Driving Mr. Stoltzfus

I don’t exactly remember when I met Amos.  I’ve been doing business around the local plain communities for over 25 years now.  I’ve seen their children grow up, marry and have children of their own.  I’ve known a few of their horses, some to the point of buying them and bringing to our farm.  And so, this month I will reacquaint myself with some of my Amish friends in a rather intimate way – I’ll travel across the state of Virginia to help Jr. move back to Maryland.

I’m sure they could have found someone else to trailer the carthorse back up the road.  But I volunteered for this one, though I’d given up driving for the Amish years ago.  They like to travel in the dead of night, so as not to lose daylight hours.  That’s okay as long as the driver doesn’t need daylight hours, but I did.  Even so, I learned a lot driving Mr. Stoltzfus.

Amos has fifteen children, well over a hundred grandchildren, and is collecting greats into the dozens by this time.  We got together at an auction one wintery day up in Lancaster.  The truck he was riding in had crashed and he and his passengers needed a ride home – with all the stuff they had just bought.  The only seat in that truck that didn’t have two or three people sitting in it was mine.  The trailer nearly doubled the height of the pickup.  I suppose cops look the other way when they see a bunch of Amish stuff going down the road – who wants to inspect that mess!

Amos and I took a liking to each other.  He owned a farm machinery and welding shop (now taken over by his youngest son, Toby).  He was constantly going up to Lancaster County, PA to pick up machinery and parts.  I liked driving and seeing part of the country I’d never seen before.  We both liked talking about our faith in Christ and the Scripture.  Amos is a bishop, selected for the office by the casting of lots during a period of fasting by the whole community.

One time we so overloaded the trailer we had to stop at an overpass and measure the load.  We had three inches to spare!  On another occasion, I blew two tires on the trailer.  We had just loaded on the last piece of machinery – a hay baler –when we noticed one tire completely destroyed, the other nearly so.  It was after 5pm on a Saturday.  The Amish fellow that sold Amos the baler said he had a neighbor that had a manual tire machine.  We went over there and discovered that he had a machine, but now we needed tires.  Fortunately, the gentleman had two tires that had been sitting outside in his garden for several years.  It took us well over two hours to get those tires mounted and inflated (the tires had lost their form), but we got it done, tipping this kind Samaritan quite well for his patience!  We both returned home tired, each of us knowing we had to preach in our respective churches in the morning.

An Amish church service is an event.  It starts early in the morning, around 7 or 8am, and lasts for four hours or better.  The men sit on one side, the women and young children on the other.  The children are expected to sit still.  The men are expected not to snore.  The service is in German (PA Dutch), and the hymns are acappella.  The sermon is at least two hours, preached without notes, or any real preparation other than deep prayer.  The service is always held in a home.  A common meal is always served afterward.  Services are held every other week, with the off week being given over to the family reading from the gospels and getting the children prepared to sit still!

I was invited to Amos Jr.’s wedding several years ago.  I had taken Jr. to see his girlfriend several times and had come to know Lizzie’s family as well.  Isaac always treated me well.  He was a successful farmer in Charlotte Courthouse, VA.  I’d witnessed a barn raising there and marveled that no one was actually killed in the process.  “Organized chaos” is how it was described to me then.  I felt honored to be invited to the wedding, even though my greatest attribute was my minivan capable of hauling 7 people and several chickens.

Jr. initially settled next to his father in Maryland.  That’s always the rub when a couple hails from different communities.  Someone has to give up and settle someplace new.  Jr. worked at the local sawmill and Lizzie kept the house and a flock of chickens.  Over time, a child was born.

Amos Jr. decided he wanted to farm, and a farm went up for sale next to his father-in-law.  I walked the farm with Jr. several times.  I could never get used to the red soil in that part of the world, but it was a pretty farm that had potential.  With the children beginning to come, it seemed right that they would move to be near her home.

And so I helped move them down to Virginia.  And I got stuck.  And my trailer got stuck.  And I found out just how much strength a group of men have if they want to something unstuck.  They tied a rope to my truck and trailer and pulled them out!

Sometimes, things don’t work out.  Farming is a tricky business.  Markets that are high will fall in six months.  The joke about earning a small fortune farming by starting out with a large one is not too far off the mark.  All it takes is the unexpected tragedy/event to push a tenuous situation over the edge.  Premature twins can be that event.

The farm was sold to Jr.’s brother who lived close by.  Amos and Lizzie continued to live on the farm and Amos took up carpentry work to support them.  I drove Amos Sr. and B. Yoder down to Charlottesville where we met Jr.  Jr. and Lizzie were staying at the Ronald McDonald house next to the hospital.  The bill for over a month of NICU for the twins was high.  The community self-insures.  Negotiations brought the bill down to under a million dollars, but in order to get that deal, it would have to be paid in cash in 30 days.

Joe S. later joked that he was going to go around with a 55-gallon drum that had money slot cut in it, just to give everyone in the community an idea of the need that must be met.  Thirty days later, the bill was paid.  A community that works like that is better than any insurance company in the world.

Now it is time for Amos Jr. to move back to Maryland and start over.  The twins are nearly four, Toby desperately needs help in the welding shop, and I think Amos and Mary look forward to more grandchildren living close.  That same community that paid a huge hospital bill also helped build a new house for Jr. and Lizzie to live.

I’ll go down and help them pack up, load up the horse, the cow, and some furnishings.  I’ll try to stay away from the heaping loads and blown tires.  But I’ll never forget the difference knowing a plain family has made in my life.