Today’s barn raising, Day 16, wore me out. I got up before 6 to pick up ice cubes so the Amish barn workers could use the two ice and drink coolers I got yesterday.
I’m not working nearly as hard as those Amish builders, but then, I’m a lot older than they are.
Moise said the coolers really worked well and were needed.
I spent several hours visiting the work site, taking permissible photos unobtrusively, and talking to Eli and the workers about what they were doing and how they were building the barn.
Then I step back and stay out of their way.
I won’t bring the camera on Raising Day when the Old Guard shows up. Some of them are pretty cranky about outsiders.
I understand very little of what they say, but I am getting the larger picture.
It is a foreign language to me; the only thing I ever did with my father was riding to a baseball game every year.
Otherwise, I never saw him unless he had a lecture for me.
I’m what the shrinks call self-taught, which means I don’t know much.
In the afternoon, I drove to Glens Falls to pick up the family of Eli, the foreman – his wife and three children and Moise’s stepmother. She is the woman who helped raise him after his biological mother died.
We came home in a torrential downpour most of the way, very heavy rain and hail and wind on curvy country roads. You really have to pay attention. The drive took about an hour each way.
The baby didn’t cry once, and the two very young boys spoke softly to their mother in Pennsylvania Dutch several times.
The women didn’t speak much; we made a joke about Eli’s shouting commands in German all over the Amish world.
They were eager to see the Amish farms in Argyle and Cossauuna that I pointed out to them on the route home – three that we passed on the way home, three that were not there a year ago.
“Okay, we see them,” said his mother, “let’s get moving.”
Moise’s stepmother is a person of few words. I did get her to smile a few times.
I think the storm made her nervous; the rain was making visibility difficult. These women and children are very important to the men waiting to see them; I was cautious driving.
We all got to Moise’s farm in one piece. The women there were all hauling church benches stashed somewhere out in the yard to serve meals to the scores of Amish workers descending on the place. A week from Sunday, church will be held at the Miller Farm.
They were happy to see the newcomers. I carried their bags in and started to leave.
Both women wanted to pay me and reached for their purses.
“No, thanks,” I said, explaining: “I just can’t take money for driving Moise’s family.”
His wife smiled. “Well,” she said, “I’m not his family. You can take money from me.” But I couldn’t. Moise’s stepmother looked at me carefully, and I just shook my head no, and she said, “well, thank you.’
I come to the site three or four times a day; I am a familiar figure now; everybody waves to me or calls my name. The kids are eager to thumb wrestle; my sore thumb is holding its own.
I step back to the road when I want to take a photo, and you know what? When I do, there is not an Amish man looking at the camera.
As I stood on the hill, my aching legs in their new orthotics aching, Moise came walking up the hill to me as he often does.
I usually think he is coming to throw me off the property or reprimand me for writing about the raising or tell me people want me to leave.
Mostly, he comes up to say hello and tell me what he is working on – in this case, the extended roofs at the entrance to the barn on either side – and make sure I see it, even if I have no idea how it was made.
We talked for a while about who is coming and how they all write letters that arrive a day or before they come; that’s how they communicate.
Otherwise, he never knows who is coming or when. Some take a cab; some arrange to get rides on their own.
Moise said he would like to pay me for picking up his stepmother and Eli’s family. I know his stepmother is important to him; I picked her up once before.
I said no thanks.
He asked why, as he often does. Was I sure?
He never pushes it behind that.
“Moise, I can’t take money for bringing your mother home from the bus station. You’re my friend, and my idea of friends is that they do things like that for free, if they can.”
He thanked me again for bringing the drink coolers. “They really helped today. The sun was strong.”
It is very important to him to treat the workers well. I’ve helped with that. I find there are always ways to help, even if you can’t do the hardest work.
He said when the barn was finished; the roof would be visible from the highway. It would be more than 14 feet higher than it is now.
He asked me if I could pick up a group of people coming into Albany over the weekend. I said I doubted that I could,
I was pretty tired, and Maria and I had plans for the weekend; I want to spend time with her. And I wanted to see the barn come up. I’m attached to the story now; I want to see it to the end.
Moise said several times that he had other people who could drive; it wasn’t something I should do if I couldn’t or didn’t want to.
If anyone called me for a ride, I should tell them I couldn’t and that I would notify Moise, and he would find something else.
He said it was nice when I drove; people enjoyed talking with me. (I’m not sure his stepmother did, I thought.)
I do not have a fraction of his strength or energy; I will have to say no about driving to Albany.
I like that Moise never hesitates to ask when he needs something, and it never bothers him if I say no. I feel completely free to do that.
He pointed out a few things to me about the barn design that I didn’t know.
He told me what the newcomers would be doing. He asked me to try to be present at 6:30 on Wednesday; he said that was the most interesting thing to see: raising the walls.
Spiritually, it was one of the most important. I told him Maria wants to come. Sure, he said.
I asked him if he needed ice cubes in the morning, he said he did; that would be nice.
We stood silently on the top of the hill. He told me his arm was hurting from all the hammering; he thought he might have injured his rotator cuff.
I didn’t bother to suggest that he stop hammering so much, that wasn’t my place, and it would have been a waste of time.
He didn’t ask for my advice, and I wasn’t his mother. He’s been hammering all day, every day for more than a week.
Nothing in this world, including his arm falling off, would stop him from finishing this barn.
I could see as he rubbed his shoulder that he was in pain.
That would not stop him or slow him down. If he was telling me about it, it had to hurt. I asked if he wanted some cream I had for muscle ache, he said no thanks, he had some linament.
We all get into the habit of telling people we care about what to do. I don’t want to get into that habit with Moise. What he does and doesn’t do is very complicated.
Moise is like an iceberg in some ways; most of him exist way below the surface.
We stood silently on the hill for a few moments; I think he was trying to take a breath from the work and the pain. I said I’d have the ice there in the morning.
We listened to the hammering and watched Tina chase after one of the horses barking. “Tina,” said Moise, “stop chasing after the horses.”
She lay down.
A few more minutes went by. Looking straight ahead at work, he said softly, “I’m obliged to you, Johnny.”
Then he walked back down to work. As he walked away, I yelled out to him: “You know, sometimes you sound just like John Wayne.”
He turned. “Who was he?” he asked.