Given the complications of everything else going on in my life. This one was easy and indeed a welcome project. Aside from the alarming cost, it went really well!
Giving up the renovated ‘big barn’ – the one in which we held our wedding reception was hard. But the truth is, we can still look at it across the pond, and I think I’ll still probably wind up spending more time in it over the years that I care to. So it was a loss I could live with. The smaller barn next to it, which was basically a flimsy shack of a barn always meant to be torn down, was oddly harder to part with – it has been the home of my chickens and pigeons for 21 years. I built all their pens over the years and while ramshackle, it did its job. Now I had to scramble to find them a new home.
So a new barn closer to the house and purpose built for the chickens and pigeons and ‘stuff’ (mowers, tractor, etc) made a lot of sense and was something I was excited about building. Actually, the site had been planned for years as well, so it really was a matter of finding someone to build it for me. That proved to be the hard part. Shopping around showed that there was a wide, wide disparity in pricing, even for something as utilitarian as a barn. Of course, not wanting something quite so utilitarian made it a bit harder, but even so, I was shocked at the price range. Finally settling on “This n’ That Amish Outlet” to build the barn proved to be the right choice. Not only was it half the price of the nearest competitor, their workmanship, based on two examples I had seen, was excellent. So I drew a sketch of what I wanted, paid them a hefty deposit, and waited. A crew of Amish carpenters would put together the barn in panels in Lancaster, PA and bring to Virginia and assemble it in June. I was told I would be surprised at how quickly it would all happen. Turns out, I was surprised at how long it took. Finally at the end of September, I got a call saying that they were ready to come down and assemble my barn. They arrived at 7 am on the appointed morning with several large flatbed trucks, a super high-tech modern crane, and a crew of Amish teenagers. Within 3 days my barn was built and roofed. That did surprise me! All that was missing was the barn door (on order since August for a September delivery. I’m now told it ‘might’ be ready in February). The barn was exactly as I had drawn it, and wonderfully constructed.
The crew were fantastic. They surprised me on several counts. First their youth, and then their seemingly non-Amish ways. Some were dressed in traditional garb and sported the expected bowl haircuts, others not. But all had no problem handling electric power tools, cell phones, and they all had big trucks and one drove the high-tech crane like it was a go-cart. These guys clearly had deep knowledge of 21st century technology. This familiarity with the modern world, however, went hand in hand with their youth. They all had left school at the 8th grade as is the Amish way. Once they reached 17-18 years old, they were basically free to do what the wanted. Get a job, live on their own, etc. Once upon a time, they’d reach that age and get married and join the Church and settle down. Some actually still do. But most young Amish men, like most young men everywhere aren’t all that eager to get married at age 18. And what’s a young man going to do if he doesn’t get married until the ripe old age of 26? Well, he’s not likely to officially join the church beforehand, so he’s most likely to get a job, see how the world is, and then eventually settle down. Now, if you’ve only got an 8th grade education your job prospects are pretty limited – hence this crew of late teens and early 20s all working hard in construction, making money and having all the clothes, trucks, and phones that their “English” counterparts have. I was actually a bit disappointed. I wanted them to appear ‘other’ and somehow quaint and backward. But they were all just like any other young men. Of course, they may have been a bit politer and more hard-working than their ‘English’ counterparts, but frankly not really. Maybe just a little neater and a tad less jaded. Desperate to get some insight into their lives I asked the one fellow who stood out, given his high style haircut and flashy basketball shorts, “what’s it like, working with the Amish?” He gave me a puzzled look and said, “But I’m Amish too!” I was shocked. They just didn’t seem like the slightly inbred yokels I’d always imagined the Amish to be. He patiently explained that it was only once they had consciously decided to join the Church and be baptized that they would have to follow all the rules. Until then, once they were old enough to live on their own and get a job, no one cared how “English” they looked or what technology they used. In fact, some may not even ever join the Church.
Finally, on the last day their big boss came to inspect and see that I was satisfied. This was Reuven, the man I’d spoken to on the phone and delighted in his Pennsylvania Dutch accent. He was driven to the site by another co-worker and when he stepped out, he did not disappoint. Homespun clothes and suspenders, beard with clean upper lip, and generally straight out of Amish central casting. But he was so cheery, funny, and such a contrast to my image of a dour Amish that I still couldn’t believe it. Where was all the narrow-minded piety and urge to ‘shun’ anyone that didn’t follow all these arcane rules? I had always lumped the Amish in with Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Southern Baptists, or the Taliban, as fundamentalist idiots stuck on scriptural literalness and their intent on denying their enjoyment of God’s creation to its fullest as a misguided piety signaling. I guess my prejudices were confronted with evidence to the contrary! Needless to say, I’ve adjusted my priors. The jury is still out on those fundamentalist “woke” progressives, however.