Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ask Aunt Tillie: Do You Love New York?

Blogger's Note: Since this blog is somewhat Amishcentric, I get questions from time to time from readers about Amish life and culture, which I refer to my Aunt Tillie, an opinionated, but humble Amish woman. Here is a recent question and answer. Please leave a comment or email me if you have questions you want me to refer to her in the future.

Dear Aunt Tillie:

As you know I went to New York City a few weeks ago to see my son perform at Carnegie Hall. One of my readers thought I should offer to take you along. But, since we were flying instead of taking a van, I knew you couldn't be talked into it. But I do think I remember you telling about visiting New York once. Have you ever been to New York City? What did you think of it?

Signed, Amishlaw

Dear Nephew:

You're right, I did visit New York City once, a long time ago, before I was married. I went to see my sister, your aunt, Emma, who worked in New York City as a registered nurse. Emma always had a wanderlust, going off to pick cotton in Oklahoma several summers before finally leaving home for good to go to nursing school. I still don't know exactly how she wound up in New York City, of all places, but I guess she probably wanted to prove she could make it in the big city and they don't make cities any bigger than New York, at least not in this country.

Emma would come home with her clickety little high heels and tight skirts and flirty little comments when any man was around, which some of my sisters didn't appreciate, but I didn't mind because I knew she wasn't after any of the slow-talking men in our community. She used to tell me that I should come visit her, so one fall after we had the corn shucked, I told my father, your grandfather, Obed, that I was going to take off a week and go to New York City.

Surprisingly enough, Obed didn't say too much against it; I guess probably because when he was a young man, his father let him visit New York City and it sure didn't corrupt him. Obed's father, Andrew, gave him $2,000, which was a lot of money in 1915, to go to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to look for a wife. He decided he was going to see New York while he was out east, so he took the train in and got off in Grand Central Station. He walked out of the station, looked around at the big buildings, said, "There's nothing here that I want to see," and went back and got the next train out, on to Lancaster.

(Obed wound up corrupting the Amish young people of Lancaster County, as it turned out. After he returned to Illinois, the bishops in Lancaster sent a letter to the bishops in Illinois, asking them not to send any more of their young men to Lancaster. They were upset because he had taught their young people how to dance.)

Anyway, I spent a little more time in New York City and had way more fun there than Obed, probably because I had Emma as a guide. She met me at the station and took me to her house in Queens, and then took me to see all the sights. We went up on top of the Empire State Building, where I bought a little commemorative medallion that I still have somewhere around here, and we took a boat ride and saw the Statute of Liberty, although we didn't climb up inside.

Emma wanted to take me dancing, but I was afraid that I would look foolish because I really didn't know how to do ballroom dancing. The dancing the Amish young people did was more what you would call "square dancing." Emma got to be pretty good at ballroom dancing,and would enter and win dance contests. (Dancing turned out to be Emma's downfall, but that's a story for another time.)

Even though I wouldn't go dancing, Emma and I had a good time in New York. She took me out to eat in an Italian restaurant and a Chinese restaurant. We didn't have those kinds of restaurants when I was growing up, and even if there had been any in our little Midwestern town, there would be no reason to eat at a restaurant when we had plenty of food at home, and besides who had money to pay for restaurant food.

I could see why Obed didn't think much of the place, with all those tall buildings, you didn't see the sun until about 10 o'clock in the morning, and with all the cars honking their horns and people shouting and running around like ants in an anthill that a cow just stepped on, it was pretty nerve-wracking. But it was interesting to look at the strange people, and I guess they thought I was strange too because they were looking at me, just like I was looking at them. I wouldn't mind going back some day if my health holds up and you can find a train that goes there, but I don't think I'm ready to be squeezed into a van for 10 or 12 hours, or however long it takes to drive there and I know I wouldn't go up in an airplane. But if your son goes back out there to play his fiddle again, you let me know. I might just figure out a way to go listen to him.

