The Seasons of Life in an Amish Community
An introduction to what Rose faces when she joins the Amish to be with Noah.
When I moved to Mays Lick, Kentucky four years ago, I had no idea that my life was about to drastically change. Like most other people, I’d seen Amish occasionally. I knew the basics, such as the culture’s choice of living electric and motor vehicle free. What I didn’t realize was that I would become immersed in the primitive culture. Within days of moving to our new farm, a steady-stream of Amish teens arrived to welcome me and my five children to the neighborhood. The Amish adults were friendly too, but the younger members of the community were the ones who really made us feel at home. The bond that tied us all together was horses. I’d brought twenty-one of them with me from the riding lesson business I owned in Tennessee and the neighborhood kids were anxious to observe and eventually learn a more disciplined form of horse-back riding from the bare-back escapades they were used to.
It didn’t take long for me to notice the interesting dynamics going on between the Amish kids and the non-Amish ones who rode at the farm. Along with some obvious flirting, there were also late night visits from Amish teens who simply wanted to watch a movie on my TV or play video games with my kids.
Eventually, the community elders restricted the amount of time that the teens could spend at the farm. The adults were worried that their children were interacting too much time with Englishers (that’s what the Amish call anyone who isn’t Amish) and the group gatherings in the arena were against the already established rules. You see, the Amish youth don’t enjoy the freedom of assembly that we all take for granted. They are only allowed to gather for church services and organized Amish events.
Most Amish youth go through a state of rebellion where they question of whether they will remain Amish is decided. This self-discovery time is called rumspringa. Not all communities allow the young people to practice this tradition though, and my own community is one of the stricter societies.
The Amish teens surrounding my farm have two choices. They can either follow their community’s rules, or sneak around. A fair amount of the kids choose the later and suffer the consequences when caught. The punishment for watching a movie, playing a video game, taking pictures, or using a cell phone can be severe, so the art of sneaking is a required skill for every Amish teen.
Time is a major factor that limits the trouble most of the teens get into. There is just too little of it. Upon graduation from school at the end of the eighth grade, a typical boy will go straight into the work force, either employed by a family business such as building, welding or farming or they’ll work for another family in the community. The girls might take an outside job, but many stay home to help care for their younger siblings and the household. The ones that do work outside the home, might take a job at the community butcher shop, bakery, or do babysitting or house-cleaning for their non-Amish neighbors. Most of the teens who earn an income will subsequently pay their parents approximately ninety percent of that income. The remainder of their earnings is spent of personal items or saved for their future married lives. The teens will continue to pay a large portion of their earnings to their parents until they turn twenty years old or when they themselves are ready to marry, which is usually between eighteen and twenty-one years of age.
Even though the teens work forty hour work weeks, they also have daily chores to do at their homes. These tasks include farm work, child care, cleaning and laundry. You’d think with that kind of schedule, they’d have no energy for fun, but they still do. Each week they participate in an organized youth activity, which is held at community member’s home. Singing hymns and eating a basic meal are normal for the gatherings. Following fellowship, volley ball nets are raised or a softball game begins. The youth are well supervised and there is little mingling between the girls and the boys at these gatherings, but the teens still look forward to the time to relax and have some fun.
In my own community, I’ve watched a group of teens go through the rebellious period, begin courting, get married and have babies, all in the course of four years. The seasons of life move quicker in the quiet country landscape of the Plain people than they do in the outside world. But for all the negatives that non-Amish people might perceive with the culture, the Amish themselves appear happy and content. And in the end, that’s all that matters.