23 November

Honest Amish Memories: Looking Back. The Best Story Of 2022

by Jon Katz

Some friends were asking me this morning about my friendship with Amish Bishop Moise Miller and his family, and it got me thinking it was time to update my relationship with this remarkable family.

Two years ago, I wrote about them almost daily, and I haven’t really mentioned them in months. With time come perspective and also understanding.

It was one of the most important and meaningful stories in my life.

(Photo above: Moise Miller’s beautiful new home)

I have been thinking about it almost every day, and her is an honest account of a truly remarkable friendship, as clear and open as I can make it.

First, I should say I have a predator streak that comes from being a reporter and loving it so much. I didn’t want to take that impulse too far. I loved writing about this experience.

The distance has given me a chance to gain some perspective on this unusual and rewarding friendship and share how I feel about it.

The people who read my blog and followed this story have a right to know where it all landed.

My relationship with the family continues to be warm and frequent.

I see the family; I buy cookies and pies as gifts for friends and the doctors and nurses I sometimes see. The horse carts go by my house a dozen times a day, and I go but their new home just as frequently.

We wave at one another as we pass on the road.

I admire Moise and his family more than I can say. I’ve never seen any group of people work harder,  do better work as consistently and creatively, from building homes to plowing and planting fields and designing water systems.

My very personal and close friendship with Moise has shrunk, as I knew it one day would. It is not possible to be too close to people who disapprove of photography and of being written about. I respect their beliefs and wanted to move away before it becomes a problem.

I had my story and appreciated every minute of it.

I’ve only been inside of their house once, and I’ve never been invited back, although I can always stop in.

Members of the family will stop on the farm for refuge in sudden storms, or if wagon wheels break. I don’t have a rich history of making friends or keeping them. I no longer know what Moise is up to.

The girls come to the farm every so often to help Maria skirt the wool or help clean up leaves.

Moise’s daughters are fond of Maria ,and she of them. I think they admire her.

My relationship  with the family is mainly about waving to one another as I drive by or as he drives by in his carriage. I see the children reasonably often, we still thumb wrestle, and they make changes for me when I buy bracelets, cookies, or pies.

Kids are kids, they challenge me to thumb wrestle any chance they get. Delilah is starting to win. She has very strong thumbs. I can still beat the boys.  I miss bringing them soda and potato chips. I don’t do that any more.

 

 

 

If the kids have noticed a change in the relationship – I am sure they have – they would, of course, never refer to it. They still come rushing out when they see Maria or me; they still want to talk and know what’s going on with us.

There are no hard feelings between Moise and me, and I think we both realized at the same time that a close friendship with someone like me and him was not feasible or possible in a conservative Amish household.

We can be warm acquaintances and good neighbors, which is a lot.

Apart from everything else, I am not good at making friends or keeping them.

I think it’s true that we can always be friendly but never really be friends. Too many things separate us, and Amish life is based partly on keeping people like me – people who take pictures and write openly on a blog – away or at a distance.

Moise has stayed close with some of his neighbors, men who share his love for real estate and talk construction and carpentry. Our conversations were different, as I knew little about any of those things.

The Amish know full well what might happen to their way of life if their kids got hold of cell phones, Ipad, and computers.

I am their worst nightmare in many ways.  Knowing those children, I think the family has a good point. It is lovely to understand young people who haven’t grown up on Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. They are very different.

I accept that and respect the family’s feelings. I am in awe of what Moise and his family have accomplished in so short a time. They have brought a tired and abandoned farm back to life, built three barns and storage areas, and a beautiful new home up on a hillside.

Moise also supervised a new house and barn for one of his daughters.

But there is, of course, a wide gulf between us.

I’m not sure Moise knows what a photographer is, and he certainly does not see or talk with a lot of writers.

The path to friendship with the Amish, who spent every spare minute working or worshipping, is to work for them, drive them to and from train and bus stations, or take them on long shopping excursions to mills and farm stores where they ferociously negotiate prices.

