I have long been fascinated by oppressive or cultist religion. For many years, on an old blog, I wrote about TV’s Duggar family and the cultish group to which they belong–The Institute of Basic Life Principles/Advanced Training Institute (IBLP/ATI). After Josh Duggar’s molestation of his sisters was finally admitted, I quit. Mission accomplished. The Amish, who surround me here in Southern Ohio, are an odd group. They have a unique status in American–they speak German, they do not assimilate in any way into the community, they have unique health problems–many of which can be traced to inbreeding, and they are exempt from Selective Service (registering for the draft) and from mandatory schooling until age 18. I haven’t looked this one up, but I do think child labor laws apply, or if they do then they are conveniently overlooked. They do not vote. They do, when necessary, take Medicaid and other assistance for disabled children. If they have a business, they pay taxes so I see nothing wrong with that.
Many idolize Amish culture as “a simple life.” It is–and it isn’t. The contradictions are endless. Different communities of Amish have different rules. Around here some wear Crocks or running shoes. Others have push-bikes (like a bike with a scooter platform). Some can have propane-powered appliances, propane generators to run computers and charge the cell phones they need for business. They can hire a driver. It is not unusual to see a horse and buggy at the local Walmart or Dollar General, either.
We also have a large Mennonite Church near here. If you live here it is soon obvious who is Amish, who is Mennonite even without cell phones, shoes or cars.
Emma grew up in a large Amish family. She was born here in Ohio in a hospital. Yes, Amish do use hospitals when “prudent”–they may even use “English” doctors if necessary. There are clinics across the border in Mexico that do a land-office business in Amish hysterectomies for cash, too. Anyway, Emma had questions almost from the start. The dangerous kind of questions for a child–especially a girl–in an extreme patriarchy. Those questions being with “Why do we ….” Like the Catholic priests used to say the answer was basically, “it’s a matter of faith.” Like most Amish children, she could not understand most of what was said in the hours-long Church services because it was spoken in an old dialect of German–not the German they used in everyday conversation.
When Emma turned 16 and a half she was expected to go to “signings” after church–aka the Amish marriage market. Amish dates go like this: Guy tells another guy he wants a date with a certain girl. The “matchmaker” [boy’s buddy] tells the girl. She agrees. She can’t really refuse. He drives her home in his buggy, sees to the horse, then climbs into bed with her. Nothing but kissing is supposed to happen.
About the time dating like this started Emma developed headaches. She was taken only to a chiropractor and herbalist and then to two different quack doctors. She knew she was not made for Amish life. Imagine being 12 or 13 and expected to take over for the mother of a large family for one or two weeks–all on your own! That’s what Emma had to do. This taught her she was not made for that kind of life. Eventually, as the title suggests, she found a way out. By this time her family lived in Missouri and earned money weaving baskets. She was a good enough daughter that she worried the business would die without her hard work. She also protected her siblings from possible abuse by not sharing all of her plans.
What Emma did takes a lot of courage. She left EVERYTHING to find the life that let her breathe free and be happy. She did not take the step lightly, nor did she do it to hurt anyone. She knew it was not the life for her. That she continued to care and connect with her family no matter what shows her true feelings for them. Like most who have been too sheltered, she went through true times of trial, but she stood up to those trials. I applaud her.
Other Amish books I’ve reviewed:
Why I Left the Amish by Saoma Miller Furlong
Reading Amish and More… a post on Amish books and other items.
I’ve read countless others since 1983 when I read the first book.