Thursday, July 10, 2008

Amish Butter

Driving the dirt back roads of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country, we see a small sign that brings us to a skidding stop. A cloud of road dust engulfs the car. When it clears, we pull into the adjacent driveway next to a sign that reads “Amish Butter for Sale.”

We pull in to a roadside barn, open on one end, where two Amish men are shoeing horses. There are several beautiful, full muscled work horses tethered outside and just as many two-passenger buggies nearby. The men are tall, with beards but no mustaches, dressed exactly alike with bright blue shirts buttoned to the top and broad, flat straw hats worn even though they are hard at work and indoors. They wear suspenders.

Steve approaches the younger of the two men and asks “Do you have a dairy here?”

With a wary smile, the man says in a slightly clipped accent “No. We just have the one cow.” He pauses. “Butter’s $2.50 a lb.” I notice his eyes are a piercing blue, enhanced by the color of his shirt.

Steve hands him some money and he heads up the hill to the house with a long, loping gait. He is graceful. They are spare with words. Steve asks the older of the two about what look like oil wells in the fields. They’re natural gas pumps and pipelines he explains. It’s weird to think that this land is supporting such an old way of life while undermined by a network providing energy for modern conveniences they do not use.

I see a child on a high bluff overlooking the barn. He looks just like his father without the beard. Bright blue shirt buttoned all the way up, broad flat straw hat, piecing blue eyes and he even wears the same suspenders. I smile and wave at him. He does not flinch, but looks are us warily and blows a large bubble with his bubble gum.

“How old are you?” I ask carefully.

“Eight” he replies.

I put both hands on Gillian’s shoulders and turn her to look up at him. “She’s eight too. Her name’s Gillian. Would you like to come down and say hello? Would that be okay?”

He backs up, disappearing into the foliage.

Moments later he appears through a side door of the barn. He continues to blow bubbles, keeping his distance. He and Gillian don’t speak but eye each other intensely, unmoving.

The man returns with the butter. It’s cool, but not cold, tightly wrapped in plastic. It still bears the fingerprints of the hand labor that prepared it. We thank them all and take off in search of crusty bread worthy of this culinary treat.

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