What is it like to be an Amish child? With unforgettable photographs Jerry Irwin shows memnts within the Amish community.
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Phyllis Pellman Good has authored many articles and books about Mennonite and Amish life. She served as Editor of Festival Quarterly magazine for 22 years. Her books include Perils of Professionalism, A Mennonite Woman’s Life, The Best of Mennonite Fellowship Meals, Quilts from Two Valleys: Amish Quilts from the Big Valley, Mennonite Quilts from the Shenandoah Valley, and a children’s book Plain Pig’s ABC’s: A Day on Plain Pig’s Amish Farm. Good and her husband, Merle, are editors of the series of books, What Mennonites Are Thinking, 1998, 1999, and 2000.
The Goods have teamed together on numerous projects through the years. They are executive directors of The People’s Place, The Old Country Store, and The People’s Place Quilt Museum, all based in the Lancaster County village of Intercourse, Pennsylvania. Among the additional books they have authored together are 303 Great Ideas for Families and 20 Most Asked Questions About the Amish and Mennonites.
About the Photographer
Jerry Irwin is a freelance photographer who has specialized in Amish subjects for much of his lengthy career.
His photographs have appeared in publications around the world, including six books and numerous magazines. Among the periodicals that have featured Irwin’s photographs are Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, Country Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Washington Post Magazine, Harrowsmith, and Geo.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter 1 — Belonging
When a child is born to Amish parents, that infant Emma or tiny Jonas enters both a family and a community. This child’s rearing rests upon its parents, but not without the strong interest of their extended family—and their Amish peoplehood.
The Amish have large families by 21st century North American standards; seven children is the average. Each child is treasured, although that deep value and love are expressed in language that may not be fully understood by the larger world.
In fact, many Amish have two primary reasons for living as they do: to be faithful to God and to be an example to their children. Childrearing—and growing up Amish—belong to the very soul and sinew of being Amish.
Children born to Amish parents become part of a highly intentional community. They are not automatically members of the Amish church. Joining the church requires a decision by each individual, usually made in the late teens or early 20s. Life until then is full of learning to work, discovering how to be a responsible and contributing part of the Amish world, and finding a balance between the duties of life and its true pleasures.
A Community Effort
One cannot raise Amish children alone. It is the effort of a whole community, intently devoted to a way of life. Nurturing children is one of the strongest factors in Amish fathers and mothers choosing to work at home; it is the reason for the Amish community’s investment in its school system; it is a primary force fueling the identifiable way in which Amish adults live their lives.
That children feel they belong, that they know they have a place—those principles guide all Amish parents and grandparents, but also Amish schoolteachers and ministers and neighbors.
Children are not the center of the Amish world. But they do hold a certain position of sanctity for Amish adults, not too distant from their Christian faith and their devotion to faithful living. One older Amish mother reflected, "Our children’s upbringing is still, and probably always will be, the most important part of our lives."
"The greatest need is to be a good example," expressed a grandfather.
Amish children do not steer their parents. Amish adults do not fawn over or dance for their youngsters. Yet these children have their parents’ attention in a most fundamental way. Mothers and fathers structure their responsibilities so that they can be present daily and consistently. They strictly limit their time away from home, usually taking one or more children along if they need to go to the store or an auction. When they take a break from work, they make it intergenerational fun, from turning homemade ice cream in the crank freezer to visiting aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Nothing, Amish parents believe, can substitute for their own direct and constant involvement with their children, and they practice that conviction fervently. Most Amish families eat three meals a day together. Datt (the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect word for "Dad") and Mamm (the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect word for "Mom" or "Mother") work at home on the farm. If they aren’t farmers, Datt likely works in a machine or cabinet shop across the yard or within the neighborhood. In certain areas, as farmland becomes less and less available to the swelling Amish population, some Amish men take jobs in recreational vehicle factories or with carpenter gangs. They leave home early in the morning and don’t return until late in the afternoon, leading one Amish leader to reflect, "The lunch pail is one of the great threats to the Amish community."
From late August through the end of May, the schoolchildren miss the noontime meal with their families. But then they are in the company of other Amish children, in a world nearly as familiar and secure as home.
Days are full for these children. The littlest ones stay in the house or garden with their mother, free to play but never out of view in the sprawling kitchen or yard. Older preschool youngsters may circle between house and barn, but not without the parents knowing which of the two of them is responsible for the children’s activities and safety. School-age sisters and brothers often monitor their younger siblings, keeping them happy and occupied, while savoring the trust that task requires.
Bought toys are minimal in this lively world. Yet within its boundaries are animals and ever-present playmates, and space for rolling and running, for chasing and games of pretending "House" or "Store" or "Farm."
© Good Books, Intercourse, PA 17534
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