Did you know there are Amish communities in Oklahoma? I did not, at least until a couple of weeks ago when Evan informed me. Not only that, the Amish communities are between Mazie and Choteau, nary five minutes away from my family’s cabin on Lake Ft. Gibson.
Before we left on our Weekend of Awesomeness I looked into visiting the Amish community. A website noting “Things To Do in Choteau” mentioned Fanny’s Amish Buffet, a bakery, and a couple of other places. Then, at the bottom, a note that some families in the community open up their homes to visitors and serve dinner for a nominal price.
Dinner in an Amish home? I was elated. This is the exact kind of bizarre exploratory adventure the Weekends of Awesomeness were created for. I called the number listed next to Mr. Norman Miller, but was a little worried. Aren’t the Amish supposed to shun telephones? What if I would just calling a shady, entrepreneurial Mennonite?
The voice on the answering machine had the rich, gregarious timbre of someone who has grown up naming cows. The man happily noted his family’s surname, then read a poem about snowmen, then topped it off with “Merry Christmas.” I felt a little better, since it indicated the machine’s owner was no technocrat.
He called back later in the day to see how many students would be joining his family for dinner. “Four to six,” I said. “Uh, I’m curious. You’re really Amish?” The man responded with a string of German. “Okay,” I said, “What about the telephone? I mean, I don’t want to be impolite, but I thought the Amish didn’t have telephones.”
“It’s a community telephone. I keep it in a shed behind my house.”
“Oh. Okay. See you Saturday, then.”
I sucked on a peppermint to subdue the wine on my breath as we rolled past Mazie. By now the buzz had worn off, but I assumed it might still be a little offensive to our hosts. Who, I assumed, were inviting us to a reasonably inexpensive dinner in the dining room of their quaint home.
I was wrong. No one had sent me the memo that the Amish have gone big businesses. As Don parked the car in front of a barn, we gazed at the huge home on the other side of the street, noting the cars and Baptist charter bus parked out front.
We let ourselves in and told the small girl behind a desk that we had a reservation. She nodded, but seemed reasonably frightened. Ahead of us I could peer into the house’s kitchen, where several bonneted women were preparing food. A door opened and a couple of bearded guys in blue shirts and suspenders walked in. Eventually someone took us downstairs to the basement, where we joined at least a hundred and twenty other people for “family dinner.”
My spirits were rapidly sinking. Here I thought I had found something special. For days I had envisioned sitting at a small oak table, eating a family dinner in the light of an oil lamp, quietly discussing the intricacies of Amish life with kind but bewildered pacifist farmers. I imagined striking up a deep friendship with Mr. Miller, who would take an instant liking to me and give me a tour of his farm and tell me to drop by soon. And I would, what with the family cabin so near. I would wake up early on a Saturday in a month or two and help him milk cows, then join the family for a heaping breakfast and suckle simplicity and briefly debate becoming Amish.
I apologized to the group for my failure as a leader and sulkily eye-balled my iced tea. They pointed out to me the many positive aspects of the dinner. Although the food was expensive, it was hearty and unlimited. Bearded youngsters with bowl cuts or plain-faced girls in dresses and bonnets served us plate after plate of potato salad, biscuits, turkey, roast beef and stuffing. We gorged ourselves until my otherwise thin frame resembled a pregnant meerkat.
I talked with the retired Baptist preacher on my left for a few minutes until Evan returned from the bathroom with Mr. Miller in tow. He plopped the man down in the vacant seat next to me, elevating my spirits at the prospects of finally talking with an Amish person.
To their credit, the people are definitely Amish. Mr. Miller sported the same full beard, sans mustache, as the other men there, along with a blue shirt and dark pants. He had large worker’s hands and short stature, which, combined with the facial hair, made him look like an Oklahoma leprechaun.
He was slightly wary of the volley of questions I subjected him to. The lights in the house were not electric, as I had previously thought. Gas-powered. I glanced around the room and noticed the tiny waves of heat distorting the air above the propane lamps. I jokingly asked him if he had a propane television, resulting in a resounding “not hardly.” He further explained that they use tractors, horses and buggies, but no cars or trucks.
Mr. Miller sounds as Oklahoman as anyone else, but the language they use at home and in the community is the variance of German known as Pennsylvania Dutch. Nearly all of the young people waiting on us that evening were Mr. Miller’s grandchildren. As we left I saw what I assume were some of his sons, who appeared to be far more concerned with working the farm, and rather uncomfortable with all of the people eating at the house.
Most of the Amish youth stay and marry in the community. They don’t have church buildings, but meet in each other’s homes, ordaining ministers whenever a group gets large enough to necessitate a new house-church. The origins of the Oklahoma Amish seem to originate in a general national expansion out of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
I thanked Mr. Miller for his time and we tried to force down the last of the massive meal. Despite my earlier dismal comments about surprising Amish big business, Mr. Miller is a very likable person. I’m not sure what he’s spending the large supper profits on, but we can give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it subsidizes his family farm. Either way, he exudes the folksy, genial charm of small town Oklahomans, and I liked him for it despite my lingering commercial suspicions.
We could barely walk as we exited his house. I could feel my lung cavities squeezed upward to make way for roast beef and stuffing. We agreed to drive to the cabin in Wagoner and lay around for an hour or two, moaning and digesting food.
I was about to make some sweeping observations for the benefit of the group when a couple of dogs swooped out of no where and tried to knock me over. Technically this was the third time dogs had chased me since the trip begun, but these two were obviously just looking for someone to play tag with and drool on. I dropped to my knees and let both mutts unsuccessfully try to climb into my lap, then tried to chase them around the yard. They were delighted, but I could only waddle at a heightened pace, bogged down by pie and noodles. I pet them again and staggered back to the car.
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Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.