On my previous visit to St. Marys, I was a tad surprised to learn that Barbara Reckard, Kaki's mother and my beloved friend and former teacher, took her senior students on day-long field trips to nearby Amish Country in Ohio. Apparently, these field trips began after I had been one of her students. I hadn't been to Amish Country since I was a kid and as any event hosted by our Mrs. Reckard constitutes some of the best memories of my school life (i.e. Psychology Christmas Party), I left a strong hint that I would love to recreate that tour. She suggested that we set our return trip for the fall as the drive would be ablaze with autumnal color and so return in the fall we did. Tuesday, we set out for Amish Country.
We were thrilled to discover that Kaki and JB would be joining us and in fact, JB would be driving the van so that the six of us, including my sister Shirley, would be able to travel together. Kristy and Sarah Jane would travel separately and meet us there, but not before Kristy bestowed some of her homemade snickerdoodles and monster chocolate chips cookies on us for the trip. The morning was cool and misty as we traveled the highways looking for hints of fall color peeking out sporadically. Barbara treated the road trip as a close facsimile to her field trips; filling us in on various factoids about the Amish. She would reveal certain information and then tease the rest; saying that what we would be doing was a "secret". She also assured us that anyone misbehaving would be banished to the back of the van to sit out the rest of the day. I was sure Kaki would be sent there within the hour.
We began the day as it must begin in Amish Country: over fresh, home-cooked food at an Amish-run restaurant. Crispy bacon, fried mush and warm biscuits with real gravy at Der Dutchman Amish Country Cooking restaurant made for a stout beginning to the day. We strolled the beautiful Christmas decor at Carlisle Gifts and then headed off to Coblentz Chocolates to take in the heady aroma of chocolates being made fresh. We bought mint meltaways and dark chocolate salted caramels and swooned over the many other offerings. We were soon off to Heini's Cheese Chalet aka Cheese Heaven. This amazing Swiss-style Shangri-La offers aisles and aisles of artisan cheeses and meats as well as large windows overlooking the massive cheesemaking process. Originally conceived by a master cheese-maker from Switzerland and his family, its a nearly century-old biz that celebrates all things cheese. It was a kick to stroll the aisles; tasting all of the amazing cheeses. K and I picked up goat's milk, horseradish and cayenne-pepper cheddar....yum.
As we moved to each new spot, Barbara would continue to tease each place with minute details, only to continue saying "its a secret". We would stroll through Lehmans, the wildly elaborate hardware store featuring a little bit of everything, including unique farm-implement decor. K had a hot dog at their Cast Iron Cafe where you could sit and enjoy your lunch amongst the historical photographs in a cast iron "jail". Barbara's final surprise was the Warther's Museum which celebrated Ernest "Mooney" Warther, considered the world's greatest wood carver. I will admit that at this point, I had been all about the food and wasn't exactly anticipating a tour. Well, whine on sad boy, that's what I get for doubting the powers of Barbara Reckard as the tour became a highlight of the day. The gorgeously intricate creations featured in the museum were all hand-carved and a sight to behold; especially the recreation of Lincoln's funeral train.
The next stop was my personal highlight of the day: the Breitenbach Winery. Cue the eye-rolls to my fave spot being a winery, but seriously this is one of those businesses K and I come across and think, "this would be a great business to be involved in". Breitenbach's had much going for it....the gorgeously idyllic setting newly lit by encroaching sunlight, the whimsical building lined by stacked wine barrels, the stunning views from every corner. We tasted various wines and picked up several, including the Roadhouse Red for Keith's Mom. I marveled at the gourmet cheese displays, the charming dining room and my favorite corner; the tasting room where garage-style doors can be raised to turn the room into a perfect patio. Had we gotten here sooner, we would've eaten lunch here as the menu sounded excellent. What a wonderful place.
Finally, we ended as we began, over a sumptious home-cooked Amish meal at Dutch Valley Amish Restaurant. We grazed over delicious broaster-style fried chicken and sinful chocolate cake in a somewhat glassy-eyed state; exhausted over our day. We packed all of our goods back into the van and departed for home. I was certain that most of us would be snoring on the trip home, but instead we continued to be entertained by our teacher, Mrs. Reckard. Her energy utterly undiminished, Barbara waxed on passionately about everything from history to politics to Dancing With The Stars. Listening to her various tales, I reveled in the fact that Our Mrs. Reckard was more vital, opinionated and alive than ever.
Forget the nap...we were spending an amazing day with my most beloved teacher and it was glorious.