On a recent trip to upstate New York to attend my nephew’s wedding, my husband and I decided to take a day trip to Cattaraugus County, in the southern tier of NY State, to visit Marissa, the wonderful Amish woman who had introduced me to her moonflowers nine years ago. I also wanted to see her husband’s grandparents, Jacob and Melinda Yoder, who had lived down the hill from our family farm since the early 1950’s. They had extended many kindnesses to my grandmother during the 40 years she lived alone on our family farm following the death of my grandfather, and they were very dear to me. We invited our daughter, her husband, and their 8-month old twins to go with us.
Upon arriving in Conewango Valley, we first stopped at the cemetery where my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are buried, and planted flowers at their graves.
Then we stopped at Grandma’s one-room schoolhouse, where she taught the Amish children until she was well into her seventies. The school is still used by the Amish and as we climbed up the little hill to the school, I noticed there were curtains hanging in the windows. I was surprised, as I have never seen an Amish home that had curtains in the windows. We had just walked around the back of the schoolhouse when I heard my husband call to me to come to over to the window where he was standing. The curtain was slightly parted and I could see into the classroom. Tears filled my eyes as I peeked through - it was as if I had stepped back in time to another century – back to the more simple and serene time of the 19th century. The cast iron and wooden school desks sat in neat rows, the teacher’s desk was uncluttered.
We arrived at Jacob’s home in the early evening. As we drove into the yard, I noticed several men working in the fields by the house. A young man in his early twenties was unhitching a team of horses from a wagon. He looked up as I approached and nodded to me, took the horses into the barn, and then walked over to where I was standing. I asked him if Jacob was home and he said, “Yah – he is in the house.”
Jacob opened the door almost as soon as I knocked and greeted us warmly. I asked him if Melinda was home and he looked surprised. Then he turned his head away from me for a moment, tried to regain his composure, but had to turn his head away again. Finally he was able to tell me that she had passed away. I don’t know which surprised me more - the fact that she had died – or seeing Jacob show such emotion. Finally he spoke, “Everyone has their time to go,” he said quietly, “and it was just her time.”
He invited us into his home. We followed him into a small room off the kitchen, filled with wooden rocking chairs. We all sat down and instinctively began to rock back and forth. Our 8 month-old twin grandsons smiled and babbled and filled the room with life. Jacob told us about his 12 children and his grandchildren; where they all lived, and how they were doing. I was disappointed to learn that his grandson’s wife Marissa, who had introduced me to her moonflowers, had moved to Wisconsin. I told him how much her moonflowers had affected me and that I had written a book about my experience, and that he and his family were in the book. I gave him a copy of Conversations with a Moonflower, and was surprised to see tears come to his eyes again. The minutes stretched into an hour. I felt such peace and joy, but I knew the time was coming when we would need to leave. Their clock struck the hour and we all glanced at our watches. The clock on the table said it was seven o’clock but our watches said eight, and then we realized the Amish don't recognize Daylight Saving Time in their homes or community. What would they be saving the time for?
We still had a 3-hour drive ahead of us that night to get back to upstate New York where my sister lived. As much as I wanted to stay, I finally stood up. Jacob said, “If you didn’t need to go right away, I would take you out to my shop and show you what I have been working on.” Suddenly, it didn't seem that important to get back on the road and our daughter and her husband both said how much they would like to see what he was making. I had been hoping that my son-in-law would get to see his woodworking shop and was delighted that Jacob had mentioned it. Jacob gave my husband and me a gift of a handmade chessboard he had made and showed our daughter and her husband the inlaid wood cutting-boards that he made and sold in the little store off their house.
I stepped quietly out of his shop while they visited, and leaned against Jacob’s woodpile, gazing out at the incredibly beautiful rolling hills and farms. The air and countryside looked so bright and clean from the late afternoon rainstorm, and I breathed in deeply that indescribable smell of evening country air. I could hear Jacob explaining things to my son-in-law, and I felt overcome with emotion as I realized I might never see him again.
Jacob’s home was quite large and had been divided over the years into two homes – the smaller side had been for Jacob and his wife Melinda, and in the other side lived one of Jacob’s grandsons with his large family. His grandson’s family had always been outside working in the fields or around the barns whenever we had been there before, but I became aware that no one was still working and that everyone had gone inside the house. I looked up the road to another Amish farm – not a person was in sight. It was still light out, but their work for this day was done.
I sighed. Did I ever feel that my work was done for the day? Not often, for I could always think of one more task that needed to be finished. But their day was done. It brought to my mind a song I learned as a child:
“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky,
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.”
Rest - safely rest. That is what I had been neglecting. The past few months of my life had become unusually hectic and I had somehow forgotten what my treasured moonflower had taught me. Three months of 28-bloom days was beginning to take its toll. “Thank you for bringing me back here,” I said quietly as I breathed slowly and deeply in the cooling night air, in the place I loved so much.
All too soon Jacob and my family came out of the workshop, and I knew we really had to leave. As we began the drive back, I became aware that many of the other farmers who lived in that region were still outside working. They were on their tractors - out in their fields - trying to get a little more work finished in last few moments of sunlight, before calling it a day. But for the Amish, their day's work was done.
There is a part of me that yearns for the serenity of the Amish way of life, but I do not live in their world, nor would I, if I could choose. But far too often in recent months, my life has resembled that of the farmers, driving their tractors in their fields at sunset, squinting to try and see where they are going in the last bit of fading light. Could I remember how to find that balance once again – between both worlds?
We arrived back at our home in Utah a few days later and as soon as I got out of the car I walked over to check on my moonflowers. The plants had grown in the week we were gone and I noted that the first pod would bloom in a few more days.
The weather this spring has been wet and cool, and the moonflower is a few weeks behind schedule. I usually don’t put the bench out until the plant is ready to bloom, but that doesn’t seem to matter to me this year. I just need to sit quietly when the day is done, on the bench that faces the house. I need to ask questions, wait patiently, breathe deeply, and listen. Somehow, in the past few months, peace got away from me.
Last Thursday night, as I stood by Jacob’s woodpile in Conewango Valley, New York, I remembered how to get it back.