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
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.
Stoltzfus, Gordonville, PA (Sept. 2004)
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