You can go home, to Holmes County

Published 8:55 pm Friday, October 15, 2010

Time travel is not easy. Actually, it took about 16 hours of hard, hazardous driving to get me back to where I wanted to be.

Having grown up in Brundidge, I often have a longing to go back to the time when the streets were dirt and bordered by ditches and the cotton field came right up to the house, to the time when millions of stars were visible in the dark, night sky and the hoot owl called from the trees, when cows were in the pasture, chickens in the pen, the milk cow in the barn and Mama was in the kitchen, singing those old gospel songs.

But Thomas Wolfe said that you can’t go home again.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

And, when friends and I arrived in Holmes County, Ohio, last week, I thought, by George, Mr. Wolfe was right.

Holmes County had changed. Progress had danced through the countryside. The once sleepy, little town of Berlin was a mecca for tourists and a-buzz with activity. I knew it no more.

When we moved to Ohio in 1980, there was one motel – a one-story building with a few rooms – in the county that is home to the largest Amish settlement in the world. There was no need for anything more.

The rural countryside was dotted with homesteads, dairies, hog parlors, roadside stands and a few eating places and stores were scattered about. But, mostly, there was just the gentle rolling farmland with the trademark black and white cows roaming the pastures.

The Holmes County I remembered was a place where time had stood still and where I wanted to be, but my travels had not taken me there. At least, I first thought.

But later in the afternoon, I found my way back “home.”

I knew I was on the way when we left the hustle and bustle of Berlin behind and wound our way through the countryside that was still much as I remembered.

I knew when I heard the clip-clop of horses’ hooves and the rumble of the covered buggies on the roadway.

The Amish farm where we were to stay was exactly as I had imagined: a white two-story “extended” house that was home to three generations and accented with multi-colored flowers and horse, dairy and hay barns, a corn crib and a surrounding hay field and pasture for the cows and horses. It smelled like yesterday.

The house was simple with gas lights on the walls, homemade bread in the kitchen and kittens that found their way inside every time the door opened. It was a cozy, comfortable place to be.

That first night, we made our way up the road to the horse auction at Mount Hope, not that we needed a Percheron or a Belgian horse but because, “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”

Nothing had changed since the first auction I had attended in Holmes County years ago. Families were there together and the men bid on the horses in such an inconspicuous way that only they knew they had bid.

“This one’s a woman horse!” the auctioneer would call, meaning that the horse could be easily managed by a woman.

“This horse has been to church,” meaning that the horse would stand “buggy still” among other horses as long a church service lasted.

The next day, we admired the Belgian that Willis had bought. His wife, who was sitting beside him didn’t even know that he had bid but his son, Timothy, knew.

Long before the sun came up, we made our way to the barn where it was Kathy’s chore to milk 30 dairy cows. We tagged along to help.

At four o’clock each morning, she milked and again at four in the afternoon, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

“Cows never go on vacation,” she said, as she went about her work. “I love this. This is what I do.”

She worked happily under the cows, while her husband mixed the feed for the day. The sun was just making an appearance when we headed back to the house for breakfast and then a long, quiet walk with only the clip-clop of horses and the rumbling of a buggy to break the silence.

Nights were spent looking at the stars and the crescent moon that shone so brightly in a land without electric lights.

As I sat there under the stars with a kitten at my feet and the smell of yesterday all around me, I thought about what about Thomas Wolfe said … that you can’t go home again.

But Mr. Wolfe must never have been to Holmes County, Ohio, or maybe that’s not the kind of “home” he was talking about.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor of The Messenger. Email her at