Mary, our Amish neighbor, has become one of my best friends. Never in a million years would I have expected this to happen. I attend her children's Christmas program at the one-room school house. She scurries across the field to deliver buttery, right-out-of-the-oven pretzels or home-made bread. We are invited over for dinner. Every October I help her and her extended family wrap hundreds of cakes, pies, cookies, and breads for the Apple Festival booth. She and her daughters helped Kevin by filling helium balloons and fixing up the house for my surprise birthday party, appearing unexpectedly at the door, right when he needed them most, asking "What can we do to help?" We pile in the car or the buggy and go for ice-cream. Her children visit with a wagon full of kittens, invite us to see their baby bunnies or new chicks. When their baby brother was born, they couldn't wait for us to get home from work so they could be the first to tell us! I've taught the little boy to give me "high five."
Through our kitchen window I can see the foot-worn path through the cow pasture between our houses, a narrow, winding tether connecting our lives to theirs. You see, the Amish in this vicinity of Seneca County are of the Old Order, and (for reasons which I won’t begin to explain in this blog) their telephone is in our barn. Twice a day, Mary or her husband treks to the barn to conduct business, connect with family, or to order a driver for traveling distances too far for a horse-drawn buggy. And, if we’re lucky, we get a chance to exchange stories.
A real treat for us is a church Sunday, when buggies fill the roads and you feel the rumbling of steel wheels and clopping of horses hooves. At night, the horses are illuminated by two flashing headlights, and in the winter they steam with sweat and whinny in patchy clouds of iced breath. It’s like a promenade of pearls, each buggy following close behind another up over the hill, down into the dip and past the house.
Every morning I walk the dog past their farm, and I can set my watch by the activity in the milking barn. The chinking of chains against metal, the flat clang of the milk bucket on the concrete floor, the mooing, the steadiness and order of her life, and even the smell of manure are a comfort to me. (no, I cant' believe that either!) The gas lights from her kitchen brighten the driveway, drawing me in.
She gives and expects nothing in return. Her life is centered around her family, her faith, and her farm. She teaches by example. She’s a good neighbor and I am a better neighbor for it. We giggle. We share stories about our families. We respect one another's culture, but laugh at them as well. We talk about food, quilting, canning, farming, organic farming, parenting, marriage, weather, and just about any issue of the day. Never negative, never judgmental, her conversation always ends on a positive note and lifts my spirit. In her modesty, she would be humbled by this post dedicated to her. I am humbled that she calls me her friend.