“Pennsylvania Dutch” and Other Essays

UPDATE: This contest is now closed. Thank you to everyone who commented and participated!

Thank you to everyone who participated in last week’s giveaway! I chose a winner using Random.org, and that winner is Rebecca B. Congratulations, Rebecca! You’ve won a copy of the summer issue of Cooking & Such: Adventures in Plain Living magazine.

As a writer of Amish fiction and as a woman who has been interested in the Amish lifestyle since childhood, I have accumulated quite a collection of various books related to the Amish. One of my treasures is Phebe Earle Gibbons’ book, “Pennsylvania Dutch” and Other Essays. I have the third edition, which was published in 1882, so many of the essays and writings are actually from before that time.

The book itself is fascinating to read, but what makes it even more special are the notes in the margin that were written by one of its many owners over the years. This unknown person signed the first page and initialed many of his or her comments. Although I don’t know who E.A.H. is, it seems that he or she was Amish based on the writings. I just love reading the little snippets that E.A.H. has written.

I thought it might be fun to share a small portion of one of the essays written in this book. The following excerpt is taken from the section titled “Farmers’ Wives.” Please remember that this was written well over a hundred years ago, so many of the facts may not still be true today. The author of the book wrote:

 “One of my ‘Dutch’ neighbors, who, from a shoemaker, became the owner of two farms, said to me, ‘The woman is more than half;’ and his own laborious wife (with her portion) had indeed been so.

“The woman (in common speech, ‘the old woman’) milks, raises the poultry, has charge of the garden,—sometimes digging the ground herself, and planting and hoeing, with the assistance of her daughters and the ‘maid,’ when she has one. (German, magd.)

“The majority keep one fire in winter. This is in the kitchen, which with nice housekeepers is the abode of neatness, with its rag carpet and brightly polished stove. An adjoining room or building is the wash-house, where butchering, soap-making, etc., are done by the help of a great kettle hung in the fireplace, not set in brick-work.

“Adjoining the kitchen, on another side, is a state apartment, also rag-carpeted, and called ‘the room.’ The stove-pipe from the kitchen sometimes passes through the ceiling, and tempers the sleeping-room of the parents. These arrangements are not very favorable to bathing in cold weather; indeed, to wash the whole person is not very common, in summer or in winter.”

(At this point there is a note written in the margin: “true enough, over 50 years ago. E.A.H., ‘38”)

“Will you go up-stairs in a neat Dutch farm-house? Here are rag carpets again. Gay quilts are on the beds, where green and red calico, perhaps in the form of a basket, are displayed on a white ground; or the beds bear brilliant coverlets of red, white, and blue, as if to ‘make the rash gazer wipe his eye.’ The common pillow-cases are sometimes of blue check, or of calico. In winter, people often sleep under feather-covers, not so heavy as a feather-bed. In the spring there is a great washing of bedclothes, and then the blankets are washed, which during winter supplied the place of sheets.”

These entries, although written in the eighteen hundreds, remind me of when my mom would have one of her rare times of sharing events from her childhood—

  • her memories of the dust bowl years (1930s)
  • her recollections of her dad running a dry goods store (this “dry goods store” carried canned goods, flour, corn meal etc.) during the depression
  • her remembrance of her mother creating quilts from true scraps of material, leftovers from making clothing for her family

My grandmother taught my mom how to repair sheets so they could last well beyond reason, and my mom taught me–although it’s not a skill I put to use. My grandmother knew how to make one chicken feed a family for a week, and most of all—how to embrace the best of life while living through the worst of it.

Do you have a memory to share?—one of your own or one passed to you from a loved one.


If you would like to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Plain Wisdom: An Invitation into an Amish Home and the Hearts of Two Women, simply leave a comment at the bottom of this post on my website.

If you are reading this anywhere other than my website, such as on Facebook, in an email, or on Goodreads, please hop on over to my website and leave a comment at the bottom of my post to enter the giveaway. Only comments left on my website will be entered into the giveaway. (It’s just too hard to track down all the comments left in various places, and that means it’s too easy to miss some of the comments.)

The deadline for this contest is Friday, June 29, 2012, at noon. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and will be contacted privately, as well as announced on next Monday’s post.

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