My parents recently went exploring the Ozarks for their 47th wedding anniversary. When I heard they’d be going right by Rich Hill, Missouri I asked if they’d like to be “deputized” for this website and visit some Old Order Mennonite friends of mine there and report back. They eagerly accepted the assignment. My parents are great salt-of-the earth people and I was appreciative of their spirit of adventure. Now that they are back and have told me about their trip and given me a full-briefing I’ll give them two grades: A for effort, C for substance.
In retrospect, I should have given them a list of questions to ask. I had sent my friends (the Old Order Mennonites there do not have phones) a letter ahead of time telling them of Mom and Dad’s visit. So they knew they were coming. In defense of Mom and Dad, it can be intimidating visiting a very conservative Plain family that you’ve never met.
Here are some excerpts from my “de-briefing” conversation with my Mom about their visit to Rich Hill.
MOM: “It was remote, I mean remote! Most of the road there from the interstate was gravel.”
ME:“Sounds like it was in the middle of nowhere.”
Mom and Dad had trouble finding the place at first, largely because of a glitch in the GPS. But they eventually found the place. They were greeted by an apparently very shy – but friendly – Old Order Mennonite woman.
MOM: “She didn’t tell me her name and I didn’t ask…I should have…she was very young, looked about 16 or 17,” Mom said.
ME: “Um…Mom, are you sure you were in the right place? Did they mention receiving my letter?”
MOM: “I’m sure it was the right place, the man we spoke to said she was excited all morning about the visit.”
ME: “What man?”
MOM: “His name was Albert….I think,” Mom said.
MOM: “I went into the house with her, while your father stayed and talked to Albert. They got along well,” Mom said.
SIDE NOTE: Perhaps this was the most interesting nugget Mom unearthed. They still use old hand-wringer washing machines. This is increasingly uncommon among the Amish.
MOM: These were some very conservative Amish.
ME: “Um, Mom, I keep telling you, they aren’t Amish, they’re Mennonites.”
Anyway, Mom reported that each load of laundry requires 100 pulls of the hand-wringer.
MOM: “I did 25 and that kind of wore me out. To do that for each load of clothes is a lot work!” Mom said. But help may be on the way. They are working on a treadmill that a horse would walk on to power a drive-train that will run the washing machine and some other tools.
Meanwhile, Albert was showing Dad around the farm. Apparently they raise and sell fur-less, non-shearing sheep.
Here’s an intriguing nugget also:
According to Mom, Albert’s Mother was from Berne, Indiana, although he was born and raised in the Zanesville, Ohio area. I was unaware of any OOM presence near there. Albert speaks a dialect of Swiss German, also consistent with the Berne community. And Albert is a popular name in that settlement. SIGH, Mom, Dad so many questions I would have asked! There are no OOM in the Berne area. And while leaving the Amish for the Mennonite church is a very common occurrence, leaving the Old Order Amish for the OOMs is somewhat unusual. Essentially, you’re trading one horse-and-buggy church for another. It’s a lateral move. So I’m very curious as to Albert’s background. Another intriguing detail and you can see it in this photo is the buggy. This is a classic “open buggy” of the kind that are quite common in the Berne area.
So, that was pretty much the extent of their visit. I do love some of the photos Dad got. Above is a pile of wood they were splitting. The color is a dead giveaway: osage orange. This is some of the best firewood out there, prized for it’s slow burn and high heat content.
And, you know, after all that….I’m left with a slew of questions about the OOMs of Rich Hill and I’m still not 100 percent certain they were even at the right house! Mom said the young lady said she’d write me. But Mom didn’t give her my address and never found her name. So I guess the only way I ‘ll know for sure is if and when a letter shows up!
Coming tomorrow: Part II, more from Rich Hill, Missouri.