A Visit With the Old Order Amish, Bowling Green, Missouri
Amish Town - Bowling Green, MO
Town Square, Pike County, Missouri
The Simple People
*NOTE: All photogrpraphs were taken with permission.
If you hop off highway 40 in Bowling Green, Missouri and drive down highway Y you may feel as if you have stepped into a worm hole and landed in the middle of a Little House on the Prairie storybook.
The town is a total of 1.9 square miles with a population of a little more than 5000. Town Square is paved but the roads that spider from that are generally gravel.
The Amish community in Bowling Green, Missouri is the oldest Amish community in Missouri. In the 1940s the Amish people began to have problems with the educational system in Indiana. Small country schools were closed which required students to be bussed to larger schools. Indiana required children to attend schools until they were 15 years of age. The Amish only wanted their children to acquire an 8th grade education. Most children had reached eighth grade by the age of 14.
The Amish do have access to electricity. They do not tap into it though because they believe that it would connect them to the outside world. They associate with the outside world as little as possible. They do not have indoor plumbing or telephones. Some of the homes are built without siding or covering as it is seen as purely ornamental. They do not decorate their homes with pictures or any type of décor.
The Amish people subsist on their own power. They grow most of their own fruits, vegetables and livestock. They farm their land and build furniture and sell baked goods for income. Some Amish communities have been loudly criticized for operating puppy mills. They do not pay into nor draw from the U.S. Governments Social Security System. They do not participate in the health care system or have health insurance.
The Amish people do believe in medicine and treatment if necessary. They often travel to Mexico if they need serious medical treatment as it is much cheaper there than in the U.S. The Amish do not participate in these type of industries because it would make them too much a part of American society.
A telephone may be kept in a barn and used for purposes deemed necessary such as ordering supplies. They are not to be used for personal phone calls or socializing. This would be forbidden. The Amish way of life is to work hard, pray hard and live as quietly as possible. No nonsense is a rule.
Main Water Source
Amish Life for Women
My husband and I took our two daughters, ages 10 and 12, to visit the Amish community on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I wanted to show them, rather than tell them, how many possessions they own compared to other cultures. As we entered the town, the girls noticed the tiny shops that sat in the town square.
We drove down the gravel road that sat between two wide cornfields. A pocket of dust and a blink of the eye and you were in a never never land. I spotted a plain white building with a small neon sign (unlit) that rested in the window that announced it was "OPEN". The door was unlocked and the store was dim.
Jars of Jams, Jellies and butter spreads were stacked on a table. A sign that listed the price for their various cheeses and eggs was hand written in black marker. The bank box sat closed on the counter, unlocked. A woman came in and did not greet us but merely waited for me to tell her why I was there.
Her cornflower blue dress told me she was married. She wore the typical prayer bonnet and apron. I caught her giving me a side ways stare, probably horrified by my hot pink fingernail polish and matching toes. My tattooed foot, painted face and tight blue jeans, evidence to her that I was going straight to hell.
I picked several jars of fruit spreads and a dozen farm fresh eggs and cheese. The woman said nothing as she diligently wrote a sales receipt. I left and she followed me out, walking with a quick step and purpose. Me? I was just having a lazy, spur of the moment drive with the kids on a sunny day. As we pulled away, I watched her walk the short path to her home and I was very thankful I had the freedom to be leaving soon.
The Amish woman, will never drive a car, travel, or even do something as simple as blow dry her hair - have a hot shower or flip a light on. They may use generators to run stoves or refrigerators. They also use wood stoves to cook. They may use kerosene lamps or old hand powered sewing machines. They do not wear make-up, have their photographs taken (no graven images or vanity) or cut their hair.
Amish women working in the garden.
Amish School House
Amish boy with Straw hat
The Amish Children
Amish children go to school until they have finished 8th grade. They do not need higher education to lead an Amish life. Amish children do not socialize with children outside of their community. They are allowed to date when they are adolescents. The boys might take their date to town in a horse drawn buggy. They are allowed to go to Dairy Queen or parking near the river. They are not allowed to date or marry outside the Amish community.
When children grow to older adolescence they are given the option to leave the community or to become baptized into the Amish community. If they do leave, they are shunned by the entire community, including their own family. They often do not have social security numbers or birth certificates recorded with the state. Many of them return due to lack of support and resources outside the Amish communities.
Amish children will never play a musical instrument, tune in a radio, have a favorite band, see a movie, concert or television. They will play amongst themselves with little intervention from the outside world. They will not travel or decide what they want to be when they grow up.
The Amish Men
Amish men learn to farm or are typically trained in carpentry. Amish men wear home made clothing with no buttons (too fancy). They are made with the hook and eye type fastener and men wear suspenders. Men also wear a wide brimmed black hat.
Men normally rule the household. Females answer to their husbands or their fathers.
If a couple chooses to get married, weddings are held in the fall after the first harvest. The wedding isn't announced until a few weeks prior to the simple ceremony. Weddings take place in the home, no photos, flowers, rings or adornments. The happy couple usually spends their first night of wedded bliss with the parents of the bride so they can get up first thing in the morning and begin cleaning early.
Divorce and separation are almost unheard of in the Amish communitites.
Amish Horse Drawn Buggy
Complex Problems for The Simple People
The Amish lifestyle is much like a cult. It is not focused on religion but they are all very devoted to their religious teachings (which are from the Bible) and their own rules and practices. One gains membership by being born into it. Amish people only marry other Amish people. They have problems with genetics and birth defects.
The Amish community does have a problem with suicide. Many followers report feelings of hopelessness and the need to have more meaning in their lives.
The Amish will all agree that they allow the youth to leave if they choose but more recently there have been reports of people who had to escape the community to gain their freedom. Tales of physical abuse, rape and incest and beginning to make their way through the thick, tightly woven fabric of their beautiful looking community.
The people who leave are unhappy with the lack of choices they have within the Amish communities. Some teens just want a chance to of go to high school - others want to travel, search the world and perhaps - some of them might have dreamed a little dream about where they would like to go when they grow up. Some of them risk everything to try - others just work hard, pray hard and live an upwardly moral and quiet life.
When they die they will be buried in an unmarked and undecorated wooden box. There will be no eulogy, no flowers and most likely no marked gravestone. They celebrate death the same way they celebrate life. As little as possible.
Dairy Queen, Bowling Green, Missouri
"If you wanna keep something precious - you've got to lock it up and throw away the key." ~Sting
Info & Map of Amish Town, Bowling Green, MO
- Escaping the Amish Part 1
In February, I received an e-mail from a reader using a Columbia University address -- Torah Bontrager -- that ended curiously: ...and if you ever want