Shunned from her Amish family

Anna Dee Olson, who lived the Amish lifestyle until age 24, describes her journey from growing up Am

What does the world really know about the Amish, a population of over 300,000 throughout the United States? Amish are considered to be the most secretive culture in America. Basically unless you were born into an Amish family or joined them, you can only know the surface of this hidden culture. Much of what is written about the Amish is by people who did not grow up Amish. What I am saying is that unless you are part of that culture you cannot know the Amish as deeply as someone who was raised Amish.

I was born and raised by Amish parents who lived in Missouri, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in the United States. At 24 years old I made my first life changing decision for myself and walked away from the only life I had ever known. I went searching for a life filled with love, peace, and tranquility. One might say, “I thought that is what the Amish life is all about?” Well I am telling you that it was not for me. Certainly there are some things about my heritage that I will always treasure and I still practice today, but, we have to remember that Amish people are human beings just like the rest of us and they do have shortcomings.

My parents had ten children; four still practice the Amish faith and lifestyle today but six do not. I was the first female in my family to walk away. Today I am shunned from my family, community, and most Amish communities throughout America.

Shunning – you will find that this word has a varied meaning depending on the community you are in but I will explain what it meant in my community. When a member of the church (I was not a member until I was baptized at age 18) has gone against the rules of the church they are considered to be in sin. Your name is then announced to all members so they know to impose the shunning upon you. It is a requirement to shun sinners or you are in sin yourself. This means there is no buying or selling with the member being shunned. You cannot sit at the same table and have a meal and, in the case of a married couple, there are no martial relations during the shunning.

The above rules go across every Amish community but the following are some that were specific to my community. They cannot accept gifts from me (as the sinner), they will never visit my home, they can give me money but not accept any money from me, and I cannot attend a church service unless I want to rejoin the Amish.

All rules of the church are not written. The members are reminded of the rules twice a year. The Bishop, Ministers, and Deacon along with the elders of the church and parents are responsible to enforce the rules.

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The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism