You can find some great connections in the most unlikely locations. Sherill has a friend who told us a couple years ago that he was getting married. We suggested that we needed to meet his bride-to-be and approve her before he could get married. So the four of us got together for dinner one night. Sherill and I were quite impressed with the potential bride. Our approval was gladly granted once the lightning round of questioning was completed. What we discovered was that the new bride had two different jobs. She worked part-time at a nursing home and also cleaned houses at other times.
The house cleaning job is the part that really caught Sherill's attention. She became a new customer of the bride-to-be in short order.
Fast-forward to the current day. The married friends were now expecting their first child. That meant that the bride-turned-mom-in-waiting wasn't able to keep up her schedule of regular house cleaning for us, especially when winter weather got nasty. The soon-to-be-dad wasn't wild about putting two members of his household in harm's way on treacherous roads.
Before the new micro-munchkin showed up, Sherill decided to host a baby shower for the mother. Many of her friends and family would attend. Some members of her family are Amish. Getting them to travel long distances in January for a baby shower isn't terribly high on their priority list. Having Sherill go get them and bring them to the shower was much more appealing.
Sherill ventured out and got the guests assembled at the church for their party. One member of the group that caught her attention in a big way was the young daughter of the celebrant's sister. We'll call her Hazel. Hazel is four years old and Amish. Sherill said Hazel was extremely well behaved during the entire event that afternoon. She hardly made a peep.
The sister of the mom-to-be suggested she could stop by to clean house for Sherill, and she'd bring a friend of hers along to help, what with her sister being out of commission and me more than likely being a total slob without a crew to clean up after me. By the way, it would work best if you could come and pick us up, Sherill. It's too long of a buggy ride to get a decent day's cleaning in if they're looking at the south end of a horse on the way to and from the job. They'd also bring Hazel along with them.
My input was neither requested nor considered in the equation.
Sherill hit the road to retrieve her Amish crew. I stopped by the house later in the morning to get something and got to meet all of them. Hazel was stationed at Sherill's computer, giggling like crazy. Seeing as how she wasn't old enough to be full-time cleaning staff, Hazel got to watch YouTube videos of baby pigs instead. That was her request, not a suggestion on Sherill's part.
I was introduced to Hazel from the stairs at the back door. She walked over, took a look at me and said, "I'm four!" as she smiled and quickly went back to YouTube. Baby pigs are hilarious. Me, not so much.
When it was time for dinner, we went with a Minnesota favorite in honor of our assembled Gopher Amish crew -- tater tot hotdish. It didn't seem to be new to Hazel, because she ate it with no hesitation, thereby proving the cross-cultural appeal of Minnesota's state dish. You can't go wrong with tater tot hotdish.
Dessert was another adventure. Sherill asked if Hazel wanted some ice cream. That was an easy sale. Then the idea of chocolate sauce came up. Hazel got more excited. Sherill went one better and mentioned sprinkles to go on top. By that point, Hazel could barely contain her excitement in her chair!
After dinner, it was time for me to head outside and get back to work. An unusual request was made before I left. "Can you turn on the TV so Hazel can watch some cartoons?"
Hazel's mother then made it more interesting. "She likes Nickelodeon and Disney, but she doesn't like SpongeBob at all."
Let me see if I have this straight. A four-year-old Amish girl who rides in a horse-drawn buggy and lives in a house heated by firewood with no running water is a Disney fan, but is experienced enough to know she doesn't like SpongeBob SquarePants?
Ok. Makes sense to me, I guess. Perhaps Hazel is "just kind of Amish"!
I also noticed that Hazel was walking around with a Blackberry in her hand. Not the produce, but the cellphone from 10 or 15 years ago. This one was Sherill's old one. She informed me later that Hazel would hold onto it and poke a few buttons before greeting her imaginary caller with a friendly, "Hello." When she realized Sherill was watching, she immediately dropped the phone to her side and acted like she hadn't been using it at all.
I started doing chores in the late afternoon. That's what helps keep my cowherd on a daylight calving schedule. Sherill called and wondered if I'd take Hazel along with me to help. She'd seen a tractor and a skid loader in the yard and they looked awfully appealing to her, so a ride looked like the best idea to Hazel.
