Roots + Wings with Rory Feek
On our recent trip to Amish country in Ohio to spend time with the team at the Plain Values office, Marlin put together a small gathering of folks from the community, and I sang a few songs and shared a few stories with them. But I think my favorite part of the trip was when he took us around and introduced us to his neighbors, Ivan and Emma, a young Amish couple in their mid-thirties.
We have an Amish community here in Etheridge, Tennessee, about an hour from our farm, and we make trips there often to purchase jams and jellies and other things. But I don’t know any of the people who live there and have never been given the opportunity to spend time talking with any of them.
Ivan and his family live in a beautiful brick home up on a hilltop, not at all like the white clapboard houses I’m used to seeing most Amish folks living in here in Tennessee and other places. After welcoming us inside, for about two hours, we sat on chairs in their living room, visited, and got to know each other.
We talked about our families and what it was like growing up Amish for Ivan and his wife, and English for myself. I don’t think our childhoods could have been any more different. He grew up as part of a family of 11 (she is from 12), rooted in a strong community of believers, extended family, and centuries of history. I, on the other hand, grew up with my mom, a single mother, struggling to survive with 5 children, and spent much of my youth living in trailer parks, and only getting to be around extended family now and then, but never enough.
But here we were, both grown, raising families of our own. Me, with a good bit more gray in my beard than he has in his, but both of us well past our days of youth. He had recently purchased the English-built house they live in and turned it into an Amish home. Ivan explained that the first thing he had to do was remove the forced-air electric a/c & heat system and install a wood stove, with only a main floor grate that allows the heat to rise to the rooms above. And then he disconnected the house from the electric power pole and covered up most of the electric outlets and light switches. Then they installed a few gas lights here and there. Lights that I’d never seen before, especially not in the rows of lighting options at Lowes or Home Depot where most folks purchase their lights these days. And lastly, he’d put in a few solar panels so that they could run a few small things from time to time, but only in moderation. Ivan told me how it wasn’t so much that all of this is strictly ‘policed’ in his Amish community, as much as it is given as a guideline. It was also, as he explained, how he and his wife wanted to live and raise their children. Like most Amish in that area, Ivan shared that he and his wife wanted to live and raise their children in this way: off the grid, with no tv or internet…
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Rory Feek is a world-class storyteller, songwriter, filmmaker, and New York Times best-selling author. As a musical artist, Rory is one-half of the Grammy-award-winning duo, Joey+Rory. He and his wife, Joey, toured the world and sold nearly a million records, before her untimely passing in March 2016.