The Amish Among Us
The Work of the Amish
Clark County Press, dated October 29, 1992 (Volume 125, No. 44)
By Mick Kuzjak
Transcribed by Shari Hahn
Theirs is a work ethic uniquely their own. One that is inspired by the bible, practiced daily within their farming livelihood, and nurtured from an early age.
To the Amish of Clark County, all work is seen as morally good, sanctioned by the very word of God within their well-worn bibles. To them, all work is important. They value the process as well as the product of their labors. For they believe that work builds the character of the person and the people, preparing them for the blessed eternal afterlife that they are striving for while on this earth.
On the Amish farm, work is not avoided, nor sought to be made easier or more convenient. With their horse-drawn machinery and their able hands, they farm in their distinctly Amish way, unchanged for the last one hundred years with no thought to change in the next hundred- or beyond.
And as the Amish mothers and fathers go about providing for their children, they provide, most essentially, an example of living and working that will serve their children well in the years ahead. Consequently, genuine enthusiasm for work is learned early in life, enthusiasm that is tempered in adolescence and becomes, finally, a seasoned appreciation of the labor in the Amish adult.
And so, on a hot, sunny day in late August, the Old Order Amishman would be found working within the nearly-finished shed adjoining the house. Two of his sons were attaching metal panels to the roof of the building, a combination laundry room and butcher shop. Pausing in their hammering but for a moment, they pointed the way up the stairs to the storage loft and their father.
On that day, as on any other work day, Emanuel Miller was dressed in the broadcloth shirt and denim trousers of the Amish farmer. The ever-present straw hat was pushed back, exposing a perspiring brow. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up above the elbows, freeing arms and hands that were busy laying a brick chimney that afternoon.
The Amish have long had a reputation for being craftsmen and Miller typified their kind.
“We Amish are good do-it-yourselfers,” he said, hardly pausing amid the constant motion of the trowel, bricks, and mortar as the column of brick rose steadily toward the opening in the roof.
“We learn by watching and doing,” he explained, using the last of the mortar. “We call it “mud’.” He let on.
Raising his voice slightly, Miller called out in the Pennsylvania Dutch language of the Amish. A moment later, small but heavy footsteps were heard slowly coming up the stairs. A barefoot youngster finally made his appearance. The boy, both arms straining, carried a wide board with a heaping mound of “mud” on it. Wearing a tattered straw hat and with hair below his ears, he could have passed for an ambitious Huck Finn.
His mortar replenished, Emanuel Miller returned to his bricklaying and began speaking of the typically long workday on the Amish dairy farm, a day that started in the pre-dawn hour of 5 a.m. and ended with dusk.
“We do take our breaks from work,” the Amishman quickly added and smiled, letting on that life on his farm was less arduous than it first sounded. “We have our meals and prayer, with family devotions in the morning and evening. The children have their games and I do a lot of reading, mostly after chores.”
“We get contentment and satisfaction from work itself,” the Amish farmer said and his actions did nothing to belie his words. “We are not driven by the buck,” he commented, making the point that monetary gain was not the most meaningful goal in an Amish life.
Emanuel Miller glanced up through the roof opening at the sunny skies above. “We’re waiting for some hay to dry,” he said, “Maybe we’ll get in a load or two today.”
A call came up the loft steps. Miller was told that a nephew had arrived for some lumber. He would have to saw some logs.
The Amishman finished off the remaining mortar, stood back and nodded, a look of satisfaction momentarily settling on his features. Then he made his way down the narrow stairway.
In one corner of the ground-level laundry room stood a washing machine with a gasoline motor attached, testimony to the fact that with the 12 Miller children, it was indeed a necessity and not a mere convenience.
There is a distinct division of labor among the Amish. While fathers work the fields with their sons, the mothers and daughters attend to the domestic chores around the home.
“Washing is the Amish woman’s work,” said Miller, “As is ironing, cooking and gardening.”
Rows of canned peaches, literally the fruits of wife Katie’s Labor, lined a ledge around the inside of the laundry room. The peaches were bought by the bushel directly from a Michigan fruit grower.
“We don’t have a freezer,” Miller commented, “so when we butcher an animal, the meat gets canned too.”
Outside, the hammering on the roof seemed to reach a crescendo and some yard work had been started. As a teen-aged girl raked the grass, her two young brothers were mowing the lawn around the house. Leaning forward at an acute angle and hardly looking up, one boy pushed mightily on the wooden handles of an old-fashioned push mower while the other, a make-shift rope harness looped around his shoulders, pulled with equal zest. Although there was hardly an organized pattern to their mowing, they were obviously having fun.
Amish children are typically self-motivated and enthusiastic in completing their tasks. And it is, in large part, hardworking parents that set the example.
“Showing means more than telling,” Emanuel Miller would say, “It rubs off a little.”
