Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Amish Tale

KW Farms
photo by Bothe
San Luis Valley, Colorado
Late Summer, 2014

Deanne Elliott, with the help of Diana Hamilton are involved in a most noble effort of starting a farmer’s market in Monte Vista (population about 4,500), on the west side of the San Luis Valley.  Neither woman takes a penny for their efforts.  They’re doing it to help the community, which, like many rural towns, is facing economic difficulties.
Starting a farmer’s market anywhere is hard, but it is especially difficult in a small town whose economy is based on large scale agriculture.  There are five or six regular vendors and while limited, the offerings at the Monte Vista market are nearly complete for what a person might need for the week’s fare, or for putting things up for winter.  It is truly incredible.
This is the second year for the market in Monte Vista, which opened July 18 with encouraging turnout and impressive proceeds. Mr. Redmond's art students from the Monte Vista Middle School were there, painting colorful murals having to do with the culture, history, and food of the Valley.  They are painting the whole east side of the old Super Foods building, owned by Jenna Ford, who is donating the use of the parking lot for the market. The kids added positive energy and liveliness to that first market day.         
The next Friday was even livelier, although the liveliness was around us.  The market itself was empty, as quiet as a mausoleum, surrounded by throngs of people gathered for the Stampede parade.      
Ski Hi (Sky High) Stampede is Colorado’s oldest professional rodeo, which Monte Vista has put on for ninety three years.  Every July the town comes to life, like Brigadoon, the mythical Scottish village that wakes up one day every one hundred years, except Monte Vista comes to life with Stampede.  There are several days of rodeo events - dances, carnival rides, country music concerts, two parades, a pancake breakfast given by the Rotarians, a chuckwagon dinner by the Kiwanis Club, fireworks, and a Christian cowboy church service on Sunday morning.  There are three days of professional and amateur rodeo performances – four in all - which people from all over attend.  
            My neighbor at the Monte Vista Farmer’s Market is Eddy Miller, a carpenter who came a few years back with several other families from an Amish fellowship in Missouri to make their home in this high mountain desert.  Eddy sells pies and bread, cinnamon rolls and cookies that his daughters get up at 3:30 in the morning to make.  Eddy and I visit during the slow times, when he’s not working the crossword puzzle in the newspaper.  We talk about baling hay, building barns and fences.  Sometimes we talk about how we make decisions regarding technology.           
           Last year he went over to KSLV radio station there in downtown Monte to get some advertising for the market to pick up sales.   I was surprised he would acknowledge such a modern concept as radio advertising, but he explained he uses technology where it makes sense for him.  He carries a cellular telephone, for instance, which he lets me borrow because I’m always forgetting mine.  He has that telephone, but doesn’t have a car.  He has some gentile friends drive him and his pie wagon to the market. 
            His kids don’t use computers, or telephones, or watch television.  They go fishing and play baseball for fun, and they like simple wooden toys.  But at the market they just work, and they’re good at sitting silently and making change, helping out.  They won’t even draw pictures with the sidewalk chalk I bring.  They’re just there to help their dad sell those pies.
The day of the Stampede parade, Eddy had carpentry work to do and wasn’t at the market and the kids minded the booth – Amy, who’s sixteen, and her younger brothers, Norm and Benjamin - even though there wasn’t much minding to do.  There were hardly any customers passing by. 
 I asked Norm if he knew any jokes.  He’s twelve and just looked at me. 
“OK.  I got one for you,” I said.  “Why did the chicken cross the road?” 
Alamosa rail yard photo by Bothe 
For a long moment he still just looked at me.  “Oh,” he said finally.  “I’ve heard this before.  It’s something like, ‘because she wanted to be a rooster?’” 
            I thought about that a minute.   
“Yeah,” I said.  “To get to the other side.”            
 He was very serious.  Then he told me a joke, but couldn’t remember the punch line.  It didn’t make any sense even if it had a punch line.  I laughed my head off because he was so solemnly intent on getting this joke told.
            Since Norm and I were the only ones who knew any jokes and we only knew one and a half jokes between us, we changed the subject to the names of the kids in their family.  The Millers have ten kids, so it’s kind of like memorizing the books of the Bible.  After hearing the list three times I thought I knew them all and recited the whole roster, starting with the parents.  When I was done they all smiled. 
            “You forgot Amy,” Norm said of his sister who was standing right there. 
            “Well...” I blustered, “that’s because she’s the one I was telling it to.”  They all snickered at this, Amy, behind her hand, and the boys down at the ground. 
            The Miller kids, like their dad, dress in Amish style, modest, drab colored handmade clothes, with buttons and hooks, but never zippers.  The boys have haircuts that look like they were cut around a bowl on their head and the girls cover their hair with bonnets.  
            I wear my own version of Amish garb at the market – fairly modest and unrevealing.  I too, wear aprons, also handmade, by my friend Kay Malouf, a stained glass artist, who makes aprons and wedding dresses on the side.  They’re a little louder than the Amish aprons, but without all the psychedelic colors, the ruffles and tulle, I fancy I could be mistaken for just another Amish woman…at a distance.  
            I don’t know if it is universal, but when I see an Amish woman, I get hungry for pie. My intent is to provoke similar cravings, albeit for meat.  After buying a nice juicy pork chop from a woman in a garish get up, that’s what I hope they’ll think about every time they see that festive wear - juicy pork chops.   
            The day of the Stampede parade, when Eddy Miller wasn’t there, Amy and her brothers stayed dutifully with their booth while I went to the curbside to watch the parade.  I caught a lollipop tossed out from a politician’s float, one of the first to pass by.  I took that candy to the Miller’s booth and gave it to Benjamin whose eyes got very big.  
             “How did you get this?” 
             “At the parade.  They’re throwing candy.  Come see!”
            All three Millers came over to watch with me – an endless string of political campaigners, clowns, bands, baton and flag twirlers, cheerleaders, motorcycles, horses with braided manes and tails and sparkles on their rumps, fixed up antique cars and trucks, duded up John Deeres and Fords and Massey Fergusons, Farmalls.  There were wildly decorated floats, their riders in lavish costume.  Some had people dressed up like animals.  Some had animals dressed up like people. 
            Benjamin Miller, who had given the sucker to his brother, got another one for himself when another politician went by.  And Amy - caught – a – Frisbee – thrown right to her from a float promoting a physical rehabilitation clinic.  A Frisbee!  She just stood there holding it and none of us could believe it.       
            So, a day that began as slow as molasses produced a gargantuan parade and a lively game of Amish Frisbee right there in the parking lot of the old Super Foods.