|Part one of a Seven part series for Amish Stories.|
Part One: The Family & Work
It has been said that the family in America’s early years was "the factory of the time." The family was more self-sufficient, and one’s "co-workers" were family members. A self-sufficient family or community need not go outside itself. It can remain isolated and guard itself against factors leading to disunity and disruption. Yet such isolation is virtually impossible in today’s world, as even the Amish are fully aware.
The Amish live among non-Amish in modern rural America. While they are more isolated in some areas, other communities interact daily with the modern world, perhaps nowhere as dramatically as in Lancaster. Here the Amish come into contact not only with their "English" neighbors, but directly and indirectly with millions of visitors from the United States and around the world.
To the Amish, the idea of separation from the modern world and non-conformity to its ways are stated clearly in the New Testament---"Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed." The Amish have adopted some facets of modern technology and shunned others. The fact that the Amish population is growing, and that the majority of their young people decide to join the faith through adult baptism, testifies that there are important values in this culture. This economic function, the family and its members working as a unit within the supporting Amish community, creates a strong bond and gives each worker a clear and vital " place" through the work he performs.
Most Amish are farmers, although in some areas of the USA barely half remain so. With an average of seven or eight children, each member plays a part in the family’s economic survival. It is likely that children are very conscious of this. Dr. John Hostetler, in his book Amish Society, notes the importance of all this when he says...
"Like most parents in American society, the Amish recognize the teen period as critical. The Amish family needs the help of its teen-age child more than the typical American family, and the child feels the family’s need of him. the young person who works on the farm can understand and feel the contribution he is making to his family."
Indeed, Amish formal schooling stops at the eighth grade. From then on children are at home or on the farm, learning the tasks they will have as adults by working with their parents. The family and home become the place of "on the job" training.
On a farm, your work directly affects you and your family. You are a member of this company (the family), and you have your job responsibilities. In simple terms, the cows have to be fed and milked so that food and shelter can be provided for the family. Your paycheck comes daily in the form of food, clothing, shelter, and affection.
Children see their parents working hard every day and children want to help. Children often try tasks they are too young to perform, or mimic their parents when they play. I once saw a four-year-old Amish boy cry when he could not go along and help father in the field. (When I was a boy, I would sometimes try to invent ways of getting out of my chores.)
At times, individual families become caught up in other "family economies", as when three farmers get together to help each other fill their respective silos. In such ways, the family and community bonds are further strengthened.
By the 1970’s, making a living from farming was becoming more difficult. The increasing Amish population, coupled with decreasing farmland and higher prices, made getting started difficult or impossible for some. Others found the payments on the farm, building, loans, mortgages, and interest a hardship.
One alternative was to move to another area where farmland was available and cheaper. Others looked at ways to supplement their income by having a family member work out for others, sometimes on a carpentry crew, as a farmhand, or as a cleaning lady in homes of non-Amish. But of most concern to the Amish was the possible necessity of having to work in a factory, and whether or not such work really was necessary.
|Published with permission from the Amish Country News www.Amishcountrynews.com|