- by Charlotte Hubbard
Jim Smith, my research source from the Old Order Amish colony of Jamesport, MO, told me an interesting story last week—a glimpse into how real-life Amish perceive these Amish books so many of us are reading and writing these days.
My books have been for sale in the Christian bookstore in Jamesport, but apparently the owner, Joe Burkholder, was dissuaded from stocking any more of them because his mother found my stories upsetting. She didn’t like it that I had an unwed mother in one book, and an arrogant Bishop keeping secrets, because those kinds of folks aren’t supposed to exist among the Amish. Bishops can do no wrong. Girls don’t have sex before they get married.
Ah, you say, but they can and they do! If you’ve followed the story of the rogue bishop Sam Mullet and the hair/beard cutting attacks in Ohio, you realize just how power can corrupt any leader, and how far believers will go to stay true to their faith. The Amish, like the rest of us, are human…but they don’t want their shortcomings and sins published for the rest of the world to read about.
Joe, however, has called me to order a bunch more of my books for his store. Jim says he got around his mother’s objections by saying, “It’s a novel. Readers understand that.”
What a perfect answer!
And it brings up the related question: how much of Amish fiction is true-to-life, and how much is romanticized? Most of us picture life without cell phones, computers, cars, and electricity as much more idyllic than the way we live—we don’t want to give up our conveniences, but we sure would like the simpler countryside lifestyle where families gather around the table for every meal and neighbor helps neighbor and we’re not bombarded by computer-generated phone calls, political ads, and rush hour traffic.
I suspect that most women readers would not be as submissive to their husbands as the Old Order faith requires, either. And I suspect that while most readers compliment me for having strong Amish heroines who don’t play doormat to their men, those ladies might not be so headstrong or bold in real Amish life. But many of the things Abby Lambright, Miriam Lantz—and now Rosemary Yutzy—do are based upon what I’ve found to hold true for someone in Jamesport.
In ROSEMARY OPENS HER HEART, for instance, Rosemary has chosen to live with her father-in-law Titus after her husband Joe is killed in a hunting accident. Because most Amish women are dependent upon men—and because the men take care of sisters, aunts, and other unmarried or widowed women in their family—this is accurate. While Rosemary could have lived with her widowed mother and unmarried sister, she chose instead to help Titus with his household and his twelve-year-old daughter Beth Ann, who have lost their wife/mom. Rosemary is preserving Joe’s family this way, an honorable way to spend her life.
It’s also true that everyone Rosemary knows would insist that she should remarry—if only to give her toddler Katie a father. Rosemary has other ideas, however! Even if Matt Lambright is sincere and earnest (and good-looking!) she can’t yet let go of her past with Joe. She has a dream of supporting herself by baking pies—a very authentic Amish way for unmarried women to earn money—and she realizes that her dream will go by the wayside if she remarries.
Rosemary also has an option a lot of widows don’t: when Joe died, they had a piece of paid-for property where they planned to build a home of their own. (Most young Amish couples live with either her parents or his until they can afford a house. Joe and Rosemary lived with her mom). Rosemary uses this property as leverage when Titus insists she move to Cedar Creek with him—and it plays into Matt’s fantasies about moving to Queen City to be with Rosemary, too. Rather than allow this piece of land to melt into Titus’s estate when he sells out, she insists on being paid fair market value for it. Here again, submission is not Rosemary’s cup of tea, and in real Amish life she might not get away with such an independent mindset.
A lot of folks—my editor included—have the notion that all Amish properties are postcard-perfect, all homes are neat as a pin, all children are well-behaved, and all families are loving and supportive. Well…a drive through the Missouri countryside in Plain areas will show you that “stuff” gets piled around some of their homes, some of which could use a coat of paint. Not everyone can afford upkeep on their buildings—and not everyone considers it a priority, much the same as in any neighborhood.
And the kids? Well, Katie is three and she loves to run off the moment Rosemary turns her back. Amish children are indeed more strictly disciplined than non-Amish kids (they are raised with the same “spare the rod and spoil the child” attitude I and folks older than I grew up with. So yes, those kids get spankings and it’s not considered child abuse. It’s good, preventive parenting.)
Still, little kids will test their limits. Katie drives the story by being her winsome, curious, playful self, and the way Matt immediately takes to her—and must sternly insist that she stop running off, because she could get hurt by his sheep—turns the tide for Rosemary. The fact that he encourages her to buy a fine new oven for baking her pies is an even bigger point in his favor.
So I feel I’ve done my research, and I’ve done a credible job of presenting my Amish characters in all their triumphs, tragedies, and mistakes. But yes, there are aspects of my stories that are not quite Old Order Amish because, well—Joe Burkholder said it best. “It’s a novel. Readers will understand that.”
I hope you’ll enjoy ROSEMARY OPENS HER HEART, and check out the other books on my website, as well. You can also sign up for my newsletter there, and find recipes, excerpts, and other interesting tidbits! www.NaomiKingAuthor.com. If you care to, you can Friend me on Facebook as Charlotte Hubbard and Like my Naomi C. King author page. Thanks so much for your interest in my stories!