About the Real-life Amish Grandma: Growing Up Amish


The seven Riehl cousins ranging in age from five to eleven.
The Riehl cousins, (Lancaster, PA, circa 1965) ranging in age from five to eleven.

I did indeed grow up Amish. I am the tallest of this grinning bunch of barefoot children. You may notice that two of them are not wearing Amish clothing; they are Englische, the German word used by the Amish for anyone who is not Amish. My father was his parents’ only son who stayed Amish so I have non-Amish cousins.

My parents were both raised in the Amish tradition and did their best to raise us in the same way. I came along nine and a half months after their wedding day. Six years, six pregnancies, one still-born birth, three Cesarean deliveries, and a medically enforced tubal ligation later, they had their family of five living children.

By 1968, about three years after this photograph was taken, I had completed eight grades, become my mother’s maid-of-all-work as well as the family seamstress. Because the everyday life of Amish females is a never ending routine of basic survival skills, Amish girls are put to work early, especially those who happen to be the firstborn child.

Few Amish children, then as now, graduate from high school and although I wanted to be the exception, my father did not want any of his children contaminated by what he called a “worldly education.” As the aforementioned conscientious firstborn, I learned to live life on my parents’ terms, that is, until the year I turned twenty-three.

That year I joined a volunteer service unit in Birmingham, Alabama, and became an Englische myself. (Or so I thought.) I also married an Englischer man. When our two children were born, my husband and I decided that I would be the primary caregiver so I became the traditional efficient Amish wife, mother, and homemaker my father had always hoped for. I put all the practical housekeeping and seamstress skills into practice almost instinctively.

Because I loved designing and creating clothing, I branched out to friends and for twenty-plus-years operated a home-based business as a fiber artist. Not the impractical craft-type knickknacks scorned by many Amish people but rather functional items such as clothing, quilts, hand-crocheted and knitted sweaters, and most recently,  hand braided rugs. These were both practical and satisfied a sense of creativity and beauty, but again, they were also intensely Amish.

It was not until I graduated from The Pennsylvania State University and started planning this website that I realized the extent to which I was still Amish, on the inside.

While the clothing I’m wearing in the above photograph is genuinely Amish, the clothing on the other pages is not; it is a costume designed to emphasize and illustrate the paradoxical dissonance I have experienced all my life. I did the best my memory, limited vision, and dormant sewing skills could manage but you can bet your life that no self-respecting female would be caught dead in any of those items!

An image of the modern-day Amish grandma with an Englische exterior.
The modern-day exterior of the Amish grandma.

Nowadays, my hair is cut, my ears are pierced, and I wear a wedding band and other jewelry. But, I still think and act according to many Amish ideals.

See Blog entries for more details.



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