25 September

Amish Notebook: A “Grandpops” Day: A Reverie. Windows, Six Mountain Dews.

by Jon Katz

Above, the first windows in the barn painted by Lena and Barbara went up yesterday. About 50 more windows for the barn and the house remain. The two young sisters have volunteered to paint them all. This is hard work.

Sometimes I go up to the Miller Farm in the late afternoon; it is usually quiet there unless some construction is underway. The new house construction is on hold awaiting permits; the vegetable sales are quieting down, the baked goods are cooked fresh in the morning, but not all day.

Moise and his son are never idle, they are often out helping other families hurry to get their houses and barns built before winter. They will, in turn, have the help they need when it comes time to work on their own house.

This week, I have eight or nine medical appointments; Moise hasn’t mentioned the operation or asked me about it. That is their way. They don’t do drama. I love them for that. He drove by the other day and shouted, “Hey, Johnny Boy, take care of that foot.”

For the reserved Moise, that is about as close to wringing his hands as he will ever get.

I told them I would not be available for driving from now until Mid-October at the earliest. I might be able to do the small chores – ice cubes, etc. – but I’m not sure. The loss of my driving is a significant matter for Moise, I am the closest person around to ask for a ride, and I believe he has come to count on me.

Organizing rides is always dicey work for the Amish, they have to ride miles to see if someone can drive them, and if they can’t, they have to drive more miles.

We both had talked about spending more time together in the winter. I suspect that is still quite possible. Moise and I are both workaholics, we don’t carve out much fun on our workdays.

Our friendship will change; we just won’t see one another for a while. He will be busy; I’ll be unavailable or laid up in bed.

There was more going on at the farm than I thought yesterday, as usual.

I ended up having what I call a “Grandpops” day. I found myself doing “grandpop” things. The kids could use them.

The children waved and call me “Grandpops” when I pull onto the farm. I like being called that, and I love doing grandpop things. It lives inside of me, even though I’ve not been able to do it with my grandchild, who calls me “mepaw.” As I suspected, Robin is growing up, and we can’t be too much a part of the other’s lives. That’s just the way it worked out.

It was warm, so I brought my usual two bags of ice, which they use to cool their drinks after a hot day of labor. I also got a Cookies N” Cream box and a smaller carton of BlackBerry, which is Moise’s favorite. The girls love Cookies N’Cream; it’s their favorite ice cream. It was dark where they were working, and they were dirty and had white splatters all over their blue aprons.

I never see them in that way.

The night before, I  brought two pizzas as they had company. They all love pizza.

I dropped the ice cream on the kitchen floor. T there was a short line waiting for thumb wrestling, and I won all three games. The girls don’t mind losing, but they love winning more. They fight hard and want to win. But they laugh, win or lose.

Then, I stopped to look at the barn and see what progress Barbara and Lena were making on the way home.  I walked to the barn, and I heard Lena yelling, “Hey, it’s grandpops. Hey, grandpops.”

“Hey, strong women,” I shouted back.

They were painting the windows and trims by themselves.. It’s a lot of work; they paint on their knees, the big barn is dark, hot, and covered in paint splatter. They work hard and continuously, breaking only for meals. The Amish work incredibly hard.

They were happy to see me and insisted that I look at the two windows fully painted, the dozen they’re working on now, and the 60 or 70 lined up in stacks and rows in the barn. They don’t brag, they are not proud, but they like their work to be appreciated – and noticed.

They seemed tired and sweaty, but the Amish (and their children) never complain about working too hard or the work being too complicated. The day had gotten warm and humid, and I asked them if they liked Mountain Dew, the Amish national drink, 360 calories and all. They both nodded their heads and said, “sure, we love Mountain Dew.

One of the early lessons of being around the Amish is never asking if they need anything or want you to get it. They say no, we’re fine. So I know the drill now.

I understand that I am a friend, but I am also a danger as an outsider who uses technology, etc., and am also a threat to their way of life. I never lose sight of the need to keep the boundary. There is always a wall up, they appreciate me, but they don’t want me getting too close. That is how they protect their children from the excesses and distractions of English life.  I respect that.

They rarely ask me for books anymore, and I rarely hang around to talk. They don’t want our books lying all over the place. I bring my stuff or pick up stuff and get home. That is the boundary, and it feels good., if sometimes sad.

But we are close, and I do always feel welcome there. As the wags say, it is what it is. And I accept what it is. This is as close as it will ever get. In a sense, I am built this way, a refugee in body and soul, I’m always more at ease just outside than in it.

I waved goodbye,  walked to the car and drove straight town to Stewart’s Convenience store. I pulled six bottles of Mountain Dew out of the refrigerator, packed them into a paper bag filled with ice cubes, and drove right back to the Miller farm and the barn where Lena and Barbara were still painting.

They saw me walking towards them with a paper bag, and I saw them both start smiling; they dropped the brushes and ran towards my car. I handed them the bag, which they opened, and they both broke out into broad smiles and shouted: “thank you!”

Lena asked if she owed me any money, and I said no, I’ll take some Bracelets to Bishop Maginn High School this fall.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to turn over those six chilled bottles of Mountain Dew to these hard-working young kids. So this is what grandpops do, I wondered? It does feel good, warm, and somehow uplifting.

I said my goodbyes, congratulated them on the beautiful windows, and said I hoped the remaining work wasn’t too grinding. It will not grind these two down, for sure.

I felt a strong affection for them and as much admiration. I like this “grandpop” stuff; it makes me feel grounded and vital.

I’ll check in on them tomorrow morning. Perhaps I’ll get the Mountain Dew.

Today was a reverie for me. Peaceful, meaningful, as Grandpops days  should be.


  1. Dear Jon. As a daily reader, I’m deeply moved by what you share with us. Gob-smacked might be a better term. I had only known you from your dog books before I stumbled across your blog a year or so ago, and had no idea about all the other aspects of your life.

    I simply want you to know how much I (and I’m sure hundreds of others) appreciate you. As a social worker, old shoe leather journalist, horsewoman, small farm owner, and senior (got you beat by six years), I can tell you that what you’re choosing to do with your life is profoundly inspiring.

    And you must be the fastest writer in the universe!

    You’ve mentioned being attacked by toxic people on your website. Glad you’ve decided to deny them a single moment of your headspace.

    This is kind of presumptuous, but if you ever need backup regarding horse care, I’m your gal. Yes, some Amish don’t treat their horses well. Yes, they send them to slaughter when they’re no longer “useful.” It’s tragic, but it’s an individual decision, not necessarily a cultural one. Lots of other folks do the same thing, often with perfectly healthy young horses who are the victims of overbreeding and a depressed market. It’s a national disgrace. And while I choose to euthanize my horses and bury them on my own place, not everyone has that option. Selling horses for slaughter is something I battle, but it’s not an issue that you need not get sucked into.

    Thank you for being the extraordinary person you are, Jon. And thank you for inviting us along on your journey.



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