This weekend, we stayed in Lancaster, PA. It’s been awhile since we’ve been here, and it’s been 23 years since we lived near here. I had forgotten just how beautiful Pennsylvania is. Not to mention how cute the Amish are. Here’s how our Friday evening went, and how it affected me–
We roll into Lancaster, starving, after a 5-hour drive from Virginia. We find a Pennsylvania Dutch all-you-can-eat smorgasbord for dinner. (FYI–“Pennsylvania Dutch” is a misnomer for the German/”Deutsch” settlers in Pennsylvania.) Why that matters: fastidious stone houses, gorgeous flower boxes, hearty and delectable homemade food, and if you’re lucky, some close-range views of horse-drawn buggies and their Amish-American drivers.
With glee, Shane and I pull into the parking lot. While we wait for our number to be called, I meander through the quilt store, passing by the station offering gloves for anyone wanting to touch the handmade quilts. I think I don’t need them–can’t afford these quilts, anyway. Just looking until I can eat. But two minutes later, I’m putting on the gloves. I can’t help myself. The intricate, immaculate stitching requires my attention. Such beautiful color combinations! Such remarkable patterns! I unfold one after the other, while awed gasps escape my lips. Our number comes up too quickly. I leave the quilt store with something like a pout on my face, like a child being torn from the candy counter.
Yet moments later, I am actually clapping my hands in the buffet line. Savory smells float towards me. Homemade everything! Noodles, soups, breads, entrees, desserts. Which brings me to the most important part of the buffet experience, and my two pieces of advice for PA Dutch smorgasbords: Pacing and Choice.
Pacing, people. You must plan this event to avoid the displeasure of massively over-eating, or worse, yet, leaving no room for dessert. I solve that potential hazard by scouting out the dessert bar first. What do I need to leave room for? I am happy to see the pies and cakes cut into tiny slivers, since I intend on having several. I begin my meal with 2 kinds of soup and 1 hearty salad, to which my husband says, “Why are you wasting room on that?” (I could make a meal out of the potato soup along–I can tell the thick white broth is made with cream–but I settle for a bowl of potato and a cup of corn chowder). Both yummy. I skip the rolls, although I’m tempted. I need to leave room for other, more important indulgences. And here is my second piece of advice: choice. Choose judicially where you spend your energy. (You can get homemade rolls a lot of places, but real shoo-fly pie is only found here). Keep all later options in mind when you choose.
We sit at the restaurant window and moan delightedly while we eat. Our eyes are closed. In between bites, we eye each other and giggle. This food is just too good. We see a little Amish boy across the street mowing his grass, and we watch with interest. Perched on a buggy seat, with straw hat on his head and his black overalls covering a bright coral shirt, the young boy handily steers his horse around the yard, pulling behind him a platform with a lawn mower attached to the back of it. We find the boy’s mowing to be entertaining and surprisingly efficient. While he mows, we hit the buffet line again. I feel strangely guilty.
I enjoy a couple slices of succulent local ham, roast pork, fresh veggies, and mashed potatoes with gravy. Yes, my second potato dish for the evening. After all, these potatoes are grown here and mashed by little ladies in blue dresses and cute white bonnets. I see mounds of homemade mac and cheese, beef stroganoff, and roast on my husband’s second plate. He is eating with gusto.
But I am moving on to dessert while I still have room. There are dozens of dessert choices here–pies of every kind: blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb, apple, Dutch apple, shoo-fly, and more; there’s even a window for hot pie with ice cream. Plus German chocolate cake, cheesecake, brownies, cookies, banana pudding, and my favorite chocolate/peanut butter cake. I choose only one piece of the chocolate/peanut butter cake, which I regret it later because it is so scrumptious. I could eat the whole cake. I’m hoping they sell it in the bakery. I also choose cheesecake with strawberries. But I keep thinking about the chocolate/peanut butter. I finish with shoo-fly and think of my mother, who makes an incredible shoo-fly pie.
The dinner concludes with a walk through the gift shop. Jams, jellies, and butters all recently canned by those adorable farm wives, beg to be purchased. So I purchase. Nobody makes jam and apple butter like the Amish. Wistfully, I imagine myself with my mother, canning in a country kitchen, wearing white aprons over our plain dresses. Peeling, cutting, boiling, canning. My mom would make a good Amish lady. Not so sure about me. I think I’m too stressed-out to be Amish.
There’s no chocolate/peanut butter cake for sale, but I buy a Christmas ornament, as I do everywhere I visit. It’s a wooden covered bridge that says “Amish Country” on the roof. A little cheesy and touristy for my usual taste, but I’m under the spell of the Pennsylvania countryside. The people deserve my money just for being so universally talented.
The sun sets in orange and pink, like ribbons flung across the green rolling hills. Round hay bales speckle the countryside behind split-rail fences. Black horse-drawn buggies roll happily by. If it weren’t for tourists taking pictures or racing to outlet malls, this place could pass for a postcard from an earlier era. Part of me craves it.
But the tourists speed by, driving to quilt shops and fudge shops and smorgasboards, contributing to the Lancaster economy and taking pictures of a curious culture. The distant mountains turn smokey violet in the evening light. The sun hovers on the horizon, flaming orange.
I want to eat and quilt and ride in a buggy. I want to be Amish, maybe for a day. Well, maybe just for an hour or two. Instead we drive in our car with the windows rolled down so we can smell the fresh air. We go back to our air-conditioned hotel room and turn on the lights and work on our computers. We talk about how cute and disciplined the Amish are–how they stand solidly in their beliefs midst a crazed world of motion and innovation. We marvel at their children who drive buggies and bale hay and make jelly, while our children play video games and text on their i-phones.
I think again of pacing and choice. Maybe these two perspectives reflect more than my smorgasbord strategies. Maybe they represent life. Value choices. Maybe modern America is enamored with the Amish, not because their clothes are outdated, but because their values seem outdated. As a Christian, I recognize their family and Christian values for what they really are–unwavering commitments midst the social pressure of relevancy.
Why are my values in constant conflict with my culture? Perhaps I am enamored with society. I care what it thinks of me. I should behave more Amish, not in theology and practice, but in concept. Rock-solid values eliminate internal conflict. Instead of making those daily choices over time and technology, the Amish go to work alongside their children and neighbors and just share life. I’ll bet life would be a bit more peaceful for us if “fitting in” was neither a concern nor an option, if we just lived our values undisturbed by the chaos of the world around us.
image by john kovacich