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About the Amish

About The Amish

An "Ex-Amish" Perspective; an interactive interview with Amos and Leah Esh. 

Notes and narration by: Rodney Garber

This narrative is told by myself with the generous help of my grandparents on my mother's side.  Although the accounts of "About the Amish" may differ from person to person or website to website - this segment/story is portrayed from a couple living and growing up Amish; to leaving the Amish community and living a Christ following Christian life.  The account follows:

Amos Esh (Pawpaw):       

His parents were Elias and Katie Esh (mother was a Beiler).  Grew up in Gordonville, Lancaster County, PA

Leah Esh (Mawmaw):     

Her parents were Daniel and Fanny Stoltzfus (mother was a King).  Grew up in Leacock Twp, Lancaster County, PA

Q.) What can you tell me about the Amish?

In this County (Lancaster) most of us are related, as the generations go on we scatter then you lose the relationship a little." Said Amos, "But the Esh's, Stoltzfus's, and the Beiler's are all related in the County."

Both were born into and raised in the old order Amish community.  The real Amish of the day.  The truest roots of the Amish community.

"Today there are so many different sects of Amish, it can get really confusing." said Pawpaw.  "There are dozens of different sects, they are all split offs one more or another today.  It transitioned from the single old order Amish to a vast variety of different church groups today."

Mawmaw said, "you just don't see Amish today like when we were growing up.  Some Amish are still very strict, but some are not as strict because of the change in tradition and beliefs."

Q.)  What do the Amish actually believe?

"The Amish believe number one, they need to look separate from the would - dress differently from the world.  They interpret the bible to say they need to look different than worldly culture." said Pawpaw.

The Amish believe in the bible, simplicity, and not looking like the rest of the world.  This is the easiest way to say it.  "They believed to get to heaven was by actions and a chance of salvation through modesty and doing good." said Pawpaw.  He continued "The idea/belief of Salvation through Jesus Christ has not really latched on in the Amish Church.  Although many of the Amish have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior and understand only Christ can provide salvation and life of eternity in heaven. "

It was here in the discussion where pawpaw pointed out "The Amish are not really Amish anymore, they use cell phones, electricity, powered equipment, etc.  When I was growing up we weren't even able to use rubber wheels!  It was gas lanterns, no machines or electric, and we hung everything out to dry on lines after the wash was done." he said.

The Amish still don't typically drive vehicles or cars, they drive horse driven horse carriages called "buggies".  Typically the Amish do not use gas powered anything, no tractors or other machinery.  Most Amish are willing to drive IN a vehicle or be transported in one, but most of them do not drive.

In today's age of technology, it is true dedication to leave that all behind for supporting an age old tradition of modesty and seclusion.  Most old order Amish homes do not have electricity, phones, cell phones, computers, and all the other common technologies that we all enjoy daily.

"You're not actually born into the Amish Church, even if you are born into the family you still have to baptized into the church.  When you do so, you make a promise to the Amish church - that you will stay with the Amish church forever." said Pawpaw.

There is a ritual to "become" Amish,  you must make a confession and be baptized to become Amish.  It's a ritual spoken in high German and most kids join at the age of 15-19 years of age.  The words are "Ich glab das yesus gristus gottos son ist"; I believe Jesus Christ is the son of God - interpreted (*Pardon the spelling - we were guessing at our best*).

When you join the church, you are Amish for life.  If you leave the church, you are generally excommunicated - forever.

Summing it up - Amish is a religion, a very strong and strict one.  "But it doesn't get the job done.  To be saved, just being Amish doesn't get it done." Pawpaw said.  The way to salvation is through the believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God AND that he came, lived a perfect life here on earth, and was crucified on the cross.  It was this shedding of Jesus' blood that saves us.  By God's plan, his plan of salvation through Jesus is what saves us.  John 3:16 says:  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Q.)  Tell me about growing up Amish.

Pawpaw recalled:

Growing up Amish tells a really neat story.  Amos's mother (formerly a Beiler) used to make everything from scratch.  Amos Grew up with four siblings.  In total there were four boys and one girl.   Every morning the boys would wake up early around four o'clock AM to milk cows and do the daily chores.  The chores included milking, feeding livestock (cattle and horses etc.) and any other required chores by the family to sustain their 140 acre farm.  They were true farmers back when Amos  (Pawpaw) was little.  They did not own the farm, but rented the farm for self sustenance, and for cash crops. 

