Saturday, August 15, 2009

Slowing Down in Amish Country

Today I discovered part of Amish Country in Central Illinois and felt myself slowing down as soon as I got off I-70 on the way to Arthur, Illinois. It wasn’t very peaceful driving north on I-57, the highway that eventually ends up in Chicago. However, when I turned onto Highway 133, my body kind of said, “okay, time to relax a little. You’ve been doing too much freeway driving yesterday and today.” So, take it easy I did.

After checking out Jurgen’s City Park where I was planning to stay overnight – water and electric hookups as well as good showers for $10 a night – I found that they now charged $20, a little out of my price range. So, I parked downtown and walked around a bit, stopping first in a gift and furniture store.

One of the clerks there, non-Amish, was a very friendly youngish man who has lived there most of his life. He told me lots of interesting things about the Amish people he knows, such as how the bishops of each church group there are allowed to decide what is allowed and what isn’t. Since there are twelve bishops in the area, there are a wide variety of rules, such as these:

1) One doesn’t allow telephones that are hooked up to wires. However, since cell phones are not, he allows them to be used.

2) One person owns a motor boat. The bishop asked if it had a steering wheel or a rudder. Boats with rudders are okay; those with steering wheels are not.

3) Amish people are not allowed to own automobiles. However, one person leased one and figured it would be okay since he didn’t technically “own” it. But, several bishops decided that wasn’t right.

4) Amish are not supposed to drive cars but they can ride in them. So, a whole group will get together with a non-Amish friend with a van or large car, and the whole bunch of them take trips, such as into Mattoon to Wal-Mart.

I stopped at two fabric stores. In one of them an Amish clerk was helping several other young Amish women decide which interfacing to use when making a purse. This store carried a large amount of dark gabardine and other heavy fabrics, as well as a wide assortment of modern fabrics and supplies.

I wandered through a gift store and bought a plastic bag of blue popcorn meal – had never even heard of popcorn meal, but there are recipes on the back for pancakes, corn bread, and corn meal mush. So, I’ll try it out. They also have popcorn flour and popcorn oil.

Finally, I couldn't resist a handmade chocolate ice cream drumstick in the pharmacy with an old soda fountain.

My salesperson friend told me about a back road into Mattoon from Arthur that would avoid all the Hwy 133 traffic and give me the chance to see many Amish houses, farms, and buggies. Very wonderful drive down a one-lane paved road with cornfields on either side. I saw many large white houses and barns, none of which was hooked up to any kind of power lines. Most had buggies parked outside as well as horses in the barn area. Several families riding in horse-drawn buggies passed me, and we all waved to each other. Most of the houses had beautiful flower gardens out front.

I almost hated to get back into “normal” civilization in Mattoon, but wanted to find Wal-Mart before dark since I’m staying in their parking lot overnight. What a nice surprise to find not only a good parking spot but also a wide grassy area with lots of huge trees so I could sit in the shade and read.

I’ve been interested in Amish culture since I first began making quilts many years ago. The first ones I made were of Amish design and plain saturated colors. Of course, the quilts I saw in the gift stores today were of more modern designs since I guess they sell better. However, I still love making the older kind and hand-quilting them with intricate black patterns.

I’ve also read a wonderful book by Sue Bender, entitled Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish about ten times and get more out of it each time. Sue has written other books since, but that one is my very favorite.

All in all, a very good day. I loved finally being able to see actual Amish people and their farms and houses instead of just reading about them. Tomorrow, heading into Indiana and finally to Lewisburg, Ohio.

1 comment:

Yarntangler said...

I wish I was with you! I haven't traveled through that area since I was a little girl. I remember sitting in the back seat trying to copy all the hex signs on the barns into my black and white copy book.