Remembering a Friend

A good friend passed away last month. He happened to be Amish. He was a bookbinder, just outside the village of Intercourse. Over 15 years ago, the local Amish library was temporarily housed in his home.

He felt strongly about preserving anything and everything having to do with the Amish, and was one of the "founders" of the local Amish library. While many local Amish could not see the importance of preserving artifacts and books of their history and heritage, he was one who did, and who encouraged a new generation to do so.

I would stop by after work Wednesday nights to read back issues of a magazine for a book I hoped to publish. After I was finished, he offered something to drink and a snack, and we would sit and talk. And so, over the course of weeks, months and years, our friendship grew. Had it not been for his pushing and encouragement over those years, my book would probably not have been completed. My visits continued, and he helped with many of the articles printed in the pages of Amish Country News.

People would sometimes ask what we talked about for hours on end Wednesday nights. One thing just led to another, as conversations do. We would sometimes sit on the porch, or in the house, and talk until it got dark. We sometimes sat and watched as thunderstorms spread across the landscape. Some nights we enjoyed "Amish movies," what he called the shadows moving across the side of the house as cars drove by. We also enjoyed lightning bugs, the sun setting in the valley behind his house, the clip-clop of horses going by, and the evening primrose, a plant whose flowers open in a matter of seconds each night around sunset.

His knowledge made him a local Amish "historian," and he was an important resource person. When no one knew where to take a visitor who wanted to talk to an Amish person, he was often "the one." He was accessible yet firmly rooted in his Amish faith. He often referred people to others who were more knowledgeable in a certain area than he was. But many projects would never have come to fruition without his help.

But all who came, for whatever reason, fell in love with the man. One friend remembered the "twinkle in his eye," along with his knowledge, his warmth, his sense of humor, his delight in talking and visiting and meeting people from all over the world.

When you talked with him, you never felt that he was pushing his Amish beliefs on you. You listened to what he said, you thought about it. He had tremendous curiosity about everything, including other religions. Yet he seemed totally secure, with great conviction, in his Amish faith. He could certainly talk about problems and people who were not the best example of living their faith, as is the case in any church. (When asked once what the biggest challenge facing the Amish today was, he said, "prosperity.") For me, he encapsulated what was good about the Amish way of life. Through him many came to understand and respect it.

What did I learn from him? So many things. The same things that brought people back to visit him on a regular basis, over many years. It’s so simple, really. Just the joy of conversation. He was also a great listener, who focused on whatever you said, often adjusting his hearing aid, or sitting you beside his good ear. I called him "my psychiatrist." No matter what seemed to be happening in my life, when I stopped in and we started to chat, it all seemed to disappear. That was from my world, and now I was in his. People and friendship, faith and family --- these were the foundations of his world. When you were with him, you became a part of that.

It was a privilege to be invited to his funeral, an experience of great emotion and sadness, mixed with both the unfamiliarity and curiosity about Amish funeral customs. I thought about this very unusual mix of people that one man had brought together, both Amish and "English." Each had received something special from his friendship. He had brought them all together, at long last, to bid him farewell. In an odd way, that I believe he would have fully understood and enjoyed, it was his final gift. He wanted us all there with him. Perhaps that’s why he looked so at peace. Surrounded by his family and friends, he was finally "going home."

Amish Country News Publisher's Message by Brad Igou (2002)



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