The cash/farming crops were corn, hay, wheat, and potatoes.  All were for family use and use on the farm, but potatoes were for sale.  Most of the meals were made with items grown on the farm - although a trip to the grocery store about once a month was a usual occurrence for some necessities, most consumables for food were straight from the farm.

There was a dairy herd of about 25 to 30 cows.  They would be fed and milked by hand, there were no machines.  Just hard working hands.  The milk would then be poured into jugs/can and the milk man would come and pick them up in a truck and take them to market.

After the morning chores were done, the family (before school) would enjoy a "real" breakfast.  "It was a big breakfast, oatmeal, mush, puddings, meats etc.  We did it every morning." said Amos. 

Then, after breakfast was school.  They would get ready for school and walk two miles to the one room school house that housed eight grades.  All eight grades in one schoolhouse.  There were about 80 kids, with one teacher.

"After school, it was home for more chores which included stripping tobacco, feeding the horses and milking again." said Pawpaw.  They did whatever the family needed of them, from working in the fields to helping around the house.  They would spend the afternoons in the fields until dinner time at dark. 

Pawpaw recalled "My parents weren't the strictest Amish, they did expect me to comply, especially with the normal traditions. I'll tell you a story" he said.  "One time on the way to church in our buggy I had socks on with white stripes.  When my dad noticed it, he actually turned the buggy around to go home and change the socks.  It was that strict and important, its tradition from the Get-go."

Pawpaw parents taught him a strong work ethic, to treat older people with dignity, and to treat and teach your children by example.  There were often times when Pawpaw would mess up, and his parents would just love him.  They taught by example.

Mawmaw's recollection:

"We only had 10 cows on our farm." she started.  "We worked on the farm all the time, we cut the corn and much the same as Pawpaw, we had big meals in the morning!" she exclaimed.

They had a huge garden, they grew nearly everything they needed for eating and canning.  There was lots of canning.  "We canned everything, everything.  Jams, veggies, fruits, and more." she said.  They also baked a lot.  They baked break, cookies, pies and more.  They would make grape nuts, cold pack veggies (in jars).  Cold packing is where to put veggies in a brine (generally water and or vinegar and other spices).  They would go out to the bath house and put the jars in a hot water bath and "cook the crap out of them.  

They also butchered (farm raised) pork and beef for food.  Mawmaw's dad would cure his own hams and also bologna.  Mawmaw can even remember growing up on the farm and "piling hay on wagons" as she was growing up.  Even as a young girl, they all worked on the farm to help out.

Q.) It sounds like a lot of work. What did you do for fun?

Dinner!  Dinner was a huge deal, the real deal, just like families are supposed to eat dinner.  "we would have meat, potatoes, vegetables and ALWAYS dessert!" Pawpaw said.  "Always dessert, pies and cakes; puddings and bread - homemade bread.  Sometimes we would have cheese and pretzels also."

"We hung out on the weekends, weekends were the time for fun and hanging out" said pawpaw.  "We used to spend weekends with the cousins.  We would all get together and eat, eat, eat!"

Let's talk history - Amish Family History.

Q.)  Tell me your account of Amish History - where did Amish come from?

All Amish roots step back to Germany.  The first Amish came to America for religious freedom.  The government was getting in the way of their religious freedoms and beliefs.  Specifically Pawpaw's family comes from southern Germany - the area of Esch (Pronounced Esh) - a town in southern Germany.  The term "Pennsylvania Dutch" stems from the ideal that William Penn granted the immigrants land in the Lancaster County area. This was the start of PA German or PA Dutch. 

The language "Pennsylvania Dutch" is not a written dialect in its truest terms.  It is a simple spoken dialect understood and spoken by the Amish Community.  All of the Amish traditions come from the origins of Germany, and have been carried from this origin.  Even today the prayers and songs in Church are spoken and sung in high German.

Pennsylvania Dutch is spoken between the Amish along with English and German.  Most Amish could be considered Trilingual.  Most Amish can speak English, PA Dutch/German, and German; or  portions of each.  The Amish today are typically not versed in great German.

