Seven Things Shawn Smucker Learned via His Amish Ancestors
This is a guest post (my first!) by Shawn Smucker. Shawn lives in Paradise, Pennsylvania with his wife, four children, four chickens, and a rabbit named Rosie. HIs most recent book, My Amish Roots, explores the roles of family, death, life, tradition, and legacy against the backdrop of his Amish ancestry. (It is an excellent read -- you should really go check it out.) He blogs daily at shawnsmucker.com about writing, the strange things his children say, and postmodern Christianity.
Seven Things I Learned While Writing About My Amish Ancestors
1. A life well lived sometimes means leaving home. My great (x10) grandfather, Nicholas Stoltzfus, came to the New World from Germany on a ship named Polly with a few children and a trunk full of clothes. As far as we know, he knew no one here. But, being an Anabaptist, he had no future in Germany: he couldn’t own land or even move without permission. His children had no future there. So he left.
2. At other times, a life well lived means a predictable life, working hard without reward or fanfare. My great-great-grandfather was such a man. His journal from 1893 – 1896 (included in the book) bears witness to this.
3. Death often leads to life. My great-great-grandparents first spouses died at a young age. But without their deaths, my great-grandmother never would have been born. Or my grandma. Or my mom. Or me. Or my four children. I’ve grown into a new view of death after writing this book.
4. History is not to be trusted. People’s recollections of the same event were often so skewed as to leave me wondering, “Were either of them actually there?” There is a power in understanding how varied perspectives can be. There’s also a huge value in the realization that Truth can be found in fiction.
5. Stories are fragile, fleeting, and worth saving. Some of the stories I collected from my great-aunts and great-uncles were stories known only by them – should they have died in the next ten years without telling these stories to me, they would have vanished forever.
6. My life is not defined by the bookends of my birth and death. The people of whom I am a part lived long before me, bearing my traits down through the generations, and I will live on long after I die in the lives of those I have impacted.
7. The Amish make good chicken salad.