This is one of my favorite Christmas morning shots. It’s also very personal and sentimental. After 37 years in the same house, December 25, 2016 was our last Christmas here before we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to be near the grandkids.
This photo shows our granddog, a Sproodle (English Springer Spaniel/Poodle mix), watching a horse-drawn Amish buggy trotting by the house. It was a familiar scene for us all those years. The clop, clop, clop of the horses’ hooves on the payment of the busy road on which we lived soothed our souls. We miss that a lot.
I suppose, in part, that is why I chose this peaceful Christmas morning photo to share. I took it in the calm of the blessed morning before the grandkids awoke one last time at our Holmes Co., Ohio, home.
“Christmas Morning in Amish Country” is my Photo of the Week.
Living among the world’s largest Amish population, it’s not too difficult to find contrasting images in everyday life. When I pulled into a local furniture store’s parking lot, I thought this captured that contrast perfectly. The image of this Old Order Amish buggy parked beside the SUV spoke for itself. The fact that they both happened to be black enhanced the comparison that we who live here too often take for granted.
Most times, when I look out the windows of our home or silently gaze across the landscape from our back porch, it seems like a dream come true.
When I was a child, my father occasionally would pile his family into the car and head to Holmes County. He loved the rolling hills, the tidy farms, the stands of hardwoods interspersed with patches of multi-hued green and golden crops. The winding, hilly roads stitched together these living quilt blocks.
We wound our way on two lane highways through towns like Navarre, Wilmot, Winesburg, Berlin and on into Millersburg. For us impatient kids, the drive from our blue-collar suburb 40 miles away seemed an eternity.
Dad made the day trip even longer. We stopped to buy eatable souvenirs at the cheese houses, built with shiny, glazed tile blocks that mimicked the yellow chunks of Swiss. We couldn’t wait to unwrap the brown, waxed paper parcels secured with sturdy, white string. They perfectly represented the productivity of the land and its practical people.
Dad loved the slower pace of life in Holmes County, best modeled by the buggies drawn by satiny chestnut horses, and the afternoon sun highlighting the blond manes of giant workhorses pulling hay wagons through waves of emerald alfalfa. Neat white clapboard farmhouses, sometimes two abreast, and carmine bank barns brought focus to this dreamy world.
Dad would also stop along the way to photograph colorful landscapes, or just to enjoy the view. Sometime later, Mom would produce a watercolor that vividly depicted the same scene.
I often ponder those excursions with Dad, noting how ironic it is that my wife and I settled in Holmes County. We made it our home, raised our children here, began and ended our careers here.
In the summer, I sit on the back porch eating heirloom tomatoes and drinking fresh mint iced tea while our neighbor and his circle of family and friends gather wheat shocks on a hot, sticky afternoon. Undeterred by my presence, hummingbirds zoom over my head to the feeder.
In the winter, American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebirds and White-crowned Sparrows consume the seeds provided for them. A whoosh of wings announces a sneak attack by the resident Cooper’s Hawk, attempting to snag a snack, too.
In the spring, I watch with wonder as maple leaves unfurl ever so slowly. Yet it seems one week the trees are bare, and the next I’m under their shade.
I’ve never been to New Hampshire or Vermont to behold their fine fall colors of picture postcard scenes where hardwoods surround pristine, quaint villages. I intend to go someday. This fall, however, I’ll enjoy the equally colorful pallets around Charm, Beck’s Mills, Killbuck, Glenmont, Trail and Beechvale.
As pretty as our area is, its hardy people, though humanly and humbly imperfect, make it even more attractive. My wife and I are grateful for friends and neighbors who reside and work in and about our bucolic habitat. It’s a privilege to be among them.
Holmes County wasn’t the only enticing rural area our family visited on those trips long ago. But it was a favorite. I never dreamed I would end up living all of my adult life here, rooted to its rich, productive soils, and intertwined with its industrious, ardent inhabitants.
I tell people that I was born and raised in Canton, Ohio, but I grew up in Holmes County. Now you know why.
Amish buggies in Ohio’s Amish Country may be all black, but they definitely aren’t all the same. The nondescript, unobtrusive color merely keeps them uniform and modest.
