Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to attend an Old-Order Amish wedding, because I was a friend of the Bride. This particular Amish group was settled into a beautiful Valley right on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, in Hestand. It was such a beautiful setting, and the people of the community beautified it further. I was blessed to be treated not as an outsider, but taken in and allowed to work with the community to prepare for the wedding. My clothes were slightly in contrast, my speech was a bit different, but the girls all smiled and strove to work alongside me anyways. It was an amazing experience.
The first day we were there, we were taken "visiting". This means you basically just show up at someone's house without warning, because they do not have phones or any immediate form of communication. It was strange for me, because I felt weird just appearing at someone's doorstep, but they quickly put me at ease. Everybody was so friendly and hospitable, and I was amazed at how many people had already heard I was coming. I only knew one member of the church, and there were upwards of 350 souls in just that community, but people still acted like they had heard a lot about me and some even knew me as "Tracy from Texas". How great is that?
Anyways, during my "visiting" I noticed that everybody had a string of drilled gourds for purple martin housing. Everybody, every homestead. And most had those long, industrial sized greenhouses with a woodstove pipe smoking out of the top. And when I asked why everybody grew such massive amounts of different plants, vegetables, nuts, roots, everything, they told me - "For the Community." Which means that everybody grows way more than they could ever need, that way nobody goes without anything. The Troyer family had hatched out 300 chicks in their kerosene-heated incubator, and were working on another 150. Why? Because they didn't want anybody to have to pay for mail-order chicks this spring, they told me. So they just kept going until everybody had what they needed.
And the food. There was so much of it. And such variety at every meal. Soup, casserole, bread, cheese, butter, milk, Kool-Aid, and usually more than one form of dessert. And if you are at someone's house around a mealtime, you are eating there. Don't ask questions. Just eat. And after you are so full you may not be able to move, they look at you like you eat like a bird, poor you. Don't you want dessert?
The second night I was there, the night before the wedding, I was a part of the group of girls rushing here and there in a buggy trying to get everything in order. I do have to say that the wedding was planned, run and ordered by girls around my age. They cooked, they cleaned, and they planned the whole thing. They ran the show. It was crazy. Anyways, we were in a buggy, going from house to house, taking extra pots here, picking up vegetables for the soup there, getting a dress for so-and-so who needs one for the wedding, unloading 30+ gallons of milk into an old ice freezer outside of the church house. And we picked up extra girls. They just piled on to the buggy pulled by an angry old mule who got faster whenever we were pointed in the direction of the barn. "JACK!" they would yell in unison at him if he got any slower than they wanted to go. It was so funny. They laughed and they talked about everybody like they had known them all their life. Which, of course, they had. We talked in sympathetic tones about the bride, who had seemed a bit nervous and wide-eyed that evening at supper. I asked about the groom, and they all described him to me since I had never met him. We talked about what songs had been chosen for the two singing events scheduled for the next day, which were German and which were English, our favorites and who was going to be leading the hymns. We giggled like girls our age shouldn't, and we got in late.
Myself, my best friend Ashley, (not the bride) and the bride's two youngest sisters all slept in the hayloft that night, because I could not go back to my hotel and expect to be there in time for the 4:00 sandwich making, of course. But we ended up staying up way too late anyways, talking about anything and everything. Boys may or may not have been included in the late night conversation. We are Amish girls, practically women, after all. ;)
Four o' clock in the morning there is five o' clock in the morning to you, because they refuse to observe daylight savings time. But whatever time we got up, it was dark and cold and it smelled like horses. I loved it. We tried to brush the hay out of our hair while we got dressed. (Getting dressed for Amish girls also has a different, slightly more involved meaning, too. ) But finally we were up and out of the hayloft, and the boys (brothers) had already hitched up the buggy for us, this time to a large, beautiful Morgan named Traveler. We found and sorted out our black bonnets and coats and shawls and were quickly on our way through the cold morning air to the church house, which had already been lit and warmed by the kind groom, who was there carrying stuff around like a true brave gentleman among a sea of wide awake, chattering women. Let me tell you, no cup of coffee you will ever meet will wake you up like a swift, windy buggy ride in 30 degree weather will. Or the adrenaline rush of almost breaking your ankle in an inexperienced attempt to exit the buggy amid a group of girls who are trying to catch you and not laugh at the same time. Wakes you right up. ( My skirt got caught on the brake, in my defense.)
