LISTEN TO MAHLON: Special treat,listen to Mahlon Miller read his column this week: This is a "low tech" way to do it and I apologize for making you have to jump through a couple of hoops and wait. But I am trying to gauge how much interest there is in occasional readings from Mahlon before investing any dollars in building a seamless platform to listen. I'm not sure whether they'll be free readings or not, right now, this is just an experiment. For $1.32 (sorry, PayPal adds fees and I want .99 cents..it helps offset costs). You have to sign up and order the download anytime between now and Sunday, June 23 at 10 p.m. eastern. The sign-up option will be removed on Sunday night at 10 p.m., Everyone who signs up by then will receive the sound file via an email link on Monday morning. The recording lasts about 15 minutes. Click the BUY NOW button below to sign up to listen to Mahlon read this week's column, which appears below. Mahlon and I also chat a bit about his column in the recording. Rules differ from church to church among the Amish and a recorded voice is permissible in Mahlon's community.
BY MAHLON MILLER
Editor's Note: Mahlon Miller, 31, is an Old Order Amish father, farmer, and school teacher in northern Indiana.
I was at my desk during first recess when suddenly there was a pattering of bare feet coming upstairs from the entrance. And the lower grade girls and a few of the boys came bursting into the classroom. Everyone of them wanted to be the first to tell about our visitor.
“There’s a car here.”
“A lady is here.”
“It’s a blue car.”
“She wants the teacher.”
“Yes, she said can I speak with your teacher.”
“She has a blue car.”
“Did you tell her she could come in?” I asked as I pushed my chair back to get up. Just then the outside door squeaked and the clamor immediately subsided. I headed downstairs and I met Karleem Richter owner of Down the Road Tours from Elkhart, Indiana. That was three years ago in the beginning of my second term of teaching school. During my first term the boys told me there was a lady who brought a tour bus full of visitors every year. As a show of appreciation for us allowing the visit she donates a portion of her tour profits to our school. The boys informed me that these funds need to be used to buy new softball bats for the school. However, the year passed and nobody showed up so I put it out of my mind. Now she was here and she wanted to bring not just one but 3 bus-loads of people. By mealtime it was all arranged. She would bring one bus a day the following Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. All weekend I worried about what to tell the visitors about our school. Karleem suggested a 10 to 15 minute talk. 10 to 15 minutes is a long time if you are trying to stay interesting. But it was all much easier than I thought. Suddenly it was Thursday afternoon and the last bus was leaving. The class table was covered with tokens of their appreciation: monster cookies, whoopee pies, and little Debbie cakes. And on the middle of the table was a check for $125.
We had expected to spend the money right away but now that we had it we couldn’t decide how to spend it so we cashed the check and started a stash we called “the tour bus fund.” A few weeks later we hosted a few more bus loads and a few weeks after that we hosted another. The fund was growing!
As time went on the visits developed a sort of routine. When the bus arrived we get them all seated on benches at the back of the room and I talk for 10 minutes or so about the Amish parochial system and specifically our school. After another 10 to 15 minutes of questions and answers we line all the students up by the chalk board by grades from first to eighth and sing a song. After the song the visitors go back to their day and we go back to ours. The whole thing takes 25 to 30 minutes.
Nearly all of our buses come from Down the Road Tours. The main group that asks to stop at an Amish school are senior citizens. We like them. We can depend on them not to embarrass us with their dress or questions and they are from a simpler time and think a lot like we do. Also it is touching to see how the visit takes them back to the one room school of their youth. And many times they make remarks about how our students need to appreciate the blessings of a small school and community.
That first year we never said no to a bus. The next fall we started out the same way but suddenly we were tired of them. We started counting buses and saw that we had hosted more in September and October than we had the whole previous year. We decided that while a few buses are great enough was enough and we referred Karleem to another school for some of her groups. At about that time the girls started making crafts and things in their spare time to sell to the bus tours. We put their items on a table in the entrance with a donation box. First they made cards and refrigerator magnets. Then they added paper stars and doll clothes. T his year we also had some string art and rusty barbed wire art. Several of the girls made cushion tops and altogether they made over 100 crocheted doilies. The donation box doubled our income and made it worth the hassle. Now we were starting on the fun part: spending the money. One day we ordered pizza for the whole school as a treat. Last December we took the Seventh and eighth graders to Bremen, Indiana for the Holy Walk a very popular stroll through a Nativity scene which covers almost three acres and is complete with angels, shepherds, animals and Bethlehem crowded with shops and people and bullying Roman soldiers. This past January we took the fourth through eighth grade to the Menno-Hof in Shipshewana for an Anabaptist experience. The biggest single spending spree was our Saturday at the zoo. Our fund is nearly depleted. And we have plans with our seventh and eighth grade to use most of what’s left. Part of me wants to keep it in the stash so we can keep dreaming of things we’ll do with it, but I know my co-teacher’s comment is the truth: “What good does it do hidden away? We might as well spend it.”
She is right. And next year is coming with more buses, more cushion tops and doilies and donations. Then we can dream again.
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