“And we try to have fun with work when we can,” he continued, telling of how he had planted some red corn seed along with the mostly yellow kernels so that when corn picking time came along, his family would have a little contest to see who had picked the most red ears.
The sound of a diesel engine came from behind the barn where sawing was already underway.
“We do use motors but only when we need belt power,” said Miller as he walked toward the labored sound of a saw blade cutting through hardwood, “Otherwise, our horsepower comes from the four-legged kind.”
In addition to sawing lumber, the same diesel engine would be used for silo filling, grain threshing, and feed grinding.
Miller’s oldest son, Gideon, already possessed of the powerful physique of an Amish farmer, yielded the controls of the old-time sawmill to his father without a word. Then, barefoot and without gloves, he used a hooked peavey pole to roll the logs up a ramp to the sawmill platform.
Emanuel Miller, with the ease and assurance of a skilled sawyer, pulled levers, twisted handles and set hooks into logs as the sawmill carriage rumbled to and fro. Oaken 2x4’s, to be used by Miller’s brother in constructing a pole shed, emerged from the far end of the saw rig.
With the last of the logs, the saw blade started becoming dull screeching in protest as a knot was struck. Pushing and lifting, the Amishman coaxed the log through, arms and hands coming within inches of the five foot diameter saw blade.
“It’s not as dangerous as it looks!” he shouted above the noise, “The saw won’t jump out at you!” His deadpan look disappeared into a wide grin.
As the last of the lumber was loaded on the waiting wagon, Emanuel Miller looked out toward the hay field where still another son was just finishing raking up the last windrow of second crop clover. The late afternoon sun was shining and it was time to make some hay.
From around the corner of the barn, a team of draft horses appeared, fully harnessed and synchronized in their heavy and purposeful footsteps. A closer look revealed a small boy, perhaps four years old, following closely behind. Holding tightly onto the reins, he was pulled along in tiny, hurried steps. But the youngster showed no fear, tugging on the reins with an authority not challenged by the giant animals, and soon he had maneuvered them smartly into position.
“They learn young, don’t they?” the approving Amish father smiled at his obvious understatement.
The team was soon hitched to the wagon and, with a hay loader behind, three of the Miler’s teen-aged sons started out into the filed. Standing on the front upright of the wagon, one boy drove the horses. Another, a pitchfork in hand, spread the hay cascading down from top of the hay loader, while the third stomped and tramped the hay down with his feet. Before long, the growing mound of hay, swaying heavily down the field, had all but hidden the wagon underneath.
With haying in his sons’ young but capable hands, the Amishman took some time for a walk across the field.
The Amish see themselves as stewards of the land and they assume that responsibility seriously. Among the first to practice crop rotation and strip cropping, the Amish have been mindful of land conservation long before it became widespread. The Amish have found, from long experience that their harmony with the land would bring out its best.
Striding across the field, Emanuel Miller surveyed the bounty amid the pastoral serenity of his farm. A multitude of golden shocks of oats dotted an adjacent filed. The corn, its growth set back because of a late frost, was a lusty green and growing well again. Several horses were grazing in nearby pasture and a herd of cows were languishing off in the distance.
The Amish farmer seemed to be in his special, ordained element. For Miller, and his farm, everything seemed right and natural at the moment. “It’s a good feeling,” he said.
Shadows soon lengthened and the Amishman’s thoughts turned to milking chores. Milking is done twice a day, morning and evening, and it is done literally by hand.
The Amish of Clark County are, for the most part, dairy farmers and most choose the productive Holstein for their milk cows.
Emanuel Miller, Katie and six of their older children milk 20 Holsteins, each member of the family taking from two to four cows.
It was already dark in the Miller’s barn that evening and deep shadows were cast by the murky light of three kerosene lamps hanging from the ceiling. There was a comforting, almost cozy, quiet there among the cows. Few words were spoken and, except for some soft, presumably contented, lowing, the only sounds were the rhythmic pulses of milk squirting into pails.
Asked who was the fastest milker in the family, a boy quickly concedes: “My father is.” And, from across the aisle, a beaming Emanuel Miller interjects: “That’s because I’ve got the most experience.”
After each cow is finished, the milk is poured through a strainer into an old-fashioned milk can. The cans, when full, are lowered into a water tank to cool. The next day, and everyday, the cans are hauled to the dairy by truck. The only exception is Sunday.
“It’s our holy day,” Miller said, “We don’t do business on Sunday.”
During the longer days of summer, the Amish return to work on their ongoing projects after milking is done. So the bricklaying and hammering on the roof continued until became too dark to see. Darkness and then quiet descended on the Miller farm as the lamps flickered through the windows for only a bit longer. The Miller families, like all the Amish, retire early at night, because after one long, hard day, the next day of work would start with the sunrise. And they were already looking forward to it.
Within sight of a century-old oak, an Amish farmer works the land with his horses and his hand much as was done when the tree first started to grow. (Photo by Ken Luchterhand)
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