Even if they all are black, a closer look reveals that there are many differences in buggies. These variances are especially true for buggies owned by younger Amish men. Particular attention is paid to the kind of accessories included on their buggies. After all, a buggy can last for 30 years if it is well maintained.
At least two-dozen buggy shops are sprinkled around the Greater Holmes County area. That way the Amish do not have to travel far to order a buggy or have one repaired. That concept is maintained in all aspects of the Amish lifestyle.
Demand for new buggies is high. Most buggy shops reported a year’s wait for a new buggy. Depending on the size of the shop and the kind of buggies being built, buggies are produced at the rate of no greater than one per week. Buggy repairs are worked in accordingly. Should a buggy be damaged in an accident or lose a wheel, for example, it would receive priority status.
Most buggy shops are family operations. A father and his son or sons may run the shop, assisted by an apprentice or even wives and daughters. This way the trade can be passed from generation to generation.
Because each buggy is custom-built one at a time, assembling a buggy is a prolonged process, taking as long as a year to complete. To build a sturdy, useful buggy, shop owners and workers need a variety of skills. They must be a carpenter, welder, upholsterer, painter and mechanic all in one.
According to Menno Schlabach, owner and operator of M & S Coach near Berlin, buggies start with a wooden base. Reinforced with metal braces, a wood framed structure is attached. The sides and tops are covered with a grained, vinyl coated black cloth.
“With 150 church districts in the area, customization of each buggy varies a great deal,” Schlabach said.
Indeed, it is the customization that allows the customer to put personal preferences into the new buggy to give it character. That process also slows the construction. With all the various options, Schlabach said it takes an average of 150 hours to build a new buggy.
Some buggies have curtain doors that roll up, while others have sliding doors on the side and a hinged door in the back for easier access. Other buggy accessories include shelves for storage, switches, battery compartments, mirrors, window sizes and shapes including the choice of glass or Plexiglas or no glass at all, shapes and cushioning of seats, manually operated windshield wipers, brakes, upholstery and a variety of lighting options. Even the materials of the wheels and shafts vary.
Dashboards seem to be the telling tale of the owners’ preferences. Some are intricately made using inlaid or exotic wood. The dashboards are mounted on the inside of the front piece of the buggy. They generally house switches for exterior and interior lights and turn signals.
Even the exterior lighting is customized. Just like cars, buggies have headlights and taillights. Most also have amber warning lights on the top rear of the buggy. Running lights along the sides of the buggies help drivers see at night. Marker lights positioned on the front and sides of buggies are other accessories that give the buggy its individual distinction. Only buggies owned by Swartzentruber Amish, the lowest Amish order, still use kerosene lanterns for visibility.
The style of buggy is determined by its purpose. A two-wheeled cart is the simplest of all buggy types and is used for quick, local trips. The hack is the Amish equivalent to a pick up truck. Sometimes called buckboards, a hack is a four-wheel buggy that is designed for hauling livestock and other bulk items. Some driver compartments of hacks are covered, while others are open.
The most common buggy type is the surrey. They are built with a bench seat and a storage area in the back that also has an option for two small flat seats along the insides. The side seats can be removed to increase storage. Usually children use those rear seats.
Surreys come covered or open. Covered buggies are called top buggies. The family version of a surrey has two bench seats and four openings for access, plus some storage space in the rear with a door or curtain that rolls up.
The newest buggy version is the mini-surrey, which can actually hold more passengers than a regular top buggy. Affectionately called a minivan by some Amish, the mini-surrey serves the same purpose. The side seats behind the front bench comfortably hold two adults or several children on each side.
The cost of new buggies varies depending on the type and size of the buggy and the kind and amount of accessories included. A new cart could cost $1,500 while a new, well-equipped mini-surrey could run up to $7,000.
With a horse for an engine, the buggy’s driver steers with a set of reins instead of a steering wheel. Still, the purpose of a buggy is the same as a motorized vehicle. It transports its passengers from one place to the other, just at a much slower speed.
Buggies may be black. But they are an important element that helps keep the Amish culture moving in every way.
This year proved just as crazy as any other. Nose for news person that I am, I kept track of some of the zanier happenings of 2011 that for whatever reasons didn’t quite make the headlines.
Some of the stories involved weather. Others were human driven. Here is just a sampling of the year’s mayhem.
1 – By early morning, more than 4,000 red-winged blackbirds fell dead out of the sky over the Beebe, Arkansas.
