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The best farm land in Iowa was every bit as expensive as the land in Indiana. The land that was cheap was the rolling land near rivers where fields were smaller and irregular in shape. The land not well suited to three-hundred horsepower tractors and enormous equipment. The rolling land near rivers was a more human scaled landscape, a landscape where fields could be tilled economically by teams of horses.
With the chaos of Ebola, the postal system vaporized and it became very difficult for families to stay in touch with the children who had moved west.
Steve was taken back by the requests. The letters weighed almost nothing. He told the father (usually) when they rode up on a horse or driving a fast buggy “We cannot go out of our way. I cannot promise to put this in your child’s hands.”
The father invariable said “Get it as close as you can. Give it to an Amish or Mennonite. God will see it to their hands from there.”
Steve envied them their simple faith.
Steve did not know quite how to charge for the service. Sally said “Don’t sweat it. Like you said, the letters don’t weigh anything and things will work out in the end.”
Steve asked Walt if he minded not charging the Amish for postal service. Walt had grown up a home-schooled kid. His parent’s faith was not of the Mennonite tradition but their strict adherence to it had drawn many of the same looks and snide comments the Amish received.
“The Good Book says ‘What-so-ever you do for the least of my brothers, you do unto me.’” Walt intoned. “I don’t see how we can say no, especially since they aren’t asking us to chase down folks on the other end.”
Steve had reason to regret his generosity in the morning when there was a veritable traffic jam of Amish buggies.
Six of the buggies had two passengers. The Amish matrons tended toward small-boned and slight of weight. To a woman, they sought out Sally and asked a favor of her. “I have a daughter in Dodgeville. Can you give her a small package?”
A quick confab revealed that Dodgeville was within five miles of where they were going. In fact, with a small adjustment in the route it really didn’t add any distance at all. With a nod from Steve, Sally agreed “As long as it is small.”
Each woman. in their turn, pulled a small rectangular package out of her satchel, a box hardly larger than a pound of butter. “It is a fruit-cake.” the woman said apologetically. “We don’t celebrate Christmas the way you English do, but I want my daughter’s family to have a taste of home.”
The Amish woman must have spent the night baking them. They were still warm.
Steve was not sure he wanted to transport cake.
Sally hefted the first box. It felt like a brick. Dried fruit, candied melon, nuts and honey are dense. Judging by the mass and stiffness, there was scarcely any butter-rich batter holding the mass together and the rich aroma suggested that whatever batter that served as mortar had been soaked in bourbon after leaving the oven.
“Not sure we could hurt this” she opined after the first woman was out of hearing. The other five women also had small fruit-cakes that they wanted delivered to Dodgeville.
“The only thing I ask” the woman had said “is that you put it directly into my daughter’s hands. It is not something I trust getting handed person-to-person.”
Steve’s irritation at the delayed departure and extra cargo evaporated as the Amish men unloaded hams and bacon and jerky as payment. “We don’t have any stamps so we hope these will work.
Steve massaged one of the hams. It was dry-salted and carried a thick rind of fat. It was an old-style country ham that could keep for a year without refrigeration as long as it didn’t get wet.
Since he was suddenly making a profit, a delicious one at that, Steve was suddenly jovial. “Of course I will accept those as postage.”
“You know” one of the younger Amish men said “I was curious. Why don’t you just fly to Iowa on a plane?”
Steve frowned in the lightening gloom. “Well, I guess mostly because I didn’t think of it.”
“It has been better than a year since I heard or saw a plane flying. I sort of forgot about them.” he continued.
“Of course, there are probably good reasons they aren’t flying. I am not sure how long the fuel stays good and even if I could find a plane and a pilot and fuel, I wouldn’t know if we were landing into the middle of a civil war.”
Steve’s recent experiences in Livingston County were still raw. He could only imagine the fate of a plane and passengers landing in Howell as the forces from Washtenaw County were invading.
The broad brim of the Amish man’s hat was visible as he nodded in agreement. “Yep. Now that you mention it, I haven’t heard or seen one in a long time, either. Like I said, I was just curious.”
Since the departure was delayed and the company had some information about the general path they were going to travel, Steve and Walt started asking them about places to camp with horses and places to avoid.
The only large city on the route was Peoria, Illinois. Steve asked if there were any ways to avoid it. He was leery of getting too close to big cities.
One of the patriarchs volunteered that he had a cousin who lived in Pekin, Illinois. The cousin was a fallen-away Amish but was still a good man who would provide bed-and-board for travelers who were doing a favor for the Amish. Pekin was south of Peoria and would allow them to cross the Illinois River without going through Peoria.
In all, the morning was proving very profitable. Sixty pounds of prime pork was thirty day's wages in many places.