Anyways, we all lined up around the tables in the church house kitchen, and soon had sandwiches pumping out like a well-oiled machine. Homemade bread, hand sliced, homemade cheese, homemade baloney, lettuce from somebody's generous garden packed into 5 gallon buckets, and mayo by the gallon from Sam's. Lots of sandwiches, 800, to be exact, all stacked in bread trays and counted and loaded into the cooler by the aforementioned kind groom. Oh, and the bride was there, too, up early and working right with us on her wedding day. There were about 40 girls there, all chattering and drinking coffee. The soup was being started by the bride's eldest sister, our master and commander in the kitchen, and after all of the sandwiches were made and packed away and the kitchen cleaned, somebody started passing out sticky rolls and more coffee. We hung around for awhile, but had to leave early because we still had hay in our hair, our stockings and stuck to our shoes and desperately needed to go home and find our wedding clothes. We dismissed ourselves and took another swift ride behind Traveler, back home right after sunrise.
The Bride came home with us, and we all went upstairs to get dressed. We all got dressed in the exact same way, because the bride has nothing different than a brand new dress. No special wedding clothes, no special hairdos. She actually was laughing and saying how she hoped she has some stockings without holes in them to wear. It was amazing how she was so at ease with the whole thing. She even offered to brush and twist my hair for me. The Bride. On her wedding day. Isn't that crazy?
We finally got to the church house around nine, and a circle of men was already beginning to form in front of it. Us women filed past and into the cloak room where we took off our bonnets and set them all together, after which by some miracle more than a hundred women and girls all effortlessly found their own bonnets out of the pile. There were some Englishers there, (what they call worldlings), in short skirts, heels and curls, appearing very uncomfortable, to my extreme amusement. There were also some Northern Mennonites and some Ohio Amish visiting for the wedding. They all filed in and shook everybody's hand, kissing those of their own church on the cheek or the mouth. The men were doing the same thing outside. None of the young unmarried girls made eye contact with the young unmarried boys, and vice versa. It was interesting to watch the whole community interact, governed by rules I was, for the most part, unaware of.
We finally all got settled in, Women on the left, Men on the right, lined up and quiet in the pews. The elders sat on the right side of the front of the room, facing the men, and the elder's wives sat facing us on the right side. They started with a prayer, for which everybody got up, turned around and knelt at the pews for. Than came the singing, which was so loud, heartfelt and in unison that it gave me goosebumps, after which came the sermon (The women did not look directly at the preacher, much to my surprise. I was trained to keep eye contact, and I did the whole three hours, and the preacher noticed.) than the marriage ceremony, and the closing words from the elders.
Me and a bunch of the other girls filed into the kitchen and were given something to do in preparation of the meal. We put the sandwiches on platters, filled countless milk and lemonade pitchers, dished up soup and set out bowls and silverware. In case you forget, this community is made up of about 80 families. Lots of milk, lots of lemonade, tons of soup and massive amounts of real silverware, not plastic or disposable. Meaning that after that meal there were more dishes than I have ever seen at one time in my life. But the women never stopped moving. Somebody started hauling water in from the pitcher pump, somebody got the hot water out of the huge water jacket on the woodstove, and we all got to work. Four dish stations, over 100 women, in and out, here and there, giving orders and taking them, washing, rinsing, drying, and putting them away. Also there were women sorting whose dishes belonged to who, setting them in piles according to owners. Then, someone started bringing in the wedding gifts from the buggies and into the dining room, and soon there was a veritable mountain of presents, which the couple sorted through while we all joined in a second singing. Once we had the kitchen in order, we did that magic thing where we all just grab our own bonnet out of a pile of them, and we headed up the road, around the bend, and uphill to the couple's new house. Our next line of business was to snoop through all of the bedrooms, closets, cellars, barns and pretty much the whole place, looking at the renovations and the gifts of new furniture. A cloud of Amish girls in stiff black bonnets ran their hands over new dressers and heirloom quilts, cooing in Pennsylvania Dutch and laughing. We all signed the guest book and dispersed back down the road slowly, passing buggyfuls of boys going up to inspect the house after us. They would rush by, 10 to a ponycart sometimes, and the girls would all turn their head and look down as they passed. It was awe-inspiring to see how the giggling and conversation stopped when they came close, and resumed when they were out of earshot.
Soon after this, we went back to the church house to say our goodbyes and head back to the hotel, because I was on the verge of falling asleep right in my shoes.
All in all, it was such a fulfilling and amazing experience, a trip where new friends were made and much knowledge gained, and I look forward to my next visit to my Friends in Amish Country.
(If you wondered why there were no pictures, it was because cameras were not allowed in the community, so I stashed mine out of respect.)