12 – Florida was the only one of the 50 states without measurable snow on the ground.
28 – A woman in Kent, England returned a dog she had adopted from the local rescue kennel because it clashed with her curtains.
21 – Justine Siegal threw batting practice for the Cleveland Indians in Spring Training, becoming the first woman to do so for a Major League baseball team.
23 – Mother Jones magazine reported that since 1979 most income groups in America have barely grown richer, while the income of the top 1 percent has nearly quadrupled.
27 – Frank Buckles, the sole remaining U.S. World War I veteran, died at age 110 at his home in Charles Town, West Virginia.
13 – Police in Ashland, Ohio ticketed the driver of an Amish buggy for drag racing another buggy on the way to church.
13 – The massive 9.0 earthquake that struck Japan was so powerful it moved the country’s northern most islands up to 13 feet east.
25 – A report on global health reported that worldwide 4.6 billion people had cell phones while 4.3 billion people had access to a toilet.
9 – Rick Baird of Charlotte, North Carolina mad a perfect score in the second round of the Virginia State Putt-Putt tournament by acing all 18 holes in Richmond, Virginia.
11 – Scientists in England determined that April 11, 1954 was the most boring day in the 20th century.
24 – MensHealth magazine reported that the average American consumes 125 pounds of sugar annually. May
17 – Watermelons in China were exploding in the field because farmers there apparently added growth chemicals too late in the seasons.
21 – U.S. Census figures showed that the Hispanic population had surpassed the Amish population in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
26 – The Police Executive Research Forum listed Flint, Michigan as the most dangerous city in the United States.
4 – Bobby Bradley, nine, became the youngest trained pilot to fly a hot air balloon solo when he launched at Albuquerque, New Mexico and landed a half hour later.
17 – A deer fawn apparently dropped by an eagle onto a high voltage line caused a power outage in East Missoula, Montana.
20 – Maria Gomes Valentim, purported to the world’s oldest person, died in Sao Paulo, Brazil just two weeks shy of her 115th birthday.
26 – Sue Fondrie of Oshkosh, Wisconsin won the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest for bad writing with a 26-word opening sentence.
26 – A 200-year-old bottle of French wine sold for $120,000, setting a new Guinness World Record for the most valuable bottle of white wine ever sold.
28 – The U.S. Census showed that rural population totaled just 16 percent of the national population, the lowest rate in history. August
2 – In trying to get to the Mercury Insurance Open in Carlsbad, California, pro tennis player Bojana Jovanovski flew from Washington, D.C. to Carlsbad, New Mexico.
13 – Real Madrid, a pro soccer team, signed a seven-year old boy from Argentina, to play soccer.
18 – The small Pacific resort island of Aitutaki, part of the Cook Islands, had its first bank robbery, with the thieves making off with $166,000.
9 – The Highway Loss Data Institute reported that the number one stolen car in the U.S. was the Cadillac Escalade, while the least stolen was the Mini Cooper Clubman.
24 – A total of 18,000 people attended the annual RoadKill Cook-off and Autumn Harvest Festival held in Marlinton, West Virginia.
30 – Brianna Amat, a senior at Pinckney Community High School in Michigan, was crowned homecoming queen at half time of the football game, and awhile later kicked the winning field goal as a member of the football team.
16 – Fauja Singh, 100, completed the Toronto Marathon, becoming the oldest person on record to finish a run of 23.6 miles.
23 – In the first ever-democratic election in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, voter turnout was 90 percent.
28 – A 60-year old New Mexico woman went straight to jail after allegedly stabbing her boyfriend over a game of Monopoly.
1 – Inside Insurance Magazine rated West Virginia as the state were drivers are most likely to hit a deer.
30 – An 80-year old Chicago man donated an old wool suite to Goodwill, only to remember too late that he had hid his life savings of $13,000 in one of the pockets.
4 – A chain-reaction crash on an expressway in Japan resulted in 14 luxury automobiles, including eight Ferraris, three Mercedes-Benzes and a Lamborghini, being destroyed or heavily damaged.
7 – Pantone Inc. announced that Tangerine Tango would be the 2012 color of the year.
Let’s hope 2012 is a better year for you, me, and for all who grace God’s good earth, even if we have to wear some shade of orange.