Chapter Four – House of Baskets

More hill-and-dale driving, this time in search of authentic Amish baskets. Becca knew of a gentleman who set out his excellent wares in the parking lot of Shisler’s Cheese House on weekends. We stopped by, got his address, and then lit out on a GPS adventure. A half hour later, we beheld a hand-painted sign – baskets – in red lettering on a white section of corrugated metal nailed to a post. Abruptly, we turned left. I was in the back seat as we bucked down a dirt road. Out the side, I saw a pair of curious sheep pacing us from behind a fence. We stopped short of the house and chickens ran across our bow. No signs of human life.

I strode onto the porch and announced, “Hello?” through the screen door. The interior of the farmhouse lay deep in shadow. No response. I turned back to my friends with a shrug. The screen door creaked.

“You woke me from my nap.”

“Oh, hello there. Your nap?”

“After the noon meal. My nap.”

“We got your name from Shisler’s,” Becca said. “We’d like to see your baskets.”

“Baskets, yes. In the shed.”

He stepped off the porch and we followed quietly across the hardpack yard and through a dutch door. Spilling off a workbench and piled underneath, every conceivable form of woven container – breadbaskets, wastepaper baskets, pie carriers with leather handles (one-, two-, and three-pie), baskets that fit baking dishes of all sizes, and hampers with and without lids. The sharp smell of linseed oil cut through the dusty gloom. The basket man grew increasingly animated as he displayed his handiwork, which was very handsome and not without some quirky flaws. Before we knew it, he had disassembled the great pile basket by basket and I had selected four different ones for Christmas purposes. Well, three. The two-pie basket was for me.

The joy of beautiful, simple things, an encounter outside the bounds of my customary experience, made for a chesty exhilaration, a core happiness shared with friends. Back at the Amstutz farmhouse, I stowed my finds in the trunk of the car and bid Becca and Michael good-bye. The music of Cleveland beckoned.

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