I’ve had two opportunities to visit the Amish community in Ethridge, Tennessee over the last few years. The most recent trip has stayed with me for more than one reason, and I look forward to going back.
There’s a part of me that wishes I had more photos, just to record the beauty and simplicity of the community. And there’s a part of me that over the years has come to understand that some things should only be recorded on the heart and soul. We did get a few photos before realizing that this particular community of Amish feel the same way, and that photos are not generally appreciated. We should have read the map that we picked up (the one I am holding in my hand in the photo), but some of us have to learn by experience!
When I put Amish TN into the navigation system to help us find the community, it pulled up what was listed as The Amish Welcome Center. I didn’t know exactly what that was, but a few Google searches and I found that the welcome center was located in Ethridge, TN, and that that is where the largest Amish community in TN is located. I checked because, well, I’ve been burned before. World’s Largest Popcorn Store my behind. Anyway, I digress. The welcome center turns out to be a market offering Amish products and tours. There are at least three of these types of welcome centers/markets within walking distance of each other, and clearly none are owned by Amish. We were tempted by a lot of what we saw, and didn’t leave without buying handmade leather belts for $15 each, but leather Amish-made cell phone holders and painted furniture were a bit suspect. We took note of products and prices, then decided to go directly to the farms in the community.
My experience a few years before taught me a couple of things about buying from the Amish farms. One was that food can be a bit dicey. Baked goods should be eaten immediately, as there are no preservatives and they will go bad quickly. Having said that, the peanut brittle and other candies were delightful. We had fried pies the last time we were in Amish country, but I didn’t see any this time. I didn’t have great experiences with the home preserved foods that I picked up previously, so I stayed away from those during this trip. It was late in the season, so there were less fresh fruits and vegetables, but lots of pumpkins. I don’t know, but I imagine that they really only raise and sell them for the English coming through on tours. We bought our fair share, and then some. The selection was great, and the prices were definitely reasonable.
We had three hungry littles with us, so we didn’t go to every farm, but we visited quite a few. There was a bit of produce, including lots of pumpkins obviously, but there were also a number of handmade items of interest. We visited several furniture shops, and as before, I was blown away at both the quality and the price. With a down payment and some patience, full bedroom sets made completely of wood, no particle board, are made to order and are ready for pick up in about 8 months to a year. Other handmade items included rolling pins and cutting boards, woven baskets and of course, quilts. I didn’t see very many quilts, and the ones I got to see up close seemed to be made of polyester. I didn’t get to ask, but my guess is that they are made from the same fabrics as their clothing, and as much as I am a lover of cotton and would rather have a cotton quilt, reality is polyester lasts much longer and probably makes more sense for their clothing and lifestyle.
My favorite take-home is this massive cutting board. It is absolutely fabulous, and has added to my desire to renovate our kitchen. While the budget may not allow for new cabinets and countertops, this cutting board was within reason. The funny thing is that I saw a smaller one of these when I first visited Ethridge a few years ago, and it was the one thing I regretted not buying. This time I left without any baskets, and am already itching to return and pick up a few.
But maybe the most important thing that I gained from our day in Ethridge was a bit of perspective. A comment our daughter made about how simple their lives are has rolled around and around in my head, like a marble on an unstable surface that can’t seem to ever find a place to settle. During the conversation I think I said something about how hard they work just to meet the daily requirements of survival, which is true, but certainly is not exclusive of simplicity. Many things are both simple and difficult. But worth it. In the weeks since our visit to Ethridge, barefoot Amish children carrying puppies and laughing as they are pulled across the yard in a small wagon have been playing over and over again in the back of my mind. Something like a short, cheery video clip shared on social media that’s gone viral amongst all the biting words and visual punches. I’m sure that Amish communities are more complex and diverse than I could ever understand as an English, an outsider, but it is still striking to me to think of what does and does not happen generally in an Amish community compared to a community in modern America. In my community. In my home.
For being such an advanced society, we certainly do have a lot to learn. Or maybe just a lot to remember.