Q.) So who are the Amish, what is the deeper history of the Amish?

The Lutheran Church is the dominant church in Germany, came from the Catholic community in its origins.  All of the Amish and the Mennonites comes from the Lutheran Church background.

The Amish church was started from the founder Jacob Amman.  The Mennonite Church (founded by Menno Simons) then closely related, both split off from the Lutheran church at the roots.  They then parted due to differences of beliefs and forms the two "Churches" the Amish church and the Mennonite Church.  At this time, the Lutheran church didn't speak much or preach about salvation through Christ. The split of the church resulted from conflict over tradition and music.

The Amish church is not a written religion if you will.  The bishops of the local church decide what is permissible and what is not.  Then as the body and people of the church they follow this and as a whole keep the beliefs and the tradition alive.

Their Story Continued:  Amos and Leah Esh (Pawpaw and Mawmaw) were born into Amish families.  They met  each other through friends and at "get together" and parties.  Some of the parties were not pretty growing up.  The young Amish spend lots of time drinking, heavy drinking.  Regardless, they met and got married.  Prior to getting married, they both actually joined the Amish Church - Pawpaw at age 19, and Mawmaw at age 15.

Pawpaw can recall a time when courting (dating) Mawmaw (describing how hard it was sometimes) when he was on his open horse and buggy in the blistering cold on his way home from seeing Mawmaw.  "It was so cold that my ears literally froze, they stuck out like Mickey Mouse." he said.

They both come from large families.  Pawpaw comes from a family of even, and Mawmaw a family of fifteen.  Most of the Amish have really large families because they take the bible seriously.  In Genesis 1:28, God Blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground."  In short the Amish don't believe in contraception - therefore, large families.

Q.) So why and when did you leave the Amish church?

They left the Amish church after they were married.  They were invited to tent meetings by some friends at a local Mennonite church.  It was here that they learned the Gospel of Jesus Christ and received salvation.  The message of the Gospel speaks about belief in the Bible and Jesus Christ.  The Amish church didn't teach the Bible, they taught and spoke in High German.  It was more about traditions and living than the belief in Jesus Christ.

After they received salvation, they realized it was time to move on.  They made the decision to leave and did it quickly.  "We got involved in reading the Bible and became responsible for our own lives." Pawpaw said. 

When Pawpaw was growing up Amish, he had a rebel heart.  He lived without conviction and nothing really mattered.  It wasn't until he found salvation through Jesus that he changed his ways and his heart.  It was two o'clock in the morning when Pawpaw found Jesus.   Mawmaw on the other hand was fortunate enough to have a father who spoke in church.  She heard her father speaking of the cross at a Sunday sermon when she accepted Christ.

               Q.) How did it go when you actually left?

"We simply showed up in a car at my parents for dinner one day.  We had normal clothes on and we went inside.  There was only a two week span since the last time they saw us as Amish." said Pawpaw.   His mom greeted them, and broke down and cried right there in the house.  Pawpaw said "I layed my hand on her shoulder and said "Leah and I love you, and we have made a decision and if you are going to have a funeral every time we come home, then we won't be coming. "  She never judged us after that." he said.

They had a great relationship after that day.  Pawpaw's father accepted Christ as a result, and then died a few years later.  Pawpaw's mom then grew old and moved into Mawmaw and Pawpaw's home.  She later accepted Christ as her savior and also died in this home.


In Summary:

People often say to us "Amish Family Recipes, you dont look Amish!" Although we are not Amish, we are proud of our heritage and delighted to represent traditional recipes from the Amish community. The roots our family go way back to the true roots of the PA Dutch in Lancaster County PA.  We hope that this simple interview has enlightened you and been a good resource to answer some of the "ordinary" descriptions you may have seen in the past.

The Amish are an amazing group of people with very strong traditions and beliefs. 

I am blessed to have the heritage and privileged to share in some of these awesome memories.  We even have some products named after these two!  Amos's Raspberry Vinaigrette and Leah's Cherry Jam.

*A special thanks to Amos and Leah Esh (Pawpaw and Mawmaw) for helping to share our story.*