The first time I saw an Amish wagon was over twenty years ago in Ogdensburg NY. It was a cold November day, and my ex-husband and I were doing the long drive in one day to visit my brother-in-law who was in prison. So maybe even if the landscape wasn’t bleak and depressing it would have felt like it was anyway.
I mostly remember how flat it was after driving through the mountains. It felt like we were on the edge of the earth. Like this was the last stop and it was a lonely place.
As we passed the black wagon on the otherwise empty road, I looked back and saw a man and woman inside of it. I couldn’t see the woman’s face, it was hidden by her black bonnet. Her body was draped in a black cape.
I was flooded by a feeling of dread. Just the thought of having to wear those restrictive clothes felt oppressive to me. I couldn’t help but think of her as being held captive, if not in body, then in spirit.
Knowing little about Amish life, it’s that image, those feelings, that I’ve carried within me, about the Amish, until recently.
Today, our Amish neighbors, Lena and Fanny came to rake our leaves. They helped me skirt my wool a couple of weeks ago and asked if we needed help raking the leaves.
When the dogs started to bark, I looked out the window and saw the black wagon coming up the driveway. Lena being the older sister does the driving. In the backyard, they unhooked Sadie from the wagon, took off her blinders, and tied her to ring on the barn. It was a cold morning and it was the first time I saw the young women in their long black capes. They also wore black bonnets and had a thick fleece blanket for their laps while in the wagon.
“We’ll leave our bonnets in the house”, Lena said taking hers off. Underneath they wore blue kerchiefs. They also left their capes in the house. Under them, they had on blue work jackets over their maroon and blue dresses and aprons.
In between raking, t Lena and Fanny visited me in my studio to see what I was working on. Lena had questions about how I make my potholders. And later, after Jon came back from the store with soda and chips, they both took a break sharing the chips with Fate and the donkeys.
Fanny said she’d love to hitch Lulu and Fanny up and take them for a ride. I told her I’d love to see that.
When they were done raking Lena and Fanny put on their black capes and bonnets. They hitched Sadie back up to the wagon, covered their lap with the blanket and rode home.
Now when I see a black wagon on the road, instead of thinking how awful it must to be riding in it, I look to see who it is and wave. I think there goes Barbara and Dahlia, on the way to the Dollar Store or Stewarts.
They are no longer faceless figures for me to impose my own feelings on.
I don’t know if the woman I saw in the wagon all those years ago was oppressed. But I do know, that when I saw her, I was. Even if I didn’t admit it to myself. And although I can remember that time very well, the feeling only comes backs to me at certain times. But seeing a woman in a black cape and bonnet is no longer one of them.