I spent Friday afternoon cruising the back-roads of one of my old haunts: Amish country outside of Berne, Indiana. In this quiet corner of east-central Hoosierland a sprawling Swiss Amish settlement spreads out in all directions. I came to do some research, but the cold unwittingly quashed my plans. While here I had planned to stop at Elizabeth Coblentz’s house, she is the mother of Lovina Eicher who writes The Amish Cook column now. Elizabeth penned The Amish Cook for me from 1991 – 2002. Whenever I get near Elizabeth’s old house it’s a very emotional experience, but today was different. My schedule was tight and whatever emotion I felt was frozen by a teeth-chattering chill and six-inch deep snow. I went to the door and knocked, a door I had approached so many times before and just walked in with barely a carefree rap. I didn’t know who would answer or how I would be received. After waiting in the Arctic chill for a minute or two, a pleasant young woman wearing a headscarf and coat answered. She had that mix of friendliness and standoffishness common among the Amish (and, anyone, really….not sure I wouldn’t be standoffish if some strange guy came to my door on a freezing cold day and started asking me probing questions about my history with the house). When I asked the young woman (I’m guessing she was in her late 20s), if she had ever heard of The Amish Cook column she gave a nonchalant shrug which I took to mean “no.” For a fleeting second, between shivers, I glanced at a trio of apple trees by the driveway, their gnarled arms frozen in place, their sweet summer fruit just a January dream. I recalled the homemade insect traps Elizabeth used to hang from their lower branches. I remembered June days when I was in my 20s and not the temperatures. The young woman looked at me for a second with a mix of pity and exasperation as if to say “May I help you? I really need to get back to my ironing…” I asked the woman if she minded if I took some video footage in the driveway, to which she gave me the same nonchalant shrug, part polite, part “sure, pal, if you really want to tromp around in this biting cold and snow, knock yourself out.” I’m never completely sure why I return, as if somehow returning to this place soaked in so many special memories can somehow reconnect me with something that no longer exists. It can’t, yet I still come.
I decided I’d probably return another day, when the dandelions were in bloom and the tart smell of rhubarb hangs in the air. For now, I’d content myself with the warm car and the enjoyment of some scenes of winter from this area. But I did have one more stop, more about that tomorrow…..
CAPTIONS: In the above photos, children play at recess (okay, so THEY weren’t deterred by the cold, so I guess I am not as hardy) outside a classic one-room Amish school house. Below, a husband and wife (I assume) slowly glide down the main street of Geneva, Indiana, the buildings providing a brief windbreak from the cold. The Amish in this area use mainly open buggies even during the middle of winter.