Hey ladies — check out this job description for all willing and able applicants. The alarm — one that is not electrically powered, that is — goes off at about 4:30 a.m. every morning. At that hour, you rise, get dressed (and almost always wear a dress — with solid coloring and full skirts covered with a cape and apron) and put on a pair of nondescript shoes. Your hair, which is practically never cut, is either neatly braided or put up in a bun on the back of the head, and then concealed with a small white cap or a black bonnet. Makeup and jewelry? Forget it.
Once completed, you then start the day’s chores, which will include making breakfast for what would ideally be a large family, milking the cows, cleaning stables, grooming horses, doing laundry (by hand), hanging the clothes out to dry, attending to your children, cleaning house and manicuring the garden. The men are meanwhile out in the field doing farm work without the benefit of modern machinery. Everything is in full operation by the crack of dawn and remains as such until the absence of light slows things down.
And speaking of modernity — well, there isn’t any. No cellphones, fax machines, copiers; no modern appliances at all; no Kindles, iPods, iPads or video games. If that doesn’t get your attention, check this out: no electricity or gasoline. Now do you get the picture?
By choosing this type of lifestyle, one is opting for the pleasures of simplicity and self-denial over comfort, convenience and leisure. The remarkable thing is not so much getting along without modern conveniences, but choosing to do so when they are all so readily available. This is based on the philosophical belief that being “wired” establishes an unhealthy attachment to the whims of societal conformity. In fact, practitioners of this lifestyle agreed in 1919 that connecting to power lines would not be in their people’s best interest. It would have been considered the basis of an inappropriate relationship to the world, and the Bible tells them they are not to be “conformed to the world” (Romans 12:2).
Such a religion/philosophy is a deliberate attempt to separate and maintain self-sufficiency, thus avoiding the temptations and moral deterioration that might accompany outside influences such as TV, radio, smartphones and computers. There are other advantages too, such as not being threatened by power shortages caused by natural disasters or war. (As far as war is concerned, members of the community practice nonresistance and will not practice any type of military service.)
Self-employed people in the community do not pay Social Security tax, although they do pay real estate, state and federal income taxes, county taxes, sales tax, etc. They will not collect Social Security benefits, nor would they collect unemployment or welfare funds.
Through hard work and utter self-reliance, the typical family will amass enough acreage to sustain itself and live “comfortably” in an attractive farmhouse, which is fastidiously maintained amid surrounding fields that are invariably groomed to perfection.
Any idea where this type of life might be found in the continental U.S.? If you guessed Lancaster (pronounced LAN-kiss-ter) County, Pa., you’d be right — in the heart of Amish country, no less. We recently spent a couple of days there while visiting our daughter, who’s off at school. And it’s another stunning example of how beautiful the countryside is up there once away from the hubbub of big cities and interstates.
One of the more interesting parts of the trip involved a conversation with an Amish gentleman from whom we had bought fresh apples. He had on a broad-brimmed straw hat, dark trousers, black socks and shoes, a white shirt with long sleeves and suspenders. Like all Amish men, he had an impressive beard with no moustache. His eyes were the bluest of blue — almost a whitish blue — piercing but with a friendly twinkle.
Not that I’m nosy or some such — anything buttinsky — but I asked if he wouldn’t mind responding to a few queries about his culture. He frosted a little at first, but quickly engaged and was very nice despite my lack of tact. He has seven children, and six have gone English (i.e. married out). Is the Amish population growing in general? Yes. Are you fluent in the Pennsylvania “Dutch” (a corruption of Deutsch because what the Amish speak is actually a German dialect)? Yes. Are outsiders ever permitted to join the church and the community? Yes, but most of the time it doesn’t work although it certainly does on occasion.
He then volunteered that most of the time adoptions don’t work — even if the children are adopted as infants. Why? Must be something in the DNA, he said.
Did you see the article in last Sunday’s paper about the Evening Post Publishing Company’s (the P&C’s parent company) plan to oversee development of its nearly 12-acre footprint along Meeting and King streets into mixed residential and retail space? Since it has been the paper’s tendency to criticize aspects of Charleston’s beautification (or lack thereof), it would behoove that the job be done properly. And it will be. This is going to be huge and transformative — a “New Gateway to the City” (the phrase being kicked around the office building). All very exciting, and the city of Charleston has been most helpful.
Now if we can just persuade Saks to come back home where it belongs — or a Nordstrom, or a Lord & Taylor, or a ... Actually, let’s not exclude local opportunity. That wouldn’t be good.
We’ll see where all this goes as plans continue to jell.
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.