FIRSTWildCard//Review: My Amish Childhood
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
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Jerry Eicher’s bestselling Amish fiction (more than 210,000 in combined sales) includes The Adams County Trilogy, the Hannah’s Heart books, and the Little Valley Series. After a traditional Amish childhood, Jerry taught for two terms in Amish and Mennonite schools in Ohio and Illinois. Since then he’s been involved in church renewal, preaching, and teaching Bible studies. Jerry lives with his wife, Tina, and their four children in Virginia.
Visit the author’s website.
Bestselling fiction author Jerry S. Eicher recounts his childhood in the Amish community of Aylmer, Ontario and his parents’ decision to move to Honduras. Jerry also tells of his eventual conversion to Christ and the reasons for his departure from the childhood faith he knew.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2013)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
I can still see his face. Lean. Determined. Framed by his lengthy beard. I can see him running up the hill toward our house. He was carrying his bag of doctor implements.Mom was having chest spasms, and any real doctor was miles away—across four hours of the broken, rutted, dusty Honduran road we took only as a last resort.The running man was my Uncle Joe. The smart one of the family. The older brother. The intellectual genius. When Uncle Joe walked by, we stopped talking and listened intently when he spoke. On this day, he rushed by, not paying any attention to us children.
I knew he was coming about Mom, but I recall experiencing no fear for her life. Perhaps I wasn’t old enough to have such a fear. To me, Uncle Joe’s haste seemed more entertainment than emergency. After all, Mom had looked fine to me a few minutes earlier.
When Uncle Joe left the house some time later, he issued a favorable report that I never questioned. Nor did anyone else. The mysteries of the Englisha world of medicine were even further removed from us than the four hours to town. Uncle Joe studied the books, and we trusted him.
Years later, when our little Amish community in Central America was on its last legs and held in the grip of terrible church fights over cape dresses, bicycles, singing in English or Spanish on Sunday mornings, and other horrors that the adults spoke of with bated breath, it was the look on Uncle Joe’s face as he talked with Mom and Dad by the fence on Sunday afternoon that made things clear to me. If Uncle Joe thought something was over, then it was over.
Uncle Joe lived below us, across the fields, in a house smaller than ours even though his family was much larger. How they managed, I never thought to wonder. Their house never looked crowded. It was kept spotless by his wife, Laura, and their oldest daughters Rosanna and Naomi. We didn’t visit often on Sunday afternoons. Mostly we children dropped by on weekdays, sent on some errand by Mom or we wandered past on our meanderings around the countryside.
They kept goats in the yard, all of them tied with long ropes to stakes. One of them was named Christopher. We didn’t have goats. Dad ran a machine shop, and Mom took care of the garden. Goats were foreign to us. Smelly creatures. Mom scorned goat’s milk, even when Uncle Joe said emphatically it was far superior to cow’s milk.
We all lived near each other in those days—part of a grand experiment to see if the Amish faith could survive on foreign soil.
My grandfather, Peter Stoll, an Amish man of impeccable standing, had taken it upon himself to lead an Amish community to the Central American country of Honduras. He wasn’t an ordained minister, and I don’t remember seeing him speak in public. Still, the integrity of his life and his ideas so affected those around him that they were willing to follow him where few had gone before.
At the height of the experimental community, we ended up being twenty families or so. We all lived on two neighboring ranches purchased in a valley below a mountain. Most of us had come to Honduras from the hot religious fervor of the small Aylmer community along the shores of Lake Erie in Southern Ontario or from the detached coolness of Amish country spread over Northern Indiana. Plans were for the two to become one in mind and heart. And for awhile we did.
Those were wonderful years. The memories of that time still bring an automatic gathering of hearts among the Amish who were there—and even some of us who are no longer Amish. All these years later, most of us are scattered across the United States and Canada—except for the few of the original group who stayed behind.
Some of the people credit the joy of those days to the weather in our Honduras valley. And lovely weather it was. Balmy. Hardly ever above ninety or below forty. Others credit the culture. Some attribute our happiness to being so far from the States that we only had each other. I don’t know the full reason for our happiness. Perhaps it isn’t possible to know. But I do remember the energy of the place—its vibrancy. I do know the years left their imprints on us all.
This was my childhood. Those hazy years when time drags. When nothing seems to come soon enough. And where everything is greeted as if it had never been before. To me that land—that valley—was home. I absorbed it completely. Its sounds. Its language. The color of the dusty towns. The unpaved streets. The pigs in the doorway of the huts. The open fires over a metal barrel top. The taste of greasy fried beans. The flour tortillas and meat smoked to perfection. In my heart there will always be a deep and abiding love for that country.
Around us were mountains. To the north they rose in a gradual ridge, coming in from the left and the right to meet in the middle, where a distinctive hump rose into the air—officially named Mt. Misoco. But to us it was simply what the locals called it: La Montaña. The Mountain. Our mountain. Which it was in ways we could not explain.
To the south lay the San Marcos Mountains. At least that’s what we called them. Those rugged, jagged peaks lying off in the distance. I never climbed those mountains, but I often roamed our mountain—or rather our side of it—from top to bottom. On its peak, looking over to the other side, you could see lines and lines of ridges running as far as the eye could see.
A party of courageous Amish boys, along with a few visiting Amish youngsters from stateside, once decided to tackle the San Marcos Mountains. They threw their forces together and allowed two days for the trip. I was much too young to go along—and probably wouldn’t have anyway. But I waited for news of their adventure with interest. They came back soon enough— defeated and full of tales of dark jungles and multiple peaks that disoriented the heart. No one even caught sight of the highest point, let alone the other side.
In the summer, around five in the morning, the Southern Cross—that symbol of Christianity—hung over the San Marcos Mountains. Its haunting figure made of stars swung low in the sky. I would stand for long minutes gazing at the sight, caught up in the glory of it.
I was eight when we arrived in Honduras. We were one of the first families there after Grandfather Stoll had purchased and settled on the Sanson ranch. Dad seemed driven to the move by motives other than adventure. He was unhappy with the ordnung rules in the Amish community at Aylmer, and he wanted change. Change that didn’t include the great sin of joining a more liberal Amish church, of course.
In time Dad came to love the land along with the rest of us. And strangely, he came to love what he didn’t expect—the old ways, imperfect though they had been. My most enduring memory of Dad in those days is hearing him sing the old German songs at the top of his voice over the roar of his machine shop motors. And in the end, it came down to that question for all of them. A choice between what they loved and what they loved the most.
I grew up surrounded by men dedicated to an old faith. I saw those men, most of them my uncles, tested to the core. I saw them wrestle with the old and with the new, trying to figure out where everything fit together. I lived among giants of faith. I saw their agony and their sacrifice. I saw their choices, and it affected me deeply. Their faith had been hammered out back in the sixteenth century, in the old town of Zurich, Switzerland. Back during the time Ulrich Zwingli thundered his sermons in the old Grossmunster Church.
But in the days of my childhood, those stories of long ago were not mine yet. Those gallant tales of deeds done under fire and sword. Of imprisonment in noblemen’s castles. Of narrow escapes into the Swiss countryside from the murderous Berne Anabaptist hunters. Instead, my memories are of men in my own time. Men who believed that life was not worth living if you didn’t believe in something worth dying for. I was surrounded by men of passion. And if someone should make the claim that these men were misguided, I would insist the fault lay not in caring too much about religious matters. For I learned while growing up among them that this is how a person should live. That true believers follow God with all of their hearts and souls.
Growing up around Aylmer Ontario, I lived around the Amish people for about 10 years. That’s what started me on reading about the Amish and getting my hands on every book I can about them.
So it was a pleasant surprise when I opened the book and found out the author and his relatives came out of the Amish settlement in that area. Jerry Eicher is in accomplished Amish Fiction author and has been high on my list for quite a while.
When Jerry’s parents decide to move to Honduras to start another settlement, it meant leaving family and friends behind. Including the big white house where he, his siblings and cousins had so much fun.
This book follows Jerry and his family through several years. Though I didn’t finish the book completely as biography and non-fiction type books are not my favorite, I did skim through it and liked what I found in it.
I hope you enjoy this book. So many people out there don’t see the Amish for what they really are. There are those that think they are a cult and others think they are just to be made fun of. But it isn’t what is on the outside that makes us who we are.
We can have purple and blue hair with piercings everywhere or we can dress in a plain dress with a cap covering our hair. But on the inside we are all the same, just people who are longing to be loved and cared for.
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