Teaching in Amish Country
Editor’s note: Once a week, Laura Morton will use personal history to put a Craigslist ad into perspective.
Two years ago, at a funeral, a woman I knew offered me a job. She asked if I would teach her three home-schooled children English Literature and Grammar.
I pondered the oddity of the situation as I stared at a pile of ham sandwiches on a plate in the next room.
“I suppose so . . . I don’t really teach . . . actually, I’ve never taught, but . . .” I said, assuming she would come to her senses.
“I know, but the kids love you and I know you’re in school right now for creative writing, so I figured you’d be the right person for the job.”
I nodded as if this made complete sense. And it kind of did. Kind of. I adored her three kids. I was indeed in graduate school (and still am), earning my masters in creative writing. And I didn’t have one of those normal jobs that would prevent me from doing whatever it was she was asking me to do.
This family is old-fashioned. The woman grew up upper middle-class in the city, but she fell in love with a farmer and that was that; now she and her family arrive at church events in their old dresses and rusty trucks, talking about baby cows and ailing horses. They live among the Amish and farm as they would about a hundred years ago, with a mule to pull the plow, and a wood-burning stove in their kitchen.
A week later, I found myself on their farm, standing outside a hundred year-old one-room Amish schoolhouse set about thirty feet from their back porch.
Inside, under the small blackboard and the pictures of Washington and Lincoln, sat an old, wooden church pew. Three school desks faced the front. An old piano, sewing machine, and an array of 4-H ribbons lay about the room. I looked out a window onto the sprawling fields beyond, and every so often spotted a black Amish buggy racing down the road in the distance.
They were farmers. They lived simply. They worked hard, studied hard, and their life was about their family and their land. They fascinated me beyond belief.
One crisp autumn morning I arrived and hopped out of my car like any other day, greeted by bleating sheep, and headed to the schoolhouse door.
I turned to see John, the middle child, and his father on the back porch. I gave a wave and walked into the school to set up for the day.
Katy, the youngest, ran in a few minutes later and asked if I’d seen John. I said yes, without thinking much of it.
“Did you see the pig?” she asked.
“The one we slaughtered.”
I turned to her, not really sure what to say or how to react. I peered out the window and yes, there on the back porch, which I now realized was covered in plastic, hung parts of a pig carcass.
“Oh . . . um . . .” I said.
“Yeah, so I think he’ll be a bit late.”
It didn’t bother me theoretically. Practically, I felt like I was being dared not to react like a city girl. And I think I held my own. I know where food comes from, and one of the reasons I loved this family was that it lived by its convictions. Nonetheless, when I awoke that morning, I certainly hadn’t expected to see a butchered hog.
I’ve since quit teaching, but, every so often, I still yearn for a glimpse of a butchered hog; in those moments, I have Craigslist:
CL > roanoke > all for sale / wanted > farm & garden – by owner
butchering pigs on pole – $1 (franklin co)
butchering pigs on pole, to be butcher first part to mid feburary, $1.50 lb on pole, sell whole or 1/2 hogs, email to set something up now, have only been fed corn and pig pellets
Seeing it posted on the World Wide Web doesn’t really have the same poetry as seeing the remains hanging from a porch.
But it’s all I have.