, but it is very controlled and very conservative. Those wild and crazy stories they report about Amish teens running amuck are not coming from Mississippi.
So how does a person go from not knowing much to writing books about the Amish? Yes, it takes a lot of research and nothing beats going to a community and visiting with the people there.
I’ve been privileged enough to spend an entire week with my Old Order Amish friend in Pennsylvania. Nothing compares to living the life every day. After a while I forgot that I was among Amish and I was just among friends. I didn’t notice the differences until we (Stacey, Sadie, and I) ventured into town on a Saturday. And I knew I would never view the Amish the same again.
This year Stacey and I hope to return to Pontotoc, Big Valley, and of course, Lancaster County. But even more, we want to take a Missouri trip and check out all the interesting Amish settlements in the Show Me State.
You can bet, I’ll come back and show you everything I learned.
What about you? Where is the closest Amish community to your home and have you ever been?
I’m giving away a signed copy of Just Plain Sadie to one lucky winner this week. Just leave me a comment below.
And as always, thanks for reading!!