This tale that I am about to tell you took place more than twenty years ago. I still find it quite amusing and learned much about what some think of a group of people may be very wrong. One has to form their opinions only after in real life getting to meet and know the group. Bigotry is based on ignorance and that hasn’t changed in the last 20 years.
The Amish are a Christian church that traces its roots to the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century Europe. Amish people accept basic Christian beliefs but also have some special interpretations and emphases that have emerged throughout their history. They migrated from Europe to North America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. No Amish remain in Europe. Today they live in nearly 400 different geographical settlements in 28 states and the Canadian province of Ontario. Their population (adults and children) totals approximately 231,000. Their unique practices make them one of America’s most interesting and colorful religious subcultures.
First of all, let me make something crystal clear, I’m not an expert on the Amish people. All that I know about them is from my personal experience among them. And, it was to me an interesting and fun experience. Now this may seem strange to most since most believe these interesting and good people to be stoic. After all, they have beards, wear black, and seem to be such a quiet peaceful people.
I had just taken a position with a firm that took aerial photos of rural homes and farms. A week before I went out on my first sales trip I had no idea that anyone took these pictures, and tried to sell them to farm owners as well as home owners. The company that I worked for had six small aircraft that would fly in a given county, and take an average of 6,000 pictures before one was sold. So there I was in North Eastern Indiana with hundreds of 4″ x 5″ photo proofs knocking on Amish farm doors, and attempting to sell larger scenic photos that would cost these people anywhere from $99 to $450 each. All that I was able to show these Amish farmers was the 4″ x 5″ color proof that I held in my hand. I attempted to get through their doors, and into their houses so I could show them that although they had not asked me to have these pictures taken they were fortunate that we had taken them, and they should take advantage of this chance to have one.
I at this time knew very little, and close to nothing concerning the Amish. Since like most * “English” I had heard that these people were very serious hard working souls, and had a very stoic attitude concerning life. The pictures that I had in my procession were very colorful and showed large neat white houses with fields that were bright with the colors of Spring. The first door that I knocked on was answered by a black bearded farmer. I showed him the proof that I held in my hand, and ask if I could enter his house. These people are extremely gracious and invited me in. Inside this large farm home I found myself looking at many men, women and children. There were no bearded men, black bearded men and a few gray bearded men. The women were dressed in long dresses, dark in color. The children were dressed in blue overalls as were the men. So there I was looking at all these people. I started to go through my sales presentation as I had been trained to do less than a week ago.
The problem was that we had taken hundreds of pictures in this area of Amish farms, and the Amish, at least in this area, did not hang pictures on their walls. It was against their custom to do so. Not knowing this I proceeded with my sales presentation in a very low key manner. Such a manner of speaking with people was not normal for me, but after all I was told that these people were very stoic and that was the way to speak with them. My sale went flat, and in a very polite manner they told me thanks but no thanks.
For another few hours I attempted to sell my photos in the same manner and fell flat on my face. After about some ten or so calls I decided to be myself and see what came of it. The next farm I called on as did the first ten farms that I had just failed at let me enter their home in a very gracious manner. I decided to have some fun with them and see what would happen. Instead of being low key I first made an effort to make small talk with them, which was really easy since they were without a doubt different and interesting people. At this Amish home as I was talking to the large family within a very large young man towards the back of the group ask me if I had ever served in the Army. Why, he asks this I don’t know. I told this young man, who I guessed to be about twenty years old, that I had spent two years in the Army, but it was during peace time. For some reason all seem to be interested in my conversation with this unshaven large young man. He smiled and said if it was during peace time what did you do with your time? I told him that I was a wrestler for the army base. Everyone was very quiet as the young man was speaking to me, yet seemed to be very interested in where the conversation was going.
I guess at this time I was in my early 50’s. The young Amish man said can you still wrestle? I was being set up for sure. I took a moment and replied why would you like to wrestle me? They all laughed for they had just found the day’s entertainment. I had not made the call thinking that I would have to beat up the children in these homes to make my sales, yet the whole situation had amused me a great deal. The young man was well over six feet, and well over 200 pounds. I had not wrestled for at least thirty years. So we wrestled, and to my surprise, I held my own. Now I did not beat up the young man, or try to make a fool out of him. He did know that he had met his match. Everyone had a wonderful time, and I sold a large photo.
After making some more small talk and listening to some good Amish stories I thanked them and told them that within a couple of weeks they would get their picture by UPS. I collected the money for the picture that was to be sent, thanked them and told them that I had to call on the next Amish family. It was at this time that they told me that they couldn’t hang the photo on the wall, but would keep it on a shelve to look at and show others.
When I arrived at the next farm house they knew that I was coming. Now you know they do not have electric service, and do not have phones. I didn’t see any smoke signals going up to tell this family that I was coming. Some way or other they knew I was coming to sell them a picture. What was really interesting was that they had a bigger young man waiting to wrestle me. I did as I did at the first farm. We had a wonderful time, and they bought a picture. For the next three weeks I wrestled myself through the county selling picture after picture, and making many friends. These were some of the most fun people that I had ever had the pleasure of meeting. They never stopped playing with my mind, told great stories as well as invited me to dinner. We all gained from the experience. They also got some real good pictures of their homes and farms.
* The Amish call all people who are not Amish English. The people in Indiana who live near the Amish call all the Amish Blacks.
Post Note: Within a month I wrote a sales presentation for this company, and became the head of sales for the next five years. We had 54 men on the road working in five Mid Western States, and sold a lot of photos. The key to our success was to first make a friend, and never try to sell anything to anyone who would not enjoy having our product. We did show them why they would enjoy owning our pictures. I made trips back to visit my Amish friends, and they would run out of their houses to show me the finished oak framed farm pictures that they had received. When I came back to visit I didn’t have to wrestle once.