We worked hard for two hours with a short break in between. When we were done, I felt more peaceful, with a greater sense of well-being than I’ve had in a long time.
It might be partly the physical work, that exertion of energy. But that’s not new to me. I have a feeling it had something to do with working with Barbara and Sarah.
I haven’t spent much time with either of them, but it didn’t take long for the work to flow into that dance-like rhythm that happens when people work well together.
Part of it is that they both wanted to be there, they both wanted to work. They also knew what they were doing.
Sarah, who is nine years old, told me how they mix cement for the forms and floors of their barns and houses. She and her sisters and brothers shovel the same kind of gravel we were using today into the cement mixer with water and concret. Then they pour it out into wheelbarrows and empty them into the forms that create the foundation walls and floors.
That’s harder work than we were doing.
Today we were moving the gravel from the pile outside the pole barn into it. Then raking it to even it out.
The three of us quickly figured out who would do what. Sarah and I filled the wheelbarrow with gravel. Pushing it wasn’t easy, but Sarah wanted to do it. So we took turns. Then Barbara raked it out, making an even layer of gravel on the floor of the barn.
We talked easily as we worked and were just as comfortable being silent.
They told me how they celebrate their birthdays with cake, ice cream or pizza and mentioned that sometimes people outside the family give them gifts. Since they own little and have strict rules about what they wear, I wondered what kind of gifts they got.
Barbara told me they sometimes get dishes that they save for when they have houses of their own. Or fabric to make a dress. And, Sarah added, candy.
At one point Issachar stood on the edge of the pole barn peeking his head around the post. When I introduce them to Issachar, Sarah wondered if all the sheep had names and if I had any females. So I told them the names of all the sheep.
A while later Fanny got curious about Sarah and the two bonded when Sarah scratched Fanny’s ears.
While we worked Jon went into town and picked up their favorite snack, potato chips, and Mountain Dew.
After an hour, we took a break. The three of us sat on the back porch, Barbara and Sarah sharing a soda and munching on chips. They take their breaks with the same enthusiasm they put into their work. At some point about ten or fifteen minutes later, Barbara asked Sarah if she was done and when she said she was we went back to work.
Once again I was struck by how well the sisters worked together and how the few times when Barbara told Sarah where to put the gravel or even helped her dump the gravel in the right place, there were no hard feelings between them. Barbara never made Sarah, who is eight years younger, feel as if she was in any way inferior or not doing a good job. And Sarah never showed any sign of feeling criticized.
When the barn was filled with a thick layer of gravel, there was still almost half the pile left. But I knew they had to get home to do their chores and I felt like we had done enough for the day.
We paid them more than they asked for and when Barbara corrected me, I told her how much I appreciated their help. It would have taken me half the day and an aching body to get done what the three of us did in two hours.
I think I’m getting used to the idea of having help with some of the work that needs to be done around the farm.
I’m so used to working alone, but working with the Miller kids feels natural. I find it easy to work with them I think it’s partly because we have a similar work ethic. I’ve found them to be kind with a desire to learn and be helpful. They’re not shy about asking questions or offering suggestions. Collaboration seems to come naturally to them.
I’ve had this experience before working with other women. But never with men. The men I’ve worked with always want to be the boss. The one to know everything and have all the answers.
When Jon drove Barbara and Sarah home they told him they’d love to come back next week and finish spreading the rest of the gravel outside the pole barn.
I was going to keep working on the pile after they left. But when I heard they wanted to come back, I covered the gravel with a tarp and put the shoves and wheelbarrow back in the barn.
Barbara and Sarah want to come back and help as much as I’d like them to, so it can wait. Instead of doing the hard work alone, I sat on the grass next to Lulu who was keeping watch while Fanny slept.
I had the feeling that my new neighbors would be there to help from now on when I needed it. That we were building a friendship of sorts. And unlike so many of the kids who grow up in the area and move away, the Millers, even when they marry aren’t going too far. And even when the girls start building their own family and lives, there always seem to be kids around old enough who are looking for work to do.
And I realized that just as I’ve been consciously building a community of friends over the past years, the Amish families who have moved to the neighborhood are becoming part of my community.