Today I get the privilege of introducing you to my mother, Beverly Anne Miller: the cutest character you will ever meet and the owner of Miller’s Amish Country Store, which is a setting in my debut novel, The Outcast. I used to work for my mother in the summers when I was a teenager. She was a “tough” boss (not really true — well, except when she forced me to wave at traffic, wearing a kid’s Amish dress), but always a loving mom. I am now honored to call her friend. This is our interview. . . .
J) Tell us a little about your Plain background.
B) My Plain Old Order Mennonite heritage is from my grandmother, Verna Reist Mummau Grove (three generations of family names). My Grandpa Norman died in his sleep when I was about 10 years old. They had three children, but my Aunt Erma died of diphtheria at the age of six years old. There was Uncle Lester, my mother Charlotte’s older brother. He left at about age eighteen and joined the Korean War as a front line supply truck driver. It broke my Grandma’s heart because the Mennonite belief of Pacifism and “Thou shalt not kill.”
She (Verna) was a little woman, hardworking , loved her garden and flowers, made braided rugs from old wool coats and quilted and hand-caned chairs for a living. She also did mending of other folks’ cloths. She read her Bible daily and would tell me stories that she read that day. She was not very warm, but would like if I hugged or kissed her.
J) What was your favorite childhood memory?
B) My favorite childhood memory most of the time included horses, but our weekly trips to New Holland Sale’s Stables in Pennsylvania were very fun to me. Usually we girls (3 or 4) went along to work, clean, and show the horses my dad was selling: riding them in the sales ring to be auctioned. One time, I’m not sure who got the idea (I was not the ring leader), but we went up to a store and bought this small can of Bangs.
They were little fireworks you could stick in cigarettes or cigars and when lit, they’d blow up and scare the person as a joke. Well, our Daddy liked a good cigar, so he would keep a box under the seat of his old Dodge truck.
We decided to load up the cigars and hand them out to the Amish barn/stable workers, and — of course — one for our dear dad, too. Well, after we handed them out, we sat up on the stands and waited for the excitement to begin, and boy, did it! The men leading in the horses lit up and BANGS went off in many directions and horses ran wildly. We decided to make a quick exit to the alley in case they put it together. Later that afternoon, when things settled down, we handed Dad his special cigar.He was talking to a potential costumer, so he pulled out his pocket knife and, without losing his train of thought, cut the end off and lit it up. We stood farther than the length of his buggy whip and watched with a smirk. Dad had noticed that, too.
Well, he was okay for about a minute, and I think it was Darlene who put one last Bang up in the middle of the cigar, another draw, and BANG! The cigar curled up to his lips. He spit it on the ground and said, “That could’ve burned my lips!” He somehow loved our mischief and laughed it off. But my Grandma’s Uncle Abe did not find any of it funny and told us so with looks that could kill as well as with words.J) Who was the most influential person in your life?
B) My Grandmother Verna and my mother. I loved my momma, but in my teen years, I was trying to find my own way, but she (my mother) was wise. She got me a job washing dishes at age fourteen years old at Mt. Joy Diner next to my Grandma’s house. I would often stay overnight with her, and we grew close. Grandma was a good listener. I worked there ’til age twenty-one years old, and even when I could drive, I still would stop in and see her and take tapioca or egg custard. She would ask, “So who you dating?” I would tell her and most times she knew the parents and she’d say, “Boch!” That’s Dutch for “not good,” or at least that’s what it meant to me!
When I was aged nineteen, she again asked who I was dating, and I said, “Merle Miller.” (We’re not related. Millers are like Smiths in Lancaster, PA.) And then she asked who his parents were. I said, “Merle and Ada. They’re members at Good’s Mennonite Church.” Her eyes lit up, and she smiled and exclaimed, “HE’S THE ONE! HE’S THE ONE!”
So I had to marry him. Just kidding, but her blessing was important to me. I was told the same counsel as my mother gave, but somehow I could take it from Grandma Verna. She had what today is called acid reflux (probably from heavy lifting) but at that time there was no treatment. She got stomach cancer and left this land for a far greater one. I was twenty-two and newly married, and I cried tears mingled with my momma’s that day.
J) What was the greatest surprise since moving from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Nashville, TN?
B) The warmth and acceptance of the local people. Here we were Yankees from the North to the South. I was taken aback by the friendly waves on the road of folks I didn’t know. So we made a game of it to see who could get the hand up the fastest. Then the first time I saw folks pull to a stop to honor the family in a funeral procession, I felt like crying. I love chatting at the grocery store with perfect strangers. I love the South. Can you tell?
J) How did you come up with the idea for your store?
B) Miller’s Amish Country Store came about when Caleb (our youngest) came to school age. I had tried to sell Amish baked goods out of our conversion van in the Wal-Mart parking lot and did real good. At supper, Merle and I were thinking of a place to open and sell more, so we talked to our Mennonite friends and Amish ladies to see if we