Relationships with outsiders tend to be transactional for them – they need a lot of outside help to live, and they rarely socialize with people outside of the faith. I am not easy with a friendship that is paid for.

I don’t want to be an employee or driver. We became friends on those long drives together, they were great fun. Moise is a wonderful story teller, and I never tired of hearing about his great leap of faith in moving his family here. It was a great move.

Moise’s story ought to be a movie. He is a true adventurer and pioneer, he risked  everything to come her and was instantly and completely successful.

Without our drives all over the county, we have almost no occasion to be alone together any longer, which bleeds the spark out of a friendship. We can’t even e-mail or text together.

I like to think of myself as a person of faith, but his faith is is deep, unyielding, , intense, and different from mine.

I am not a carpenter or builder. Jesus is not my God. He is the center and soul of Amish life.

But it was a wonderful experience for me, one I loved every minute of.

I learned a lot about patience, tolerance, faith and family from him. It was a joy to write about their brave move into a new world.

I loved riding around the country with Moise as he pieced his new life together, but by bit. They redefined the idea of family for me – they work together all day and do almost everything today, willingly and without complaint.

Everyone has an important role, everyone does his or her share. Nobody is watching inane Tik-Tok videos all day.

The family is industrious and hard working. They sell donuts, cookies, pies, bracelets, corn and a score of other vegetables that they grow. They also mill wood and sell it, and help other Amish families build their houses and barns.

They don’t waste a single minute of any day.

Amish families socialize together, go to church together, work together. It is a very tight community, and I’ve never seen another outside or “English” as they call them, break through it.

Their energy is awesome, they improve everything they touch. They treat their animals well, and their children seem engaged with the world and content.

When I look back, I do see that the predator part of me – the reporter – would almost certainly have been a problem for Moise if I didn’t keep it closely in check. As a reporter, I was known for being fierce and unrelenting when it came to getting a story.

We never worried much about how our subjects felt about it.  I chose not to get there with Moise. He would never be able to understand such a thing as my life.

I can’t apologize for that, because it’s who I am. I loved writing about the Amish, it was one of the best two or three stories I can recall in my years of living up here.

Loooking back, I think this is a happy story. I loved knowing Moise, writing about him. I’m glad I knew when it was time to stop, while we both have warm feelings for one another. A close personal friendship does not really work.

He is a Bishop in the Amish Faith, I am a writer, photographer, blogger.

I am true to me, and he is true to him.

Neither one of us gave any pieces of ourselves to the other, and that is something I am proud of. I like to think it was a gift to both us, as long as it lasted.

I learned a lot.

6 Comments

  1. When I was a child I would go with my siblings and parents on rides though out northeastern Ohio in the area where the Amish lived. My dad would point out the Amish homes and tell us about them not using electricity or television or radios and now no cell phones, video games, etc. I was in awe of their way of life as a child – especially since they rode around in carriages with horses! I appreciate your stories about them and I also appreciate your respect toward them and the fact that you did not push to takes pictures of them or anything that they did not want done. I loved and stories though. Took me right back to riding with the family in the car and enjoying new things. Do families even do that any more?

  2. Your relating the history and evolution of your relationship with Moise is spot on. We cannot change the deep roots of either’s way of life or philosophy………but we can embrace what *was* and embrace the roots of the friendship that will remain, and always will., despite the huge differences. There is no doubt in my mind that you are all *there* for each other…..however that need arises. It is heartwarming
    Susan M

  3. Jon,
    I loved your piece on Moise and the Miller family! I thought it was honest and insightful . As you said time gives us perspective. Thank you.

  4. It’s Thanksgiving and I want to thank you for all you’ve written over the years. Your essays about the Amish were particularly interesting. You gave us a good boots-on-the-ground view of their daily lives. Their world is so different from ours but your writing always treated Moise with respect. I like that you wrote about him from the standpoint of being a friend, not an oddity. It sounds like your relationship with Moise and family has reached the place it was always destined to go … friends with fences, maybe? Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

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