When I moved to the Mays Lick Amish community seven years ago, I was both excited about making friends with my new neighbors and intimidated. I was somewhat prepared for the cultural differences, having done some prior research, but I was mostly going on a lot of the same pre-conceived notions that many people do about the Plain people.
I’ve done several guest posts lately, where I talked about the Amish young people, their lifestyle, and my experiences with them, but today, I’d like to discuss another aspect of being Amish that most outsiders rarely consider—the inherent danger of being Amish.
One of the first times I drove down my road I came upon several buggies in front of me. The terrain here in northern Kentucky is gently rolling, and if you’re driving in a car, you hardly notice the small hills, but as I slowed behind the buggies, it soon became apparent to me how hard the horses were working to pull their charges up the roadway.
Being a horse-person myself, I was in no hurry, and settled into a snail crawl behind the line of buggies whose horses were now walking up the incline, unable to continue at the trot. The driver of the car behind me wasn’t as patient. The white minivan stayed right on my backside until we crested the hill and then passed me and the buggies in a burst of speed. The van was able to pull ahead of the first buggy just before the blind curve in the road.
We were lucky. There wasn’t any oncoming traffic on that day, but the people in my community have experienced many accidents, some with tragic results, due to the juxtaposition of buggies and motorized vehicles sharing the roadway.
Even though there are several bright green neon signs posted on the surrounding roads in my neighborhood, there have been several accidents involving buggies since I moved in. An Amish man was taken by ambulance to the local hospital after his buggy was hit by a car. He refused to leave the scene of the accident until he shot his horse himself, putting the pure animal out of its misery. He broke several bones, including his pelvis. In another accident three young girls were ejected from the buggy, one suffering a broken wrist, when a small car rammed their buggy. The horse was lucky in that case, running home without injury. Then there was the episode in front of my own home when a young, newly trained horse, pitched a fit in the roadway causing the woman and her small children to scramble out of the buggy to safety before the horse’s hooves struck them.
Each of the above incidents were frightening, but the one buggy wreck that sends shivers down my spine each time I think about it took place in Indiana about a year before I moved to Kentucky. An Amish family living up the road from me was in the process of moving their family from Indiana to Kentucky at the time. Some of their older children had remained in Indiana to finish up the move while the parents were settling here in Kentucky when a terrible tragedy occurred.
Three teenagers were in a buggy on their way home from an Amish youth event when their buggy was hit by a semi-truck going at a fast rate of speed. The girl and her boyfriend were killed and the girl’s brother was paralyzed from the waist down in the accident. The sister and brother were my neighbor’s children. They rushed to Indiana to be with their son and daughter, not making it in time to say goodbye to their daughter. The truly shocking part of this sad story is that several other buggies filled with teenagers came upon the wreckage before the emergency personnel arrived. The images will always be in their minds of that fateful day.
I personally have ridden in open buggies several times and as long as the roadway is clear, it’s exhilarating, but the second I hear the rumble of an engine, my body tightens with tension. The Amish accept the dangers of sharing the road with cars, believing that whatever happens to them is God’s divine purpose. Most of them certainly don’t worry as much about it as I do, but I’ve noticed that the family who lost their daughter, hire drivers to take them to town and events more often than the other Amish families.
The dangerous roads are just one more hurdle that the Amish cross each and every day in their lives. I don’t even have to ask them if the lifestyle choice is worth the risk, it’s apparent in their smiling faces as they wave at me when I meet them on the roads—they’re perfectly content with the risk.