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Author Explores Amish Culture

During a visit to Wheeling, author P.L. Gaus of Wooster offered a fascinating view into Amish culture as glimpsed from an “English” (non-Amish) perspective.

He appeared at the Ohio County Public Library’s Lunch With Books series Tuesday and spoke about Amish society in Holmes County, Ohio. He has written 10 books in his Amish Country Mystery series.

“I have not written these stories for Amish people to read,” he said, but instead crafts the novels “so that English people have a better understanding of what it’s like to live Amish, pray Amish and to live in Amish country.”

The author related an incident in which an Amish farmer from Brewster, Ohio, borrowed three copies of the books and loved the stories, but became angry upon learning that the books were novels. The farmer explained that the Amish bishop in his district doesn’t allow church members to read fiction.

“There isn’t any truth in the stories, other than the location and the culture. They’re fictional,” Gaus said.

He published the 10th book, “Stars for Lydia,” through Amazon. His previous publishers declined to release the new novel because of “deep and intense religious issues” that are raised.

Describing how he interacts with the Amish, Gaus said, “I find a nice place to sit and wait for Amish people to come and talk to me.”

His purpose in writing the mysteries is “to uncover the humanity of Amish society,” he commented. “These are human beings, first and foremost, like the rest of us … It’s not odd and strange to them at all. They’ve been living this (lifestyle) since the 16th century.”

Gaus thinks commerce and transportation are the two main factors leading to change among Amish people in Holmes County.

One of his interesting encounters occurred when an Old Order Amish man noticed Gaus’ Mazda Miata sports car and asked for a ride from Millersburg to Nashville, Ohio. Along the way, they made several stops at businesses where the man ordered parts to repair saw mills that he sold to Amish farmers across the country.

After the man lost his left arm at age 18 in a saw mill accident, his bishop released him from a stricture on transportation.

“He has developed a means of commerce that has made him a wealthy man,” Gaus said.

While visiting an area where Old Order farmers “take pride in the fact that they are true to 16th- and 17th-century peasant life in Germany,” Gaus met an Amish man who installs high-tech security and alarm systems. That man’s bishop allows him to travel for work in a chauffeur-driven Buick Roadmaster stationwagon.

Citing other examples of how electronics and technology are changing Amish life, Gaus said he saw a solar-powered phone booth equipped with a telephone, answering machine, fax machine and printer. Noting that Amish teenagers are seen in public using cell phones, he remarked, “That will change things quite a lot.”

In another aspect of transportation, he said three or four buses a week take Amish people from Holmes County to Sarasota, Florida, for winter getaways. Amish and Mennonite families in Sarasota open their homes to the tourists. “The buses are full all winter long,” he said.

After some bishops allowed Amish farmers to use small garden tractors, others permitted travel on larger tractors. Enterprising farmers now hitch open, flatbed wagons to the large tractors and add lawn chairs to take their families on shopping excursions, he said.

“Every Amish church is autonomous,” he commented. “It’s the bishop who makes all the decisions. There are vast differences in how bishops think about these modern issues … Over the years, over the decades, congregations have varied greatly.”

In several of Gaus’ novels, he has addressed genetic issues that result from close intermarriage within Amish communities. He said some bishops now encourage young men to find brides in other parts of the country to mix the gene pool.

Meanwhile, with family farms being divided for several generations, Amish people now face a scarcity of land. As a result, 30 families moved recently from Mount Hope, Ohio, to Batavia, New York, he said. Amish communities also can be found in Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer.net

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