Aunt Tillie


Gnightgirl said...

Wait a minute. Aunt Tillie will ride in a van?! I've got more questions for her!

How many hours does it take to get to NYC via horse 'n buggy?

Amishlaw said...

Oh, gnight, Amish people love to travel in vans. They squeeze at least 15 into a 7-passenger van and go all over. It is not forbidden for Amish to ride in motor vehicles, only to drive or own them. But for some reason, it is forbidden to ride in airplanes. I guess, although God didn't make either vans or airplanes, you could envision him making a van easier than making an airplane. There is less science involved. Or something.

Uncle Menno said...

Well, Aunt Tillie, New York is no place for Uncle Menno either, although it was interesting to see so many different kinds of English there. I liked visiting Chinatown when we were there, especially the markets that had ducks hanging in the windows. It almost made me want to go to China to see how they do over there, but I guess not.

But I'm puzzled by your grandfather Andrew. Why would he give your father $2,000 to find a wife in Lancaster? That's at least $15 a pound, unless she's really lean, then it's a little more. I don't believe that even Lancaster County Amish hausfraus could have brought that much. But I might be wrong, as I wasn't around then yet.

Anonymous said...

If Aunt Emma can read this blog, I know that she is giggling and enjoying it. "Oh, Lucy's John Henry always was good with words."

Lydia said...

Heee! I love the story of corrupting through dancing!

That reminds me, Amishlaw, that I'd been meaning to ask you a question. In college I had a class about the Amish and the environment, and went up to research something at a community in Canada. My father and I were welcomed very hospitably for dinner and had a fine time talking to our host and hostess, but none of the 12? kids (some of them as old as myself, almost) spoke at all. Would it have been ok to engage them in conversation? And if so, what, other than weather, would've been good topics?

Thanks! And thanks to Aunt Tillie for all her guest entries in your blog!

PS - I'm off to NYC this weekend, and agree with Aunt Tillie that people there seem strange - and not just cuz they're Yankees fans :).

Amishlaw said...

Uncle Menno, I don't know why Great-Grandfather Andrew sent all that money east with Obed either. Maybe he thought if Obed found a good wife, he would make a down payment on a Lancaster County farm or something. I also don't know whether he spent all of the money on the trip, or brought most of it back home. I know the woman he wound up marrying was literally the girl next door, or rather just across the road.

Anonymous, you'll have to give Aunt Tillie credit for the way with words. Sometimes I think my readers would like me to just shut up and let Aunt Tillie take over the blog. But I doubt she would agree to do it; she has too much work to do, particularly in the summer time when she's busy in the garden.

Lydia, I'll have to enlarge on the subject of dancing and my Amish genes sometime in the future. I am an utter failure at dancing, having now taken four classes and still not making it past the beginning level. I've always blamed it on 500 years of genes being told, "don't dance, don't dance," but I hadn't really thought about my dancing grandfather and aunt. As to the silent Amish family in Canada, I imagine they were taking it all in. I'll guarantee you they had plenty to talk about after you left. You could have gotten some good conversation if you had been able to get some of the children to the side and talked one on one. A good topic? Well, your mother has been the subject of some of my Amish conversations. Detroit is a dangerous, foreign place to Amish, as well as many non-Amish. They are always interested in hearing how when we moved across the street from your family on Anita 30 years ago, your mother came across the street with a diagram of not only everyone who lived on the street and the streets behind us, the names and ages of all the children, but also the names of all the pets. And how when we came home one winter after a 10-inch snowstorm, our long driveway had been shoveled out by your mother. And many other stories.

Lydia said...

Heee, thanks Amishlaw! I, too, was curious about the large sum to go east. When you enlarge on the subject of dancing, it'd be nice if you could explain how it is that your Amish genes also prevent my entire family from being able to learn dance :).

Great story about the MomBear and the neighborhood - not what Most folks think of Detroit!