All my life, I’ve known myself to be a troublemaker.
I have a gift for stirring the pot, making trouble, skirting around rules. When somebody tells me I can’t do something, I immediately go to work, figuring out how to get it done.
I can’t seem to help it. I’m one of those people who pushes envelopes, pokes the might, rushes to lost causes and impossible battles. As a child, I hated being told what to do, because whatever I was told to do seemed incredibly stupid and pointless to me.
I pretended to be sick, played hooky regularly, faked taking needles and pills, and secretly told my dog how to steal food off of the kitchen table.
So far, so good with my new neighbors and friends.
I am getting on very well with my “other” family, as Maria has gotten to calling it, my Amish family. I respect their rules, no games.
There is real love and connection there, amazed as I am, and as the days go by, I really do feel like I am a part of their family, if not in the family itself.
I am not known for leaving good enough alone; there is always good enough and still better.
Strong boundaries keep my “other family” and me at a distance and keep the boundaries strong, even sacrosanct. We will get only so close, but it has been closer than I imagined or expected.
The Amish live by clearly defined and fundamental rules. In the Amish world, you follow the rules or go somewhere else; they are not shy about shunning people who defy the church hierarchy. They worship the plain, the simple, and the inexpensive.
I am not much of a rule follower; I have gotten in trouble all of my life for bending, breaking, and ignorant rules, dictums, and dogma.
I have two struggles going on with Moise and his family at the moment (three, if you count my picture taking, although we seemed to have worked that to a good and comfortable place.)
Moise is a shrewd negotiator, something I also pride myself on being. I don’t think anything I do really surprises him, he just lets me know from time to time, that I’m not fooling anybody.
Moise doesn’t watch or listen to the news, nor does he want to hear about most news from the outside. I feel that sometimes I need to make him aware of the news that affects his life.
The Amish believe the news will corrupt them and their children and ravage the fabric of their society as it does the English outside of their lives. A steady diet of news in their minds is just more rain from Hell.
There is no equivalent of Fox News or CNN in Amish communities; God forbid their children would ever listen to that every single day. There are many reasons the Amish avoided being divided; that is one of them.
I’ve gathered that Moise is a fundamentalist in religion and life; he has no use for American politics, believes almost none of it, and dismisses almost all of it. If we talked about politics, I’m not sure we would like one another, but since we don’t, we learned that we could love people with whom we differ.
Yet as a connection to the outside world, a purchaser of some of their most necessary goods and things, and a trusted friend, I feel it is my responsibility to let them know some things about the outside world if the news would affect them.
(The barn is all ready for Wednesday, the day of the raising.)
I feel that climate change affects his farm to a great degree (I don’t know if he believes in climate change or not, and I wouldn’t ask him.) I talked to him about the Russian hackers who threatened to close down the Eastern electric grid of the United States.
Although he doesn’t use electricity or subscribe to any outside grid, such a crisis would affect him and his work and farm in many different ways.
He was curious to hear every detail of that story and asked me for daily updates.
I thought it my duty to let Moise know people were concerned about the safety of the horse buggies.
I know he didn’t want to hear it, but he eventually listened to me and is considering changing the illumination on the buggies (slowly and at his own pace.)
Today and yesterday, I began to react physically to the quality of the air. I had trouble breathing at times and had a hacking cough I couldn’t get rid of.
As a former asthmatic and someone who has both heart disease and diabetes, I called my doctor and asked her if there was a problem I should deal with. She told me that I was suffering from the awful cloud spawned by wildfires in Oregon, California, and Montana. It had spread over much of the country.
I would feel shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, headaches, sore throat, coughing, indigestion, and fatigue. She was correct, I think I felt all of them at once.
I really need to stay indoors as long as these clouds were hovering all the way to the Northeast.
Knowing Moise would not like to hear this news two days before his barn-raising – he told me once the fires come every year, they do not affect people here – I decided he ought to know and a good friend would not be afraid to tell him.
