The conference did not provide breakfast on departure day, so I tracked down some to-go coffee, gassed up the vehicle, consulted the next page of directions, and then pointed the car’s nose toward Kidron, Ohio. My friend, Becca and her husband, Michael, had offered to show me around the Amish counties of eastern Ohio. She had grown up there, for all intents and purposes, on the family farm. Ohio is home to more Amish and Mennonite families than Pennsylvania. The centerpiece of the tour would be lunch with her grandma, Ruth Amstutz, who lives in the farmhouse built after the family emigrated from Switzerland in 1840.
I pulled into the yard on the dot of ten o’clock. It was a damp, soft-focus morning, somewhere between overcast and foggy. From the looks of it, there didn’t seem to be anyone home. Despite a smidgen of doubt, I reaffirmed my steadfast, manly faith in printed directions. I double-checked the address, then rang the bell. Becca answered. She stood in the doorway, always taller than I remember, her strawberry blond hair pulled back and a big, sweet smile on her face.
She tilted her head just a bit to the left and said, “V.”
Michael stood behind her and Grandma behind him. I was ushered into the fine old house, spotless and modest. Did I want lemonade or iced tea? Grandma Amstutz carried a pitcher of lemonade and four glasses onto the back porch and we fumbled joyfully through small talk. The chatty dachshund seemed to like me.
After draining our glasses, we departed for a pre-lunch exploration of the rectilinear byways of the Ohio countryside. The farmland was still bare or covered with new green. Proud barns with acolyte silos lorded over congregations of dusty outbuildings, casting nets of white fence everywhere. In the fields, mighty horses pulled plows, and in the yards, wash hung limply on lines. The farm folk always waved as we passed by. Kids were dressed identically as their parents. Walking beside the road, a man in overalls, navy blue long-sleeved shirt, and straight-brimmed straw hat held onto the hand of tiny, perfect version of himself.
They brought me to a rambling emporium called Lehman’s, which strives to meet all the simple requirements of the farm communities while anticipating summer tourists’ insatiable need for stuff. The practicality and impracticality of the abundance extended to fifty types of hatchet; psychedelic displays of seed packets; stiff, tubular denim trousers in every imaginable size except ‘fat’; and Amish romance novels.
I guess we had been working up an appetite. By the time we got back to the farm, Grandma Amstutz had laid out an epic meal – a plump breast of chicken accompanied by egg noodles, mashed potatoes, stuffing, asparagus, and crescent rolls. I had scarcely wiped my chin when appeared a mountainous apple pie and coffee. If I were heading back to the fields I would have energy to burn, however, after such a painfully hearty lunch I was predisposed to snooze.
Becca and Michael had other plans for me, but first, she beckoned – “V, come to the springhouse.” Behind the farmhouse, the whitewashed springhouse was tucked into a hollow, two rooms stacked one on top of another. Small windows flanked the thick door that opened with the gravitas of a bank vault. In the half-light hung a rich, chill dampness. The smell was elemental. A stone trough stretched against the back wall, filled with cold water of unearthly transparency. Opposite the trough was a great fireplace with a heavy kettle suspended above the swept hearth.
“Everything happened in the springhouse,” said Becca, “It was the center of existence.” “I see,” I said, really seeing.
We stepped out into the now bright May air.