Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Old Order Mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley

As I work in the garden I often see horse and buggies clipping by on their way to some get together in the Old Order Mennonite community. Many of our neighbors are Old Order Mennonites, gentle, hard-working people, and good friends to us. The sight of a horse and buggy passing our farm, or meeting one, or a stream of buggies, on the back roads (especially thick on Sunday mornings) is a frequent occurrence here. From inside my house, the sound of horses hooves coming and going is as familiar to me as the trill of meadowlarks or mooing cows. We live on a dairy farm, in my husband's family since the 1940's.

I'm especially fond of the children. Little girls and small boys in the hats the men wear peering out from the back window of a buggy is always a delight, as is seeing women and children collected on a wagon on their way to a gathering…or riding old-fashioned bikes, at work on their farms, and sometimes even at play. Long lines of wash flapping in the breeze with pants and dresses in graded sizes from large to tiny is a picturesque addition to the community. Across the meadow and up the hill from our farm is a small Old Order school. Last fall I spotted a line of children holding hands out for a walk along the country road with their teacher(s). Darling. At the end of recess and lunch time, I hear the bell ring to summon the students back indoors. Reminds me of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her ‘Little House‘ books.

The Old Order neighbors on the farm up the road from us have a produce stand with fresh vegetables from their garden for sale. They use the honor system for customers to leave money in the box; the prices are listed on a handmade sign and the produce ready and waiting. If you have a question, likely you can find someone about on the farm or wielding a hoe. Normally I grow my own veges, but if I run low or have a crop failure I know where to go. Their garden is always perfect. They have many children and a great deal more help than I. Sigh.

I much admire The Old Order Mennonite’s unique way of life and very much hope they are able to continue as they are. The economic hardships facing many family farms, including ours, and the growing demands made by a burgeoning federal government with all its rules and regulation imposes yet more stress on a people already struggling to survive. Imagine trying to live like it’s the 1800′s in 2011.

For example, they have no health insurance, but band together and support each other in times of illness and injury. Doctors and hospitals make some concessions in regards to billing Old Orders, but the cost of medical care is still staggering. These people do not, however, want to be forced into a government health plan as this goes against their religion. They have as little as possible to do with government and the secular world in general. I believe their unique way of life must be respected and protected or the day may come when buggies no longer pass our house.~

*Old Order Mennonites are one of the aspects of rural life in the Shenandoah Valley I touched on in my nonfiction book entitled Shenandoah Watercolors.

*Pics of Old Order Mennonites and their farms by my husband and mother. Old Orders do not like to have their pictures taken if their faces are visible so we are careful not to reveal them.

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