Moise never wants to hear anything that would interfere with work.
He and his workers were soaked in sweat and looked exhausted. The air here was a yellowish haze that smelled of smoke and made me weak and almost too tired to stay on my feet.
People working outdoors with heavy tools for hours in the direct sun ought to know about those disturbing, smelly, and allegedly unhealthy clouds hanging overhead.
The air smelled bad. It even felt bad.
I approached him and said in a loud voice that there was something in the news I thought he ought to hear; the grimy and uncomfortable air overhead was not just summer weather; it was a cloud caused by the wildfires raging in Oregon, California, and other western states.
The fires were so bad they had created their own weather system, and it was not healthy, especially for those working hard in humid weather and direct sunlight.
Didn’t this happen every year?, Moise asked. Yes I said, but this was the worst and most extensive wildfire season in history, especially the fire raging in Oregon.
This was not normal, I said; it should be taken seriously. It is was not healthy.
I noticed that every Amish man working surrounded me almost by psychic magic and were getting as close as they could and peppering me with questions. Where was this happening? How long had it been going on? How long would it last? Why hadn’t they put it out yet? I realized that none of them knew much about it, although one or two had heard some mention of it last week.
I’m sorry I didn’t know enough to really guide them. I’m sorry, I don’t know, I kept hearing myself say.
I told them everything I knew and showed them an Iphone photo map taken by satellite showing the air mass traveling from the fires over the Northeast. You can smell it, I said, and some of them did.
They seemed hypnotized by the Iphone national weather map.
Moise wasn’t much interested. I told the men to take care of themselves tomorrow and slow if they felt queasy or ill. Eli nodded, and Moise did too.
Moise interrupted to ask if I could pick up some Amish workers in Glens Falls tomorrow; I said I couldn’t.
I could come and check on the progress the barn was making, but tomorrow was a day I needed to spend mostly at home. He said he understood; he could find someone else.
I don’t think there is anything Moise can do about the smoke cloud over the Northeast; they will certainly not stop or curtail their work. He’s worried it will rain on his raising.
That’s their business, and having told them, I have nothing more to say about it unless asked.
I won’t nag or pester.
They need to make their own decisions.
But I think I’ve found my comfort zone when it comes to the news. When I hear something I think is serious, I’m going to pass it on. Moise might get sick of me one day and turn away.
But we both have to be faithful to what a friend is. I know he will be.
I guess that is one of the things that makes me such a pain in the ass. I can’t miss a chance to push against a rule, especially if I think the rule makes no sense to me.
On another front, I have been gently urging Barbara to consider some more creative and appetizing ways to display their gorgeous vegetables, which are popping up all over the place on the farm.
The family has been using indoor plastic greenhouses to display their wonderful vegetables and fruit. In my eye, they look small and a little shabby.
While shopping online for blueberries, I came across some very classy and appetizing hand and machine woven baskets on sale that I thought they would love. And they were on sale!
I approached Barbara with the idea, and she was very uneasy about it.
How much would they cost? Were they necessary?
In fact, before buying anything, I run these questions through my mind? Do they operate on any kind of power? Do they use electricity and the national grid? Are they showy or flashy, or made in any way to draw attention? Are they extravagantly expensive for reasons of pride?
Will they make others feel poor and inferior? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, I stop and look elsewhere.
I do not have a ton of patience as an online shopper or as anything else. I look for bargains, but I also look for speed and economy; I don’t want to spend too much of my life haggling over everything I buy or searching for hours for a better deal.
The Amish, on the other hand, are not impulse buyers. Negotiating is as natural to them as breathing. And they have all of the patience in the world.
They don’t want to accumulate a lot of stuff, and they absolutely never buy anything without careful, even meticulous examination. I admire this, but it is not exactly my style.
They are pleased with my online shopping and grateful but like to slow me down to make sure I find the best prices (with no shopping costs, if possible.) I need to be deliberate, patient and frugal.