Going for a ride
Sometimes little kids are frightened by machinery, especially lightweight city kids. They might go along if their mother rides with us, but not all of them will jump in with just me. Hazel was not one of those kids. Quite the opposite. As soon as Sherill told her she could come along with me, Hazel ran down the steps of the deck and jumped into my arms as I got to the sidewalk to pick her up!
We got in the cab of the loader tractor and headed out to get some baleage to feed the cows. Hazel thought it was the most fun she'd ever had. We took the tractor over to the rows upon rows of white tubes of baleage and brought a bale back to feed. I raised the loader up in the air and began to tilt it down to drop the bale so I could cut the plastic off and then remove the plastic net wrap later. Hazel loved the idea of dropping the bale from the loader. On the second bale, I raised the loader higher to see if we could make a louder "THUD" as the bale hit the ground.
We did, which just made Hazel laugh that much harder. Then we got out and took the plastic and net wrap off the bales and put them in the dumpster nearby. Hazel watched me walk around the first bale as I wrapped the net wrap in a ball in my hand. She decided to follow me, just in case I was going somewhere more interesting on the other side of the bale. Then she decided to make it a game of tag when we started the second bale.
I took Hazel back to Sherill when it was time to get the skid loader and put the bales in the feeders for the cows. The overhead safety lap bar doesn't leave enough room to fit a munchkin in your lap and still get the bar in position to run the skid loader. Hazel wasn't wild about being left out of the equation. She was extra-stoic, even for an Amish person.
Sherill must have told her that there is a horn in the skid loader. As I came back from dumping the first bale, Hazel ran to the end of the sidewalk and pumped her arm like you do when you want a semi behind you to blow the air horn and freak out you and your fellow munchkin travelers in the car.
I hit the horn as soon as I saw the request. Hazel doubled over with laughter and then ran back to tell Sherill about it, in case she missed it.
Then it was time to mix up a batch of feed (a TMR, or Total Mixed Ration) for the feedlot cattle. As I turned on the feed wagon under the discharge augers at the bulk bins once my ingredients were in the wagon, Sherill again informed me that I needed someone riding shotgun. She said Hazel could see the feed bubbling up in the wagon as the augers mixed it together and she was pretty sure she needed to see it from inside the cab to get it figured out.
So I went back to the sidewalk and Hazel proceeded to do another Lambeau Leap to round out her farm education.
I gave her a brief rundown on how everything worked. The part she got crystal clear, and repeated over and over was, "Mix, mix, mix! All the feed will just mix, mix, mix!"
Topping it off
By the time we were done and backed the feed wagon in the shed, Hazel was feeling pretty good. She knew a lot more than she did when she left home that morning. To top it off, we went to A & W/Long John Silvers before we headed out to deliver everyone back to, um, the 1800's, I guess.
The food was good, but what really made her day was the silly straw that came with Hazel's drink. Milk was nothing new to her, but these English folks certainly go all out on their drinking utensils, Hazel thought. You just don't see stuff like that in normal Amish life.
The other thing we noticed all day was that Hazel seemed to be fluent in both English and whichever form of German it is that the local Amish folks speak. Low German is what some people call it. All we knew was that Hazel took instructions and requests from us in English, and from her mother in both English and Low German. They sat in the back seat of the car and chatted away in German a lot of the time.
It was more or less dark when we got back to their home area. Sherill asked Hazel which way we needed to go when we pulled up to an intersection a couple miles from her house. She pointed out the window and said, "Dis way!". At the next intersection, she pointed and said, "Turn dis way!"
We did that a couple times before we came up to a building site and were informed, "Dis is us! We're here!"
Four years old, bilingual, familiar with a cell phone, knows the satellite dish channels, knows directions better than Gladys the GPS lady (in the dark, no less), and she's Amish!
Not a bad resume, all in all. Hazel is going to be one to watch.
Jeff Ryan is Guy No. 2 in the operation of Two Guys Farming, Inc., near Cresco, IA.
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