At least once a year, I take my kids on a short-ish drive to visit our Amish friend Clara at her garden store, The Perennial Post. I prefer to make the trip in the spring to hunt for a special treasure to plant in one of the empty spots I discover when I am hyperactively tending to my garden that time of year. Somehow a visit never made it to the top of my lengthy “summer bucket list” all the long days of this very short season. But, I was determined to squeeze in a trip before summer’s official end. Since the kids had an extra day off of school the Friday before Labor Day, I figured it was the perfect opportunity for a short day trip to Clara’s home in Mesopotamia, Ohio. It sounds like it’s in the middle of nowhere, and according to my kids, it is. I, on the other hand, enjoy everything about making the scenic drive 25 miles east of our suburban village of Chagrin Falls. Driving into the country makes me feel free, lighter. Maybe it’s because I spent the first part of my childhood living in Nebraska frequently driving through cornfield after cornfield on our way to visit my grandparents in Chicago. Perhaps these drives out to Clara’s subconsciously remind me of the five-year-old, carefree version of myself.
We set out mid-morning for a cruise down the two lane country road and before long we were gazing at fields of corn and sunflowers. With the mini-van windows open, the heavy summer air blew through our hair. As we approached the quiet town of Burton, home of the Maple Sugar Festival, the Geauga County Fair and the Gunrunner, the kids shouted with excitement at the sight of the first Amish buggy road signs. “We’re almost there! Look out for buggies.”, they said. A few miles more and we passed through Middlefield, a mile or so of strip malls, big box stores and fast food restaurants, where I am always struck by the contrast between our two worlds. Loud, impatient motorcycles and dump trucks whizzed past the clippety-clop of horse-drawn carriages. We know little about their way of life. I am eager to learn much more. And I can’t help but wonder if they look at the way we live with envy and awe or with laughter and criticism. As I snapped photos, I was suddenly aware that perhaps my pursuit of an interesting picture is an unpleasant reminder to them that they are different. Was I making them feel like they are a tourist attraction? I’ve since learned that their religious beliefs actually forbid them to pose for face-on photos. I’m sure they are used to tourists like me taking pictures of them frequently as there are entire websites dedicated to dining, lodging and attractions in “Amish Country.” But, I put my camera away, reminding myself to be respectful of their feelings and cognizant of their privacy. So I attempted to capture photos that wouldn’t put them in an uncomfortable position or that would compromise their religious views.
As we finished the drive to the Perennial Post, we noticed an Amish man cutting his grass with a manual mower, black and white and blue Amish clothing strung on clothes lines from the roof of an Amish porch to the top of their barn and three barefoot Amish children playing a game in their yard. Their sweat-drenched clothing and their sunburned skin, proof of their hard work and humility were a good lesson for all of us. The photojournalist in me was yearning to pull the car over to capture these unique sights on film. Yet, I kept on driving.
We arrived at Clara’s store to find a calf running through her front yard who got out of the barn next door. Clara chased to capture him, but still waved hello. The kids and I strolled through her garden/store which is also her very own yard, smelling and touching our way from the Echinacea to the Lamb’s Ear. We admired her compost pile, her Hibiscus, her huge collection of day lilies, her hosta, ferns and so much more. My hunt ended, when I discovered some European Wild Ginger, an aromatic, low maintenance, vigorously spreading ground-cover with heart-shaped, glossy evergreen leaves. I had admired this plant many times in my mother-in-law’s garden. While she’s offered to give me some of hers, I hated to leave her with a hole in her own yard. Plus I’d feel bad leaving Clara’s empty handed. I had in mind a few shady spots in my front yard where the wild ginger would be a perfect place to spread out under the shade of the bushy hemlocks. I also asked Clara to give me a couple clumps of Lamium, an interesting perennial ground cover that spreads with patches of small silver evergreen leaves with narrow green edges. Clusters of periwinkle flowers appear in spring, then continue off and on until fall. I’d brought home some Lamium from Clara last spring and I wanted to fill in a couple of naked spots under a tall maple tree in front of some Lily of the Valley. She and her assistant, Ester, dug up the plants and placed them in plastic grocery bags, as the kids climbed the stone stairs and chased around the yard. We talked for a bit and then said our good-byes, after they suggested some nice spots for our picnic lunch.
The kids and I headed back toward the “village” of Mesopotamia (a few buildings and a four-way stop) where we ate our picnic in the park and watched the local traffic; horse-drawn carts and manual bicycles. We stopped in the general store where the kids each picked out a piece of candy and then we began the trek back home .
I was eager to plant my new treasures as soon as we got home. Since John fell asleep in the car, he was recharged and ready to participate. He and Elizabeth helped dig the holes and plant our finds from the day. John helped me water too. Caroline ran off to play with her dolls. I was happy to put my European Ginger and Lamium in their new home and even more pleased that my children (at least a couple of them) were interested in helping me complete the task.
I love bringing a piece of Clara’s world back here to ours. In twenty years, I’d much rather look at my yard and remember our trips to Mesopotamia for a plant dug up out of a kind woman’s backyard than a trip to The Home Depot to buy a plant off a shelf. I hope one day we’ll look at these plants and reminisce about our adventures to see Clara; the sights we took in and even the lollipops we enjoyed from the General Store. I like to think these outings are also teaching my children a little something about hard work, humility, respect and appreciation for what makes each of us different and unique.