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Going with Grandpaps to Church By Horse and Buggy

Editor’s Note: With buggy rides on our cover, it seemed appropriate to share this personal story recently submitted by one of our Amish friends. It will give you insights into “growing up Amish” that are much different from more scholarly writings. And, with UPN’s “Amish in the City” now on TV, this simple story also offers a far more accurate view of Amish life than any “reality” TV show ever will. 

Back in 1958, my parents and I lived on a dairy farm in a rambling two-story, two-unit farmhouse. Dad’s family of six girls and us three boys lived in the one unit or farmhouse side; the grandparents and 46-year still-single Aunt Liz lived in the other unit or “gross-daadi haus” (grandfather house).

About the time I turned 16, my grandfather Sam suffered a stroke at age 75. He lost the use of his left hand and couldn’t do work for quite a while. After lots of therapy and time, he could soon work at his profession of carpentry.  But with his lame left hand, he couldn’t drive his horse anymore. Thus, I was appointed to go with them to church.

In our Amish circles, we have worship services every two weeks. Back then in the 1950’s, our district was long and narrow. Often we had six to nine miles to go to the place where church services were held. Since there were too many of us to fit in one 39-inch (wide) by 72-inch (long) carriage, some of us went with the grandparents. In our small child’s world, it was considered quite special to go with the “daadis” (grandparents). Usually Mom would decide the day before who it would be --- often the two of us siblings who had behaved best the previous two weeks.

By the 1960’s when I was a teenager, the process had changed a bit. It was assumed that this was my job, perhaps a privilege. Mom would gently say I should do it gladly so that when I’m an old grandpappy then my grandchildren will take me to church.

However, I must say that assumption faded quite a bit once I was out late Saturday night dating my girlfriend, who later became my wife. The prospect of having to get up an hour and a half earlier Sunday morning always hung over my head, and perhaps I thus came home earlier, by midnight or so.

The mornings of Sunday services were about always the same. Around 6 a.m. or so, Grandma would come over to our kitchen and ask, “Kon der Sammy mit us in die Gma ga?” (Can Sammy go with us to church?)

“Sure,” Dad would say as he was digging into our Sunday breakfast. He’d glance at me at the other end of our table and I’d say, “Sure.”

I’d quickly fork down my breakfast of eggs, shoofly pie, and cereal, then dash upstairs, and put on my Sunday best --- black broadfall pants, freshly ironed white shirt, black jacket and coat, shiny black low shoes, and my black hat, plus boots and gloves if it was rainy or cold.

Next I’d head out to the barn and Grandpa would already have his horse named Silver out, currying and brushing him as good as he could with his right hand. Silver was an old sorrel horse, rather slow but gentle --- a good “grandfather horse.”

Grandpa would be muttering how “Silver is always so hairy,” and then “Grandma is always in a hurry to go early.” Grandpa looked quite dignified in his black Sunday suit, quite different from his weekly nail bag and hammer gear.

Grandma and Aunt Liz would be pushing out the carriage and putting in the blankets. Then Grandpa and I would hitch up Silver, and one of my little brothers or sisters would come dashing out and join Grandma and Liz in the back seat.

Grandpa would get in the front seat and I on the right-hand driver’s side. “Giddy up” and we’d be off. By now you’ve guessed --- I wasn’t going with Grandpaps; they were going with me. Silver wasn’t hard to drive, but at stop signs he didn’t always stop, so I had to talk gently and be alert.

Since our district had by now been divided a lot, it was approximately six miles long and one mile wide. It depended on where church was to be held, how early we’d start. This morning it was at the farthest place south of Route 741, at the Beiler’s, so we headed out a bit earlier.

Grandma says, “There goes Amos.” She had some unwritten “church-going codes,” such as never go before Amos, who was our oldest preacher, but before Dave P., one of our senior members. We cruised south on Soudersburg Road and crossed Route 30 with hardly any traffic. Grandpa was thinking about his old days of carpentry. “There I helped build Sam Fisher’s barn in 1948. Over here I built old maid Lizzie’s house in 1946.” Silver puttered along at his usual gait --- slow. I’d much rather drive my shiny black horse, Lester, who went very fast. But no, I must use Grandpa’s horse. As we crossed Herr’s Mill two-span covered bridge, Grandpa would keep looking back to see if we were ahead of Dave P’s, which we were this morning. This would please Grandma to no end and Grandpa would mutter, “These women are funny.”

We continued south on Paradise Lane. It was a pleasant time going to church. Sunday morning the air seemed more holy, blessings were all about. By now a string of horses and carriages were behind us. The hoofbeats on the blacktop made a pretty rhythm. Old horses plodded along; younger horses almost pranced, heads up, ears twitching. We clattered over the Strasburg Rail Road. Grandpa would mutter, “Humpf! Railroad went broke three times. Don’t think they will get it going again.” But how wrong he was. In five years it was a thriving steam-powered tourist railroad, as it still is today.

Grandpa could also talk about politics. His memory must have held several encyclopedias. He talked long and loud about Roosevelt and Eisenhower. Since he was born in 1882, the first President he could recall was Grover Cleveland. He knew them by heart --- Harrison, Teddy, Taft, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover. He’d tell again and again about McKinley’s assassination, Woodrow Wilson, and the First World War. You’d think that he’d been their next-door neighbor! As a staunch Republican, he didn’t express much favor for Kennedy or Johnson.

We’d putter on south to Route 741, then east a bit and south into the Beiler’s lane. We’d let Grandma and Aunt Liz off at the house, then drive out to the barn and unhitch. By now, many other teams would be arriving and unhitching. Grandpa would go to the barn and handshake all around. I’d put Silver away and find a comfortable hay bale to sit on and maybe take a short nap, as it was usually 20 minutes before any other boys would arrive.

By 8:20 a.m., we’d all march in the house, shake hands with the ministers, and then the worship would start. At 11:30 church would be over. Then the boys would eat at the second table sitting by 12:30 or so. And then I’d take my grandpas home again. They would always say such a nice thank-you. At Christmas time, they would always give me a special gift.

Looking back today, now that I’m a grandfather myself, I’m glad for those memories and think of those special Sunday mornings. I almost wish Grandpa were still here and life would still be in that slow-paced time. Johnson was President then, and the Vietnam War didn’t seem as complicated as things today. Remember the 1969 moonwalk? Hard to believe it was all 35 years ago.

Silver is long gone. Grandpa died in 1970. Aunt Liz married in 1972. But the happy memories remain of going with my grandpaps to church.

---Sam S. Stoltzfus, Gordonville, PA  (Sept. 2004)

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