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"Oh, and keep your forks for pie," our host tells us, his voice thick with the glottal accent of the Heartland. "There isn't any pie, but keep your forks for pie."
We can't help but chuckle. More than one person suggests he gets into standup. We never do find out if he knows what that means.***
The evening rambles onward as food bursts constantly from the kitchen, and the dinner party's roar is interrupted every once in awhile as the hosts impart short kernels of wisdom.
"I hear lots of people talking, but no one's listening..." Our bearded host pauses for a long stretch, allowing that thought to really sink in. We hadn't even seen him walk in the room this time. We all look at one another, sort of wondering what precisely he meant by that remark.
It was true, though: It really seemed like all 20 of us were talking at once at times.
The hosts' living room is a simple affair. A couch and several chairs, mostly comfortable looking, form a tight enclave. Propane-powered floor lamps decorate the room at random intervals. Religious pamphlets stack neatly on a small wooden table. Pictures accent the dining room.
Theirs is a quiet life, one delicately pruned to leave plenty of time for deliberate human interaction. Listening, here, is clearly valued as a daily virtue. Of our hosts, the husband works construction jobs during the day, returning around 4 p.m. to the house. His wife spends time on household affairs before preparing for the dinner. Neighborhood children stop by each evening to pitch in on the chores (bussing, dishwashing). They're paid handsomely in leftovers.
"They try to lead the simplest life possible," one guest says, trying to explain the Amish way of life. He repeats this refrain throughout the night, because most everyone around him has these sorts of general sociological curiosities and no one else can really answer them. "If that means using electricity or technology now and then to get a job done, then they do it, but they try to maintain a simple life."
We continue landing on conversations about these ideas, like the disinclination among Amish for using things like buttons or zippers. Our hosts' shirts are kept intact with needles.
And the immersion into this other world that so few of us understand carries on into conversation about their diversions from everyday life. On the subject of late-night drag racing, for instance, our host comments, "You get two horses that know what they're doing and a flat stretch of road... Believe me, it happens." We sit in awe, all sort of craning our necks the better to hear these tales.
We had come here for different reasons. Most simply reference the sheer "something different-ness" of spending an evening dining with an Amish family. We lead hectic lives. Tonight's getaway offers something of a breath, a respite from the bright lights and politics of The City, not to mention a strange little tale to tell our fellow young professionals over happy hour back home.
Ohio's Amish community, in particular, is known in the newspapers mostly for its tangential connection to Sam Mullet's hate crime convictions last year. Complementing that are plenty of other misconceptions in nearly any direction.
The state's puppy mill problem – a culture of animal abuse tacitly sanctioned by Ohio government – is rooted primarily among rural networks of Amish. One puppy rescue operator told Scene last year that the Amish bought into the puppy breeding world out of a desire to make the quickest buck possible. These days, we've learned, some have turned away from puppies and toward rabbits (future puppy chow).
But those comprise but a small corner of Amish life. Throughout the evening's robust conversation, we do away with those inaccuracies and talk mostly about the truth of the matter.
Our host's farm is a small tract of land, evidence of the Amish community's ever-growing population and ever-decreasing access to land. Several years ago, they met the curiosity of the English (non-Amish in the lingo) and opened their home to those both hungry and social. Business began booming, and the couple soon found themselves booked solid for weeks, months, years on end.
It's simple supply and demand, of course. What the couple is offering is an experience that cannot be found anywhere else. The jam, cashew crunch, fresh bread and, this time of year, maple butter that the couple sells for cash are the sorts of products that line shelves in outposts all over rural Ohio. But here, one interacts with the process behind the food on a unparalleled level.
Toward the end of the night, our hosts truck out an actual dessert cart — like one that gets circled around the suites at Jacobs Field, and just as stocked — and begin serving up a dazzling array of homemade pies. The husband lets loose a list of pie that has our heads spinning: blueberry, lemon sponge, apple, peanut butter, coconut cream. Yes, we all sort of chuckle, there really is pie.
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