The baskets are evidence of what I’m learning, how the Amish are responding, and what we are accomplishing.
I tell Barbara truthfully that I have found some inexpensive baskets that I think she will love and will be a perfect display for her selling things. They are natural, handmade, on sale, and used in farmers’ stands all over the country.
I’ll buy two or three, I say, and if she doesn’t like them or finds them too expensive, I’ll simply ship them back. My goal is to get her to look at them (they must be reasonably priced, no give on that) and not decide in advance that they are too expensive or unnecessary.
While buying blueberry bushes, I made it a point to ask the growers if they used wooden baskets, and if so, what happened to the baskets when the season was over?
I struck pay dirt here, most three their baskets away, some had the cleaned, most saved their unused baskets for next year or for Fall, when the growing season was over.
I kept a list of the latter and started calling them a couple of weeks ago. I found four who had a lot of unused baskets and would sell several of them to me for half price – in some cases, that was as little as $10 or $12.
I could win on shipping costs when the prices were that low, I had to be merciful. I ordered three, kept them in the farmhouse, and waited for my shot.
The girls wade in. Lena usually says the thing I want to buy isn’t needed – she’s Amish all the way – Delilah and the others will say they’d like to see one before they decide, they’ve seen baskets of fruit and vegetables, and they are a nice way to show the fruit that is on sale.
Moisi is aware of these deliberations, but he doesn’t step in.
But I know this will be a tough sell.
The Amish love to do what has always been done and generally resist doing what has never been done. To some, woven baskets are just like Ipads, a new kind of technology they don’t need or want in their lives.
I push a more pragmatic approach.
They like selling the things they bake and the things they grow, and I point out the baskets are natural, not technological. and now showy in any way. They wouldn’t be showing up the Amish who didn’t use them. Wooden baskets are not glamorous.
If you think about a good supermarket, there are baskets displaying food all over the place, and nobody knows what will sell better than supermarkets.
As I did with Moise, I pointed out that baskets did not challenge Amish laws values, or traditions in any way.
Barbara likes to sell her things but also wants to keep to her faith. It isn’t simple.
Just give the baskets chance a chance to live is my strategy. I buy the first one myself if it’s inexpensive enough and bring it to the shed where I leave it on the porch.
No one says a word the next day, and when I drive by, the basket is full of cucumbers. So I sneak two more onto the food shed floor and drive away. That’s what I mean by never leaving good enough alone.
This morning, I got to call Maria and claim a significant victory. “The baskets are on the front porch of the shed,” I exclaim, “and there is fruit and vegetables in them; one basket is already sold out.”
I’m sure Maria was rolling her eyes at this point, but she understands how I think and congratulates me.
When I got up to the farmhouse, all the girls and Moise’s stepmother talked about how nice the baskets looked, how quickly the vegetables disappeared.
“I wonder,” said Barbara, “if you could find me a bushel basket – a basket that holds one full bushel” – she said, doubting that I would know. “And maybe a half bushel basket, too,” she said hopefully.
There was no longer any question about the baskets; she paid me right away for them and said she wouldn’t mind a couple more, assuming they weren’t expensive. She didn’t want any that were expensive.
I said “I am a friend of Moise Miller. I don’t do expensive..” She laughed.
I found a bushel basket and am still looking for a half bushel basket. I think I might know where there is one.
I was delighted about the baskets. They looked great. And I told the truth. They were not expensive; they were a steal for baskets like that. (I should say I will never lie to people who never lie. That would be an awful breach of trust.)
I’m going to be careful about this. I don’t want to push anyone in the family out of their comfort zone or in defiance of their traditions.
So I pick my shots. If the answer is no, I don’t pout; I move along. When the answer is yes, I feel good about myself and my ability to be a useful friend as well as a pain in the ass.
I was thinking that with an Amish friendship, one reason it can work so well is that we really don’t ever know too much about the other. I have to think about that.