Sunday, May 3, 2009

Nappanee, Indiana

May 2
Last summer on a day’s drive, we headed south from Wisconsin along Lake Michigan, through Chicago, briefly through Indiana, and up along the east shore of Lake Michigan to visit Cousin John and Laura. I’m so glad we returned this week, because now we’ve spent four days and discovered how beautiful Indiana is. We came to Nappanee, the RV capital of the world, to have work done on our motor coach by Newmar. Its headquarters are here so we’ve had a chance to meet other Newmar owners.

Thom pulled our RV right up into the “campground” at Newmar where they provide free electric and water hookups. At least 20 other Newmars were already parked. Everyone camps in their RVs and then the workmen arrive at 6am to drive the RVs to their work areas. They work on the rigs until 2pm, and then have them back by 2:30. So we visited in the waiting area with many other owners, comparing notes on RVs, the economy, good places in town to eat, and this is when we learned that Nappanee is the third largest population base in the US for the Amish and Mennonite communities.

So three days in a row, we woke the boys up at 5:30am, went inside to say hello to our neighbors, and then headed into town for a hearty breakfast at the Corner Café. Our waitress was Amanda, a sweet teenage Amish girl who has 5 siblings, rides her bike the 7 miles from home, wakes up each morning at 4:30, and treated us like family. She told us her family makes all their own clothes and she made the dress she was wearing. She wore a small, white bonnet which is part of their daily attire.

From there, we went to the public library three days in a row, hauling quite a few books along with us to do our home schooling. Nappanee has taken an especially hard hit with the economy since it is the RV capital of the world. Many RV companies have closed their doors, and their supply companies in the area have struggled as well. The unemployment rate in these small towns ranges from 18 to 25%. Many people were in the library using computers to job search, including many Amish men. Over 50% of the local Amish men had worked in the RV industry, so they’re especially feeling this downturn.

While we were there, we visited my high school friend, Sheryl Walsh and her family in South Bend, IN. It was great seeing her after 22 years! We went out for pizza together with her husband, Ron, and daughter, Lindsay. Lindsay is a sophomore in college studying to be a teacher. We caught up on family, the past, and the present. They’re doing well, and have a son who is engaged to be married this summer. We said our goodbye’s, and then made a small tour of Notre Dame University since we were in the neighborhood. We walked past the famous football field, and then drove around campus, stopping in to browse through the huge bookstore.

Now, back to studies at the Nappanee Library. As we read and did our schoolwork, I enjoyed hearing the “clip-clop, clip-clop” of horses’ hooves out on the streets. The Amish travel by horse and buggy, and we saw them everywhere, even at nighttime. We decided to visit Shipshewana, about a half hour away. There we visited Mennohof, a big house open to visitors to teach about the history and customs of the Amish, Mennonites, and Hetterites. It was informative! The three religions can be traced back to the Anabaptists from the 1500’s in Switzerland. Much like Martin Luther, they were dissatisfied with the Catholic Church and wanted to start their own church. They met resistance, which caused their people great suffering and torture. Years later, they came to America in search of religious freedom, and settled initially in Pennsylvania. Oh, here comes a horse and buggy pulling a small open cart right in front of where our RV is parked! What a lovely sight on a sunny, Saturday morning.

William Penn welcomed many religions to Pennsylvania centuries ago. When we lived in Maryland, we visited Lancaster, PA in order to see and learn about the Amish people. The boys don’t remember, so I’m glad we’re here now where they too are learning so much.
There aren’t any remaining Anabaptist religions to speak of in Switzerland and other parts of Europe today, but their communities have grown in the US.

On our way back from Mennohof, we stopped in the cute little town of Emma at an old fashioned soda bar. We sat at the soda bar speaking with Colleen after she’d served us huge waffle cones, which turned out to be our dinner that night (true story!). She introduced us to her husband, Ron who runs a dairy farm nearby. Wouldn’t you know it….they invited us to come visit! Ron showed us the small barn with 10 calves, 2 of which loved sucking on the fingers of our boys! This reminded us of our visit to a dairy farm in South Dakota with Marchell DeLange’s family last June.

Ron then showed us 100 dairy cows, and the milking area. He gets up at 3:15 every morning for the morning milking, and then they’re milked again in the afternoon. Our boys think this is so cool, and would love to live on a farm. We keep reminding them of the early mornings, and extensive chores, but they still claim this is what they want to do! The highlight of the tour came with the tractor ride. His tractor is enormous, with tires taller than me! The boys all squeezed in there and headed out for a 10 minute ride. They each had a turn driving. We thanked Colleen and Ron and headed home.

Yesterday was really special. I was at a laundromat in Nappanee and noticed an Amish woman talking with the female manager. By and by, I meandered over and introduced myself. Sara, the Amish woman introduced herself and the three of us had a lovely conversation. I told her about our visit to Mennohof and how we enjoyed learning about the Amish and Mennonite people. Ben and Sam were helping me, and she invited us over for a buggy ride! I was thrilled. She said they had an appointment with the local Ferrier, a man who shoes horses.

So two hours later, all six of us drove to her farm south of town and met her husband, John. Once again the boys enjoyed being on a farm. John asked them to let the chickens out, which Will happily did. Sam hung out with the baby calf, and the boys all noticed the many dogs and cats as well. We watched as John and Sara harnessed up their horse, Boots. Soon, the four boys and I climbed into the buggy with Sara and off we went! She drove Boots along the lush green back roads and waved at many neighbors. The familiar clip-clop, clip-clop was rhythmic and musical as we went. Sara happily told us about their lifestyle, and we all asked many questions. This was like a dream come true!

Thom joined us 4 miles away at the Ferrier’s home and we all observed as he adeptly changed out Boots’ horse shoes. Jonas was the ferrier’s name, and he lives there with Rosemary and their 7 children (ages 13 to 1). Our boys were soon running all around the farm with their kids. Ben rode a pony, and the boys visited the goats. Will went to our car, grabbed his Wave (his funky new skateboard), and taught their 8-year old how to ride it! Jonas finished the job on Boots just as the next customer pulled up in his buggy. Jonas shoes 10 or 11 horses a day.

We said our farewells, and this time I drove while Thom rode in the back seat of the buggy. We all stopped at an Amish store on the way home and met the owner, Marlene Burkholder. She sold everything from shoes, to hats, to toys, to books, to intricate clocks. This is where the ladies come to buy their fabric and sewing materials since they all make most of their clothes. As a gift, we asked if we could buy a new bonnet for Sara. She was surprised and very grateful, and accepted politely. We told them how happy we were to share this afternoon together, and then mentioned we’ll be back in about 10 days for parts on our RV. Marlene invited our two families to dinner upon our return trip. We gladly accepted….something to look forward to!

Back at the farmhouse, John served us his freshly baked cinnamon muffins, and homemade red wine! We exchanged addresses, and Sara packed up fresh eggs, muffins, and wine to go. I shared with them the boys’ comments from the Mennohof. As we learned about their religious beliefs regarding Jesus Christ, baptism, and his resurrection, the boys said, “Well those are all the same things we believe.” Sara loved it. The more we talked, the more we realized how similar we all are. We look forward to meeting the Hochstetler Family again soon for dinner!

Before we arrived in Indiana, we visited Abraham Lincoln’s Museum in Springfield, IL. It’s one of our favorites. Ben is standing next to Tad Lincoln in the picture! There are two outstanding presentations, one of which took place in the Ghost Library and still has us guessing as to how they did it. Our beloved 16th president was quite a man, a humble leader who accomplished great things. What struck me as I toured the museum was the minimal support he had. He obviously was despised by the South, and surprisingly, the North was never happy with most of his actions and decisions either. They either felt he wasn’t doing enough to stop slavery, or they didn’t think it was worth going to war over. Many said, “Let the South go and start their own country. Who needs them?” I was glad to see the museum was packed with school kids on field trips. Our youth especially need to learn this important part of our history, and this was the ideal place for it.

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