Last Friday we had our first "frolic" (also known as a barn-raising amongst we English). In December, when Melvin Hurst and his crew started simultaneously building our chicken house, shop, oil tank shed and wood shed, he told me we would have to have a "frolic" for the larger shop building. As it happens, a Mennonite (or Amish) frolic is a work party, a "Dutch" name for a building or barn-raising or other event where members of the community gather to help quickly assemble something that would otherwise take hours and weeks with a smaller crew. The men volunteer their time and the women volunteer their food or baked goods (as well as time at the event). It is a chance to socialize as well as work together and help out another family, whether planned or because of unforeseen catastrophe.
The crew arrived around 8:30 and by 10:30 the roof trusses were already half on.
Temple and Levi hook up trusses to the crane.
Steady as she goes.
The chuck wagon crew: Anna, Irene and Debbie. I couldn't have put on this meal without them. (I also realized that I could never cater professionally unless medicated. I don't know how these women cook for so many and so frequently--even in their daily lives.)
Roof trusses will not allow for storage space (probably a good thing!) but provide a good strong roof capable of surviving most Kentucky winds.
Metal roofing is rust-proof and does not need painting.
Older men--and our boys--were useful on the ground where it was much safer.
While we do have a regular paid crew, led by Melvin, a frolic is a way of getting larger volunteer reinforcements for big jobs like roofing or siding. As our son Henry said, "A frolic is when you get together and eat a lot of food...and oh, yeah, work!" [We kept our boys home from school for the day for this unusual occasion in our lives.] As for us, well, we hadn't ever imagined when we watched the barn-raising scene numerous times over the years in the movie Witness or after visiting Lancaster and Holmes counties on countless occasions, that we would ever be a part of something like this.
We have never participated in such a thing before but had certainly heard about this custom of community work and effort in the Amish and Mennonite orders. We were overwhelmed not only with volunteers (nearly 20 men) but with food (3 women brought food and helped set up). My husband had gone around to various Mennonite farms in late August and September to help "fill silo" during the corn harvest and several men had offered to come here to help when we started putting up buildings.
Just two weeks ago it was finally warm enough to pour the floor (after the cement foundation was poured a few weeks before that, but before a long cold snap). Five days later the sides were up. But, as the fates would have it, we had a Kentucky wind storm, even a tornado warning, two days before the frolic on the evening that the frame was put up. I never saw it, or got pictures, as I was cooking, but the next morning on the day before the frolic the men arrived to discover that the frame had twisted and toppled in some places. By noon the frame was up again, and the walls were being reinforced and clad. Even Melvin had said, "I didn't think it would be this bad," when he first saw the damage.
Of course, Henry was right: there was a lot of food. I made vats of American "chop suey" (basically meat sauce with elbow macaroni), meat loaf (8 loaves) from a favorite recipe in The Amish Cook, macaroni and cheese (a new way of making this delectable dish that Anna Hurst uses all the time from her family cookbooks--I will post it soon after I make it myself and if you want information on ordering the Oberholtzer family cookbooks, that Anna edited, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org), cole slaw, cherry gelatin with fruit, and garlic bread (homemade, of course). I also made bar cookies for dessert--Congos and brownies.
Anna made lemon meringue pies and several dozen filled donuts for morning coffee. Irene Zimmerman made a fruit salad. Elvin Zimmerman's wife made coconut cream and apple pies. Everything was designed to be transported from our kitchens to the job site (my kitchen is only just down the road--we are building the shop where we will eventually build our farmhouse). After a near mishap with a cooler of spring water (that I'd requested from Anna and Melvin's delicious water) dumping over Anna's donuts in the back of our car, fortunately averted by her well-placed plastic wrap, everything arrived in one piece. The temperatures were in the 50s so an outdoor buffet picnic seemed the best plan.
Pies were served again--this time apple and coconut creme from Mrs. Zimmerman--for afternoon treat at around 4 o'clock. [A small snafu: the men forgot to bring them that morning so I "ran out" to get them after our noon meal. Fortunately, we were not short on desserts.]
I should also note that a true Mennonite frolic meal would be served in the farmhouse kitchen of the host family with a long table pulled out and proper dishes and silverware. The women pass the food down two sides of the table and you take what you can get when it is going by because you might not have a second chance. Also, the men eat first (not a tradition only reserved for Mennonites in such settings). The metal foil serving pans are not what you'd call photogenic but easy as we had to bring hot food from my kitchen just down the road from the site so I figured, well, these foil pans will keep everything warm while portable. Just something to ponder next time you see a magazine with an enticing decorative food spread outdoors--just think of all of the work that goes into preparing the food, hauling it, and displaying it to look picture perfect, and then serving it (forget weather issues!). No, I could not be a caterer and my various food styling for a few articles over the years was great fun but much harder than it looks!
Melvin, left, and Temple, center, confer about when to take an afternoon pie and coffee break.
Aunt Cynthia joined us for lunch on Ida's golf cart.
Everyone got into the act and our boys learned some valuable skills. Here Henry helps to trim cedar siding.
Eli hands tools up on the ladder.
By late afternoon, the roof was going on in grand style.
A week after the frolic, I selected my fortune cookie from the tray after dinner tonight at a Chinese restaurant with Temple and our boys. Expecting the usual proverb or promise of riches, instead it read: To build a better world, start in your community. Some of my friends and I have often bemoaned a lack of community in our lives. I was not a very good New England villager (as it was too close for comfort for our semi-reclusive states of mind--well, at least mine!) and it's been a long time since I have felt a part of a place.
However, we have found one in abundance here: good neighbors on our ridge, friends in town and in the Mennonite valley nearby. It's an amazing feeling to feel so embraced, even though I do pang for old friends and family on occasion, too. But day by day it is beginning to feel more like our new home and that is what it is meant to be--that is what it is.
We are very blessed, indeed.
The shop a week after our "frolic." Instead of metal or vinyl we are cladding it in cedar from our property and planed at a local Mennonite sawmill. By using our own wood we are also able to realize some savings. [Cedar is a natural termite deterrent and weathers well, too.]
NOTE: No Old Order Mennonites were harmed in the shooting of these photographs. I did not ask anyone to pose and they knew we were documenting the occasion for our own family and building history. They also knew I was being discreet and was at a respectful distance with very few close-up faces. I hope I have not offended any readers of this blog. Some Mennonites do not mind being photographed but will not pose for the camera because, like the Amish, they consider that as both an act of vanity and modernity.