A Quaker, pacifist and practitioner of plainness, W. N. Richardson lives in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley, where he writes about his Anabaptist friends and neighbors. Descended from Scottish, Irish and English farmers, he was born in Rushville, Indiana, and grew up close to the land. An early love of botany and natural history led him to pursue those interests at Earlham College, Stanford University and the University of Washington. In 1969, he completed his doctorate in plant sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and subsequently taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, and the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Following his teaching career, wanting to reconnect with the land, he moved to central Pennsylvania and bought a nineteenth-century farm house situated in the Pennsylvania-German heartland. His active interest in the unique culture of the Commonwealth's Plain and Church People compelled him to pursue a second master's degree in American Studies at Pennsylvania State University under internationally recognized folklorist, Simon J. Bronner.
Much of Richardson's writing chronicles the tensions that exist between the Pennsylvania Germans and their rapidly changing rural landscape. His short fiction was cited in The Best American Short Stories and 100 Other Distinguished Stories of 1999, nominated for a 2001 Pushcart Prize and awarded the 2003 Editor's Prize for Short Fiction by Crucible Magazine. His publications in American Studies have been recognized by the American Chemical Society, the American Folklore Society and the Pennsylvania State University's Joel Sater Award. He is the author of Evolution and Human Society, MacMillan, and Plants, Agriculture and Human Society, Addison Wesley.
We never lock our house, not even when
we travel on the Sabbath. That's just our
way. Folks around here feel free to walk right
in. As Wilson says, a locked door does little good,
especially to someone who's determined to get in,
and should our Lord and Savior knock, with two
deaf people about, who'd know to let him in?
Since God has seen fit to send us through life
without children, we have no need for our doddi
haus.* So for the past fifty years we've run a small
grocery out of that space. If Wilson's gone and I
happen to be working somewhere else, folks take
whatever's needed and write their purchases in the
ledger I keep open on the counter.
As best my husband and I can figure, these visits
started maybe nine months ago. Every evening,
when Wilson would close up shop, he'd come
home from the store, add up whatever profits he
had made that day, write down the figures in his
notebook, put the money in his cash box and leave
it setting on the kitchen table.
Although a few are Englishand honest folk they
are most of our customers are Amish. So we give
credit and come the end of the month everybody
always settles up and clears their account. And while
we don't lock the store, nought's disappeared from
the shelves, nor has a single penny ever gone missing
from the open till.
It's not the store but Wilson's cash box that's
at issue. I'll come downstairs of a morning, and
there it will be, setting in the middle of my kitchen
table, its lid wide open with an I.O.U. taped to it.
"Taken Dec, 2: $2.75." From time to time, our phantom
visitor will pay back some of the money he's borrowed.
"Returned with interest," reads his latest note, "$3.10."
There's no accounting for when this kind of thing
happens. Last Thursday night I almost met him. I'd
awakened with a premonition and gone downstairs
to have a look around. Should I encounter our
will-o'-the-wisp, would I accuse him or offer my hand
in friendship? I'll never know, because the man turned
his back and walked right out my kitchen door.
Sooner or later, everybody goes through hard times.
And while there's nothing shameful about charity,
some folks don't like to ask for it. For others, what's
even harder is to accept it. It's been a month now.
Our night visitor has not come back since. I hope
I didn't scare him off. I don't know who he is. I never
saw his face.
*doddi haus - a small retirement house for the elders on an Amish family farm
Our Amish area has an ongoing problem
with vandalized mailboxes. You'll go to put
your mail in the box and find it, smashed or
lying on the ground. While I blame the English,
my husband says it's our boys, running around.
In any case, it's youngie with too much time on
their hands and not enough to do.
The last time we had to buy a new mailbox,
Simon didn't fasten it tight to the post. That
way, when someone drove by and hit it, the
box would simply fly off. Though it was lying
in the ditch, the box was still in one piece.
A month ago, there was yet another change.
We'd go out to get the box and find it gone.
Two replacements have disappeared as well.
While we were deciding what to do, the mailman
put our mail in our English neighbor's box.
The next strategy in our war of nonresistance
is to bring the mail box in with the mail,which
is fine with us as long as we don't forget to take
it out first thing the next morning.
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