So, You Think It’s Cold

February 8, 2018

Written by Art Petrosemolo

This 2017-2018 winter is a lot colder than last year. A year ago, during our first few months at “The Outpost” in Sycamore Springs, I was sitting in my garage rocker many afternoons enjoying the late, warm February sun and washing my little Audi TT sports car. All was good.

In the past year, through my stories on the Plain community for the weekly newspapers in Ephrata, Elizabethtown and Lititz, I have marveled at how the Amish and Mennonite live a much simpler life than we do and I continue to learn tricks from them. Many still think I am an alien from Mars but they smile and put up with me. I think it has been fun for both sides.

I have become particularly close with an Old Order Mennonite family (35-ers) not far from Garden Spot Village on three farms off of Reidenbach Road. If you drive along Reidenbach, you will see many mailboxes with the same last name….. all extended family with farms close together.

This family has helped me research a number of newspaper stories including a story about training horses to pull carriages as well as two stories on growing and harvesting tobacco.

In good weather, I stop at one of the three family farms a couple of times a week and sit outside talking to family, drinking lemonade or eating fresh picked cherries from the trees overhead while playing with a new batch of puppies.

As the weather turned colder, I wondered if I would see them less but it hasn’t turned out that way. But, as you can imagine, we aren’t sitting outside on the rockers anymore.

Anyway, I have continued to visit all winter and am getting an education on just how the Plain community—without electricity and a lot of labor saving devices we take for granted—adjusts. They certainly do and don’t seem any worse for wear.

First, when I sit at the kitchen table talking to the mom (a little older than I am), I drink coffee with unpasteurized cream that comes from the family cow, milked that morning. Not sure I am crazy about it…an acquired taste.

I am amazed when I see huge kettles on the coal-fired cooking stove heating water all the time. Then, I realize they just have running water in sink(s), but it is cold. They need a constant supply of the hot water to wash dishes, clothes and themselves.

When I go to the barn to watch tobacco being stripped, I realize there is always a wood stove fired up with a kettle on top adding some moisture into the room.

When the temperature was in the single digits, their house was always toasty but they told me that they can only heat the first floor. The second-floor bedrooms have to be pretty cold! Not fun.

The family has a dozen horses and one Friesinger horse had a foal in mid-January. The baby was outside in the paddock on day three…. A lot earlier than the thoroughbred foals I was used to photographing and following at New Jersey thoroughbred farms. They are tough like their owners!

The family is putting in its first real bathroom with a shower this spring. The room is finished but plumbing and drains need to be added. I am concerned about how they will get hot water for their first shower and tell them so…. I think they’ll run some kind of tubing through the coal stove in the winter to heat water but they need something in the summer to heat water to wash off the farm dirt. I found a great “instant (camp) heat” contraption that uses a propane heater to heat water for the shower and I printed out info from Amazon to share. The unit cost about $150 and I was proud of myself……  When they heard it used propane, they just shook their head…. No propane in this Old Order family….so I guess they’ll be taking cool, summer showers.

Now, this family uses an outhouse for the necessities and as a city kid, I think my only experience with outdoor plumbing was the latrines when I was in the Army on maneuvers. I don’t even want to think about visiting the outhouse facilities in single digit weather.

My education into Plain family traditions is ongoing and although I continue to shake my head, I have tremendous respect for their culture and heritage and marvel at their ingenuity.

Finally, just last week I got an introduction to Amish wedding traditions. Good friends in Paradise have a 19-year- old daughter who will be married in October. Yup, we’ll be part of the 400-plus who will attend. The family and daughter asked me to help design and print the wedding invitation (I have a long graphics and printing background). I was thrilled to be asked and happy to help. More on the wedding preparations in future blogs but the first thing I learned is that the parents of the groom’s name appear first on the invitation …. completely different from the “English” tradition. Lots of other different things too I am learning about the wedding preparations that I’ll share in future blogs.

Oh, I told the bride to be and her mom (tongue in cheek) that I have lots of experience as a wedding photographer and everyone just smiles. I said to them, this is the second most important (birth of first child will be first) day of your life and all you will have from it are “memories,” no photos. And they smiled as they said, “we’re fine with that!”

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