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Barefoot and Pigtails: 67-Cent Bargain

June 3, 2015

Do you ever stop at a roadside or sidewalk stand with children selling something—just because you want to help them out? Did you ever buy something you didn’t really need because, well, the kids were just so cute?

I was coming home from town when I spied three girls from an Old Order home standing near the road with one of them holding up a large “Lettuce for sale” sign.

Now I have gobs of lettuce in my own garden but it was nearly 2 p.m. and the children looked warm, tired and maybe a little desperate for a sale. I pulled into their driveway and walked from their lane to the front of their house where they’d set up, almost within earshot of their mother working in the garden. Their bountiful garden was always out early and just bursting with the biggest and hardiest bushes of peas, beans, corn, onions—so much so that I frequently wallowed in garden-envy as I drove past.

When I got close to the girls my first thought was, this is so “Little House on the Prairie” and this is Laura and that is Mary. All three girls had on longish gingham or flowered print dresses (fabric designs apparently allowed among this group of Old Order Mennonites, as they’re known in the Shenandoah Valley), bare feet, pigtails, and maybe a bonnet or two among them in the blazing Saturday sun. I asked how much for the lettuce.


The oldest girl, who I’ll call “Mary” held open a bag of slightly wilted head lettuce with three “heads” in it. “Four dollas” she announced proudly, but the twang was a deeper Virginia little-girl twang than even my Virginia-born husband uses.

“Oh,” I said, a little surprised; I had plenty of lettuce in my own garden and I had just bought some fresh spinach at the Farmer’s Market in town. I didn’t really want to spend $4. “How much if I just want one of them?” I bargained.

This set the older girl back a bit, her face screwed up while pondering; I didn’t know if she was calculating or thought I was being cheap.


The one I was calling “Laura” in my head, her face all fuschia-smudged with what looked like the remains of a pop-sickle, said “Two dollas,” just like that. I thought, now she knows how to bargain and make a little more money on it too.

I started to say that would be fine but the older girl wasn’t ready to let it go so easily. “Um, how much would one head all by itsef be?” she countered.

Now they were testing my “in the head” math skills. “Well, I guess that would be about $1.33. But that’s ok, I’ll give you two dollars.”

“No it ain’t raight,” she held firm, first glancing to her younger sister, and also over to her mother at the edge of the garden. Their youngest sister, also pop-sickle smeared, was playing in the background. I loved hearing the girls talk, it was like they had an accent of their own, one I’d heard before among other Old Order folks in Virginia. Later I speculated to my husband that maybe their accent came from being so tight in their own community and not having that much interaction with outsiders, especially as children. Since they were out by the road and another house across the road is also owned or rented by Old Orders, I asked the girls if they lived here or over there. I wanted to hear them talk some more.


“No we liev over here, but our friends liev over there,” Mary said and I nodded, having watched the other family move in not long before.

“I’ll give you $2, that’s fine. That’s extra, but I don’t mind,” I assured her, figuring I had gotten at least 67 cents worth of enjoyment out of the conversation on this fine May Saturday. Laura smiled. Mary did too. Did I detect little triumphant eyes dancing on the side from Laura?

“Thank you, have fun,” I called as I walked back to my car. I could remember the surge of happiness when my sisters and I would sell lemonade, cookies, or perhaps cucumbers or tomatoes out by the road, and some stranger left us with extra change.

My lettuce salad a few days later, after crisping up the lettuce in the fridge and rinsing with water, was perfect. Yum. Crunch.


Did you sell stuff by the road or sidewalk as a child? Is it still safe to do so today? Does this bring any stories or memories of your own?


More information on different groups of Amish, Old Orders, and Mennonites is available at the website I work with, Third Way.


For a great, comprehensive cookbook with Mennonite recipes from a Shenandoah Valley cook, check out Mennonite Country-Style Recipes available here.


I have also enjoyed working this past year with Lovina Eicher, an Old Order Amish woman in the Midwest who writes a weekly newspaper column, Lovina’s Amish Kitchen. We also maintain a Facebook page for her.


Finally, a shout out to an excellent photographer and Ohio writer, Bruce Stambaugh, over at his blog, Roadkill Crossing, and Other Tales from Amish Country.


From → Faith, Family Life, Food

  1. You took the time to create dialogue, making this story all the more endearing, Melodie.

    No, I didn’t sell produce by the road-side, but I did load up my little red wagon, Flexible Flyer, with wooden boxes of tomatoes and took them around the neighborhood door to door. Not far from us was a subdivision of new houses (picture little post-War boxes) where I would make plenty of sales. Once I had walked across part of a newly seeded lawn and got a stiff reprimand from the lady of the house. To this day I remember my feeling of shame. And I don’t remember whether she bought any tomatoes – Apparently I blocked that out.

    • I can imagine that subdivision of tiny box houses enjoyed your fresh tomatoes, and encounter with the little Mennonite girl selling them! Too bad about the newly seeded lawn. Somehow I think it survived your footprints. Interesting strong memory!

  2. I enjoyed this post in part because you may well have been speaking with some of the Showalter/Rhodes clan. Stuart is related to hundreds of people in the Dayton area. I remember the first time I heard a deep Southern accent out of the mouth of a plain girl (at Laurelville Camp in the early 60s.) I was stunned.

    And, yes, my siblings and I hawked our wares along the road. We loved when cars stopped too!

    • They could easily be part of the extended Showalter/Rhodes clan–although this particular family lives north of Harrisonburg rather than down by Dayton where I snapped the buggy picture. Not many buggy Old Orders up our way but just a few. 🙂

      My father always had a sign out advertising our farm fresh eggs so when we sold veggies on the farm we stationed ourselves near that sign. Daddy’s eggs were sold on the “serve yourself and make change from this little box” system, from our large cooler’s small service door on the side of the chicken house, put there for self-service customers. Remarkable that it was only robbed maybe once or twice that I can recall. One memory begets another …

  3. Athanasia permalink

    I am glad you enjoyed your salad and your conversation with “Mary and Laura”.

    Now of course you know we had and do have a farm stand and so now I get to tell you all about it. It’s been around as long as I can remember though it has had several incarnations. It was started originally by 2 of my mothers sister in laws…they were 2 sisters that married 2 of my mother’s brothers. The aunts had it over on the road that their houses were off of. Later, they moved it over to the side that my grandparents house is on, mainly because my grandpa’s woodworking shop was there and they decided to pick up more traffic.

    Thus in the late 60’s the ladies had the men haul it “round the corner” and set up on the circle drive that pulled off in front of the woodworking shop. Next they decided it could now be more than just a self serve and it needed enlarging and room to stand inside and maybe some shelves to display jams and pickles and a counter to serve folks at and an awning for the sun and rain and some shutters to close it up at night.

    The move actually turned out to be the best idea as that county round there was worked on…it’s still just a narrow 2 lane country road but due to the fact that traffic had increased because of being used more as a connection now between two larger roads. They added wide gravel shoulders on both sides of it which is really nice. The farm stand in bad weather was always a nice place to wait for the school bus too.

    I think nowadays safety must be thought about. Usually there will be one aunt and uncle there a good part of the day, taking turns. Sometimes their children and grandchildren are there. My youngest, Olivia, likes to spend time there also and has helped with selling. Every year she plants and grows zinnias and harvests the seeds and sells baggies of it. Her uncle showed her how to make grapevine wreaths and they sell those also. It’s nice with everyone having a cell phone as if a customer wants something in particular, like 5 dozen ears of corn who’s ever at the stand can call who ever is bringing in corn and say when to come back and get it, take down the information.

    My daughter is never there without her two dogs, a German shepherd and a mutt mix. Her dad is normally in his wood shop across the drive. Our ranch house is behind the farm stand and then farther up the same road but still visible from the stand is the big house. There is always activity going on there as my oldest girl is usually there working on the gardens or coming and going …things look busy and occupied. There is a cashbox bolted into the wall for when it’s just self serve, especially in fall with the pumpkins and squash.

    It’s good way to sell excess , if and when we have it.

    • I am impressed and no I did not really know this. Does it have a name or is it just out there?? Sounds like they and you all have good safety precautions in place. Yes, cell phones would make all that connecting much easier! I went to buy my bedding plants at a local Mennonite greenhouse, she’s quite conservative, but not buggy old order. Anyway, the other week her business was just flooded with late cusomters like me (getting tomato plants, green peppers, watermelon plants, etc.) and she borrowed a customer’s cell phone to call up to her house to try and get the kids to come out and help, who were sleeping in. Finally they called back–to the customer’s cell phone! The customer was out in the driveway getting ready to leave but was good enough to repark his car, come back inside, with the owner’s kids on the phone. 🙂 That was amusing but it worked! Thanks for sharing your experiences on this–much broader than mine!

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