Except for shopping (especially at the quilt fabric stores) and eating at the good “home cooking” restaurants, Mom and I have never gotten into the “tourist” aspect of Amish country in the Holmes Co., Ohio area. We never toured a recreated Amish homestead, took a buggy ride in the middle of traffic, or went to an exotic petting zoo.
Last week, though, we were at the Hershberger’s, a produce stand and truck farm, on the same day they were having a “family fun night,” staying open past their usual five o’clock closing time until dark. They had pony rides, a variety of animals to pet and feed, and offered free wagon rides to their enormous pumpkin patch (with the purchase of a pumpkin).
I had my heart set on riding that wagon to the pumpkin patch. Even at four in the afternoon, though, it was blazing hot. I didn’t cotton to the idea of that open wagon under a fierce sun; and Mom didn’t want to ride at all because she has trouble getting in and out of wagons and wasn’t sure what kind of conditions we’d have for seating (a real hayride is impossible for her these days).
We walked around the produce store, inside and outside, admiring the displays of pumpkins, gourds, mums, apples, grapes, chili peppers, and more. We were going to dinner in awhile and resisted the temptation of freshly churned ice cream, and kettle corn right out of the black iron kettle.
We ambled over to look at the animals, including the horses in the huge barn, when I saw a sign offering buggy rides for $4 apiece. The buggy was covered, so we wouldn’t be melting in the sun, and Mom thought maybe she could endure the actual, secure seats of a buggy.
A bearded gent in a wooden ticket booth peered at us from beneath his straw hat and said hello. “Can we get a buggy ride?” I asked.
“Sure you can get a buggy ride!” The gentleman emerged from behind his window to take our money, then turned to unhitch the glistening horse waiting nearby. There was no stool, and the iron step on the buggy was surprisingly high. Mom hoisted herself up, then wavered when the buggy listed on its springs as if it was going to pitch her back out. I had as much trouble climbing up with my short legs and weak back, but at last we had settled ourselves within the narrow, but shady, confines of the buggy.
The elderly gentleman climbed in front. “Come, Dale,” he commanded with a ripple of the reins. “That’s Dale,” he said by way of introduction, and soon we were rolling through the gravel past a large pen of assorted beasts.
“We have some sheep there,” the gent explained in an economical effort at tour guide patter. “There’s some geese. Over there we have a brahma bull.”
Once we rode through the pasture gate and left the menagerie behind, I tried to break the ice by asking about the weather. Everything was so green here, while at home the grass was brown from the drought. “Yeah, we’ve had pretty good rain,” the gent said, relaxing. He sat sideways with his back against the side of the buggy and one knee propped up on the front seat and gave us a thorough accounting of the precipitation in Holmes Co. since the middle of the summer.
He also explained that we’d be detouring through the grass since an electric fence blocked our way onto the usual gravel run. “Have to keep out the goats,” he said, “they’d eat the pumpkins.”
He showed us where the Hershberger farm ended and the Troyer farm began, and related how the goats usually rushed the big wagon because they knew they were going to be fed by the tourists. “They climb right up on the wagon,” he said, chuckling, “but see, they don’t even look up when I go by. They know they’re not going to get anything.”
I enjoyed gazing at the variety of sheep, and asked about the spotted one the gentleman had pointed out earlier as a Jacob’s sheep. “Why is it called that?”
The gentleman hesitated as though turning the matter over in his mind. I thought maybe he didn’t know either, but then he spoke. “Um, there’s the story of Jacob and the spotted sheep in the Bible…”
“Oh, I remember!” I said quickly, groping back to dim memories of Bible history classes in grade school and a reference to the sheep I vaguely recalled from somewhere. I wondered if our buggy driver had seemed uncertain because he was trying to decide the most diplomatic way to explain the Jacob reference to the godless heathen who didn’t know her Bible.
We’d circled back to the pasture gate. Instead of returning us to our departure point, though, the gentleman guided the buggy into the big horse barn. We rattled between the rows of stalls, past a tethered colt so close we could have reached out and petted it. When we emerged into the sunshine, our buggy rolled on around the far end of the produce store, crossing in front between the mountains of pumpkins and parting the crowd of shoppers who were milling around.
“We have lots of pumpkins,” our driver said. “Lots of mums.”
Finally our buggy ride ended. “You’ve got another load waiting,” another bearded man in a straw hat and galluses called to the old gentleman. We thanked him, he thanked us, then he turned his attention to his new passengers while Mom and I executed several gymnastic maneuvers trying to lower ourselves down out of the buggy.
On the way back to the car, I turned and saw Dale drawing the buggy through the pasture, where no doubt the old gentleman was telling his passengers about goats and pumpkins and Jacob’s sheep.