Buddy is my studio bunny. He’s a dwarf little guy, black except for a small patch of white around his neck. He’s mostly quiet, and generally nice except for an occasional passive-aggressive flick of the ear. I think he’s Amish – he wears a lot of black, keeps to himself, and mostly dislikes small talk. But he has a job to do, and doesn’t shy away from hard work.
He has a large cardboard box inside his crate to keep him busy. It isn’t always the same box – I’ve rotated out a large wine box, a cardboard shipping container, and a dehumidifier package. But whatever it is at any given moment, it gives him a bit of shelter and a place to hide – and most of all, a project.
In the winter, Buddy lives in my studio. He works when I do. When I cut metal, he chisels holes in his cardboard box to create perfectly round windows. He is a craftsman. Amish, I tell you. Detail-oriented. Just don’t play the radio while you work.
In the summer, he stays in a wire cage outdoors, his cardboard box beside him. He never shirks his duty. When Alan pulled the siding off the garage so we could attach the greenhouse, Buddy was working right alongside him. He ripped an entire side off his box in giant chunks. No slacking for that one. Too much to do. He finished right when Alan did.
The next morning, an Amish carpenter named Wayne came to put in the posts for my wood shop. He dozed the earth flat, then drilled holes into the corners with a massive auger. Giant 6×6 beams stuck out of the earth like dry spaghetti in a pot. Buddy flipped his box open side up and hopped inside to work that day, and finished his structure before Wayne did. He’s quick, that one. Faster than Amish.
I’ve learned that the Amish sometimes skirt their own rules when it suits them. They’ll talk on the phone, use heavy machinery… one Amish guy I knew even had his own website. I watched as Wayne discretely resorted to using an electric circular saw once, plugged right into our own heathen outlet. But not Buddy. He’s a stickler, and only uses hand tools – well, they would be hand tools, if he had hands. Mostly, he uses his teeth.
As for Wayne, he uses a flip-phone – so perhaps it isn’t technically breaking the rules. Most people I know wouldn’t call a flip-phone technology these days. Maybe the trick to salvation is to stay one step behind the times. Be a late adopter, as it were. Buddy was adopted late. But he’s never used a flip-phone, not even once. Strict Amish, that one.
When I was younger, I thought that Amish people didn’t drive. We’d see the horses and buggies when we drove into the heartland. It wasn’t until I put a wood stove into my old house that I learned that this rule was optional, sometimes.
I bought the stove from a man named James, a massive Amish fellow of few words. He was built like Paul Bunyan, if you trade out the plaid shirt and ax for suspenders and a flat-brimmed hat. When he delivered that stove and a few tons of fuel to go with, I watched him fly a flatbed semi down my tiny driveway, backward. He’d hired a driver, but he was a chatty fellow. James didn’t have time for that. Too much to do.
When I was a teenager, I remember learning at my church about records you could play backward to reveal Satanic messages. I don’t know why we were taught this at church, nor how evil it all was – they mostly sounded like a song mid-rewind. I couldn’t make messages out of them, good, bad, or otherwise. But I wonder perhaps if driving a truck forward is verboten, is driving backward fine? Maybe evil only operates in one direction.
As for my church, I showed up every Sunday in my pretty dress and black patent leather shoes and dutifully put a quarter in the collection plate. But I came to view it all as a bit like driver’s ed – you put your hands at 10 and 2 while others are watching. But for day to day life, you don’t let formalities get in the way of what needs to be done. Be nice and all that, but for God’s sake, get back to work.
Perhaps the Amish view it the same way. Who would insist that they cut giant posts using only their hands? Most people just want to get the job done. How they get from point A to B doesn’t matter. Except perhaps on Sabbath.
In my old house, I had a neighbor who was Orthodox. Actually, much of the neighborhood was. The house was near a temple, and on Sabbath, you don’t drive. Houses within walking distance were prime real estate of a peculiar sort.
I didn’t know much about it at the time, and had no preconceptions either way. But when I was looking at the house and deciding whether or not to buy, an acquaintance took it upon himself to warn me of the demographic. They’ll shun you, he said. They won’t speak to you or interact with you or anything. They only wear black and keep to themselves. They’re like Amish.
I have nothing against the Amish, and have long admired the simplicity and clarity of their lives. It wasn’t an insult. Besides, a little shunning never bothered me. I am a person of few words myself. This all sounded wonderful. I bought the house.
My neighbor turned out to be the chatty sort of Orthodox fellow. Not like the Amish at all. I got caught in epic conversations by mistakenly saying leading things like “nice weather” and “hello”. Once he knocked on my door and proceeded to tell me all about the colonoscopy he’d had that morning. The conversation lasted longer than the colonoscopy had, and was at least as painful. I finally broke away, and made a mad dash to do a pretend errand. I’ll take a little more shunning, please.
The Amish folks I know would never have done such a thing, conversation-wise or colonoscopy. When Wayne arrived to build my wood shop, our entire morning interaction consisted of five words. Too much to do. By quitting time, we’d narrowed it down to four. Efficient, that one. It dawned on me that I’d finally met my match – here was someone who disliked small talk even more than I did.
Buddy has never shunned me. Well, occasionally. When I feed him crunchy bits without a sprig of parsley on top, he’ll flick a disapproving ear. He’s prone to munching the parsley and leaving the bits, so you’d best not forget the parsley. Stickler, that one.
As for Wayne, he has flicked a disapproving ear now and again. Usually when I ask him to do something that doesn’t make Amish sense. The conversation ends with a Well, you could do that. As a man of few words, he doesn’t need to add but you shouldn’t at the end.
I suppose we’re all sticklers about something. I cut metal by hand, and Wayne puts in giant posts without the aid of heavy machinery. But we make up for lost time with concise conversation. We choose a less efficient path now and again to keep our integrity, and lean on others to do things we have no interest or skill in doing. Wayne hires a driver to keep him pious, and I hire Wayne. Reciprocal circle.
As for Buddy, he is a bunny of the fewest words. He flips without using a phone, and never drives. He stays ten steps behind the times, and never lets formalities get in the way of what needs to be done. But for God’s sake, don’t forget the parsley.
Epilogue: I wrote this story the other day as I was watching Buddy watch Wayne put in the beams for my wood shop. The day after I finished writing, Buddy fell ill. His eyes got watery and he wasn’t working on his projects as he usually does. I held him for a little while, and shortly after he died. (Then my eyes got watery.) He went suddenly – I barely even know he was sick. That Buddy, he was a stoic one. Amish, I tell you.