In the early 18th century, many Amish and Mennonites emigrated to Pennsylvania for a variety of reasons. As of 2000, over 165,000 Old Order Amish lived in the United States and about 1,500 lived in Canada.
A 2008 study suggested their numbers had increased to 227,000, and in 2010 a further study suggested their population had grown by 10 percent in the past two years to 249,000, with increasing movement, to the West Coast. Most of the Amish families have continued to have between 6 or7 children, while benefiting from the major decrease in infant and maternal mortality in the 20th century. Between 1992 and 2013, the Amish population increased by 120%,] while the US population increased by only 23%.
Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their rejection of pride, arrogance, or haughtiness, and the high value they place on humility, calmness, composure, and placidity. This is often referred to by them, as “submission” or “letting-be”.
The Amish anti-individualist orientation is the motive for rejecting labour saving technologies that might make them less dependent on their extended community. Modern innovations like electricity might spark a competition for status goods, and photographs might cultivate personal vanity.
But one of their main requirements, is that members should live entirely without modern transport, including cars or commercial vehicles of any kind. In his total innocence, this was the reason why farmer Maurice Gerhard Amman – known to his friends as MG – became a standing joke in the Amish community.
After a painfully long and platonic courtship, Maurice finally married his childhood sweetheart – his much loved Cortina – or Tina as she was known locally, and they started a family. With very few distractions, living in their Idaho farming community was a kind of paradise for the young couple, and their family grew, quietly prospering, while the rest of the world passed them by.
Their first borne was a girl, who they called Porsche. Named after Shylock’s daughter in Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ it was not long before Cortina gave birth to a second daughter, which they called Mercedes. Named after the Virgin Mary, ‘María de las Mercedes,’ which in Spanish, literally means mercy.
The long hard winters and hot, dusty summers, took their toll on Maurice and Tina’s lives, but with neighbours willing help, after a few years of grizzly toil, the farm finally began to support them. With the passing of time, they agreed that it was the right moment, to increase the size of their family – as is the Amish custom – and very soon a son was born to the loving couple.
A popular name at the time, the boy was christened Austin one Sunday morning, by a church elder, followed by a small celebration held in a neighbour’s barn. After tea and cakes, and many congratulations, Austin Mark Ammen and his family, happily returned home to their life of self imposed hardship – simplicity and toil – ready once more to face the Autumn harvest.
Cortina was nearly forty when she became pregnant for the final time, and late one winter’s morning, around Easter time, a final son was born to the now middle aged couple. This time it was agreed that he would be named after his father, and so little Maurice was delivered into the Amish world, and christened Maurice Luke Ammen.
As he grew up, the young Maurice learned to hide from his mother in the barn or outbuildings, and often give his mother the slip. At the same time, it became increasingly more difficult to distinguish between the boy and his father, when she called out for them. It was therefore agreed, by the whole family, that in future father Maurice would be known as Maurice Major and the youngest son, as Maurice Minor.
One day Abraham, a member of the local Amish community, decided to give up living in his tightly knit village, and to move to the next big town. With newly acquired access to the news media, and especially to TV – all expressly forbidden by the Amish – he was able to recount a bizarre truth which had suddenly emerged, which would affect the Amman family, for decades to come.
Watching an edition of Wheeler Dealers on television, Abraham was astounded, when it was revealed – by Mike Brewer and Ed China – that Maurice Amman’s entire family, had been inadvertently named after various makes of European classic motor cars, something which farmer Maurice Amman himself, was no doubt, quite clueless about!
But I digress, because the story does not end there, and after much discussion by the Amish elders, it was decided that some of the Amman family names should be changed, in order not to impugn the guiding principals of the Amish, nor their traditions, and that the Amman family should “submit,” to the elders choice of Christian names. These were required to replace the various well known motor car brand names, erroneously endured for so many years, by the Amman family and their four children.
After much discussion, it was agreed that Porsche would henceforth be known as Ovaltina, Mercedes in future would be known as Flora, Austin would be called Heinze, and finally Maurice Minor was to be renamed Branston. Cortina would keep her shortened name of Tina, satisfying the Amish low requirement on literacy and education; and their sombre need for anonymity and extreme dullness. But what did they know?
The passage of time is the great healer, although after some years the Amman family began to leave home. Tired of their basic and monotonous lifestyle, the lack of any real entertainment, and the need for a proper education, the two boys – Heinze and Branston – reluctantly left their family home for pastures new.
Heinze went into the food industry, and Branston started the first Amish airline. Closely keeping to the austere requirements which a lifetime of abstinence and restraint had instilled in his Amish psyche, it was called The Virgin Airline, its motto being – “Fly With Virgin Air – it goes all the way.”