I hopped in the car and drove east. The drive was familiar although the destination uncertain. This city gal left Downtown Lancaster and breathed a sigh of relief. I needed an escape from the emails and the meetings, from the loud music and bright lights. For one night I was offered an escape to the countryside to stay overnight with a former Amish family.
Much of my time outside of the city has been spent down in Pequea where I discovered trails, dipped in swimming holes, and climbed around the endless curves that make up its wooded roads. This time I was traveling to the flat, open farmland. The cornstalks stood at attention, swaying slightly in the evening breeze. Cows and horses dotted the grassy hills, as I called out in excitement, the same excitement that had existed in my childhood. As the sunlight dwindled, I followed my GPS not once, but twice past my supposed destination. I pulled over and checked the address, finding my location the good ol’ fashioned way by looking at mailboxes and fence posts for house numbers.
As I neared my destination, Stoltzfus Bed & Breakfast, I saw a large, white farmhouse with green trim that sat atop a hill and was nestled between farms. I pulled into the driveway and up past the house to park. I was greeted by one of the owners, Ginger Stoltzfus, a lovely, charming and bubbly personality, her smile kind and sparkly. She told me a bit of the mansion’s history. It was built in 1845 and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. My challenge was to find where freed slaves had hidden; this task, however, was completely forgotten as I took in my surroundings and the warm demeanor of my hosts. Sam Stoltzfus had joined us in the tour and we made it as far as the dining room table before I realized my complete neglect of this part of Lancaster County.
The three of us sat at the table, a map spread out in front of us, and a plan being formed for that evening and the next day. The day ahead, they assured me, could take me anywhere I’d like to go. Each time I was asked if I had been to one location or another, my response was “not yet,” to which Sam exclaimed, “We need to get you out of the city!” A few minutes into our planning, I knew this to be true.
Sam and Ginger are determined to direct their guests to the best the area has to offer, providing them with the ultimate Lancaster County experience. Sam and Ginger both grew up Amish, Sam locally and Ginger in York County. I trusted their judgment in all things Amish, although I knew I was not the typical guest they usually entertain. They told me I could pet calves and eat ice cream, buy dry goods for my upcoming camping trip, or have dinner with an Amish family. I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go… all I knew was that I needed food. My stomach was growling. Prepared with a list of restaurants, a description for each, and directions, we let my tummy do the talking. It took me to a local diner, one of Sam and Ginger’s favorite places.
Enter the scenic drive through the countryside, the juxtaposition between modern day lifestyle and a simpler way of life. I passed an Amish family plowing their garden, a young boy perched atop a horse with a second child guiding, the rest of the siblings ready and prepared to sow the earth. Around the next bend, I passed a group of “English” teenagers smoking and gathered around a motorcycle, slightly disheveled and appearing bored. A bit further down, a young, pig-tailed Amish girl ran towards the road, waving enthusiastically. Something simple and beautiful, I thought, as I waved back.
My dinner was no less extraordinary. However, I felt much like Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: totally out of my element, stepping into some alternate reality. Clad in fake Wayfairers and noisy bangles, I took my seat and ordered an iced tea. My meal consisted of a cheeseburger with coleslaw. A regular, Roger, caught me laughing at a text message and struck up conversation. He sat one booth away, but we faced one another as we dined and laughed. He had chicken with a side salad. Soon I said my goodbyes and was on the road again, headed back to test out the air conditioning I had been eyeing up during the tour.
As darkness set in, I used the flashlight cleverly attached to my room key to guide my way towards the house and found my way to my room. I flipped on the switch, tossed off my shoes, and tested out the bed. Covered in a beautiful quilt, I slipped down into the sheets: pure heaven. The sheets were incredibly soft, the pillows just right. I had a TV, but no bother, I was inspired to keep it simple that evening. I read through Sam and Ginger’s Welcome/Guest Book. I peeked through the organized book of things to do in the area, imagining for a moment I was on really vacation. This would be a nice place, I thought, as I dozed off to the hum of the cool, condensed air.
The morning was no less homey. Breakfast was served promptly at 8:30 AM, and I was dying for a cup off coffee from the fancy machine Ginger had pointed out the day before. I hopped in the shower, pleasantly surprised to find a massaging showerhead, perfect for that kink in my neck I had developed over the last days of sitting in front of my computer. As I toweled off, I noticed the little touches around my room. Local goat’s milk lotion, beautiful furniture, and hand-painted signs. I made my way downstairs to the breakfast room table, surprised to see two more guests. I knew they were there, but I hadn’t heard a peep. Skip and Terry were from Maryland and here to spend some time in an area where people lived a simpler lifestyle. I guess we all needed to get away.
Breakfast was amazing and the coffee hit the spot. Ginger had left cheese off my side of my frittata, thoughtful of my random dietary issues we had discussed the night before. Amish nut butter, a delicious traditional cheese spread, sausage, and venison scrapple. The majority of the ingredients came from friends or neighbors aside from the potatoes, but I didn’t care. It was incredible. The Stoltzfuses, Ginger’s mother, Skip, Terry, and I sat around the table talking about our plans for the day, telling a little bit about ourselves, and sharing a meal together much like friends and family. After the plates were cleared, Skip and Terry said adeiu, and I headed upstairs to pack my bag.
The care with which Ginger and Sam had taken to expose the beauty of their historic home, uncovering wooden beams and pitted bricks, was the same care they gave to me to reveal the potential of my stay. As they led me from room to room, the mansion to the carriage house, I could see the love and care they bestowed upon their property. It was no accident they bestowed the same love and care onto me. I had assumed I’d just be spending the night in a different bed, with some air-conditioning, and a warm, morning shower. Instead I felt at home, with friends and family to share a meal with, a little ginger cat to rest in my lap, and laundry list of things I wanted to do in the area the moment I had time to spare.