I think it had been about 4 1/2 years since my last - and first - visit to Berlin, Ohio, also known as Amish Country.
As chronicled in a couple of previous posts (see posts from 7/1/2014 and 7/2/2014), after that first visit I left Amish Country harboring zero desire to ever return to that land of hand-made country crafts and unfriendly locals.
But here I was again, in the heart of Amish country of my own volition (See yesterday's post), this time more espoused to the idea of enjoying the offerings of this neat hotel we were staying in,
However even with this idee fixe of Amish animosity towards anyone but themselves securely screwed into my brain I must admit that I still found the Amish, their history, and their culture of non-materialistic simplicity (unlike the folks they sell all their stuff to) intriguing.
And so while we were here I wanted to re-visit Behalt, the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center which offers a lecture on the history of the Mennonites and their two off-shoots, the Amish and Hutterites.
So in spite the snow that was pouring down on Saturday morning Tom and I decided to head out to Behalt after breakfast.
Breakfast at the Berlin Resort was the standard hotel buffet line but the food was good
Anyway, as we entered the dining room I was quite surprised to see that the kitchen was being run by a portly, middle-aged, grandmotherly-looking Amish woman. I was even more surprised when she returned Tom's bright, friendly, "Good Morning!" with a bright, friendly "Good Morning!" of her own.
"See that?" said Tom, "she was friendly to me."
I had to concede that she was indeed.
A few minutes later the lady hurried out with more coffee and notified the guests with a smile, "Got some more coffee for ya!"
Which I likewise had to admit was a manifestation of friendliness. And normalness.
I felt the screw holding together my notion about unwavering Amish unfriendliness loosening about a quarter of a turn.
After breakfast we headed out into the snow and drove a few miles down County Road 77,
In fact one of them, a man about my age, approached us almost as soon as we entered the Center and showed us a book that he'd written on Amish life, assuring us that this book gave a true and honest representation.
I chuckled to myself and thought, Amish or English, we writers are all the same, always wanting someone to read what we've written! Of course we bought his book.
The other guide, who appeared to be in his mid-40's, then took Tom and I, the only visitors at the moment, into in the Center's Cyclorama, a room in the round on which is painted an enormous
10' x 265' mural depicting the history of the Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites from early Christianity to the present. The mural was painted by Heinz Gaugle, a Catholic artist with an interest in the Amish and the preservation of their history and culture. He worked on the mural from 1978 to 1992.
The guide then gave us a half-hour lecture, pointing out the events represented in the painting as he spoke.
It was a wonderful and spell-binding presentation. At the end of his lecture our guide then talked candidly of the struggles that Amish have nowadays trying to follow their religion, customs and culture while adapting to life in the present. He said that the Amish must deal with the same problems within their communities as society at large: depression, unhappy marriages, alcoholism, as well as the problems created by the commercialization of their culture.
I was amazed and, in truth, honored, by this Amish man's openness with us.
And, though this man perhaps believed that he was merely educating two interested tourists on the history his people, for me he did more than that: he, with a little help from an articulate book-writer and a cheerful kitchen worker, changed my feelings and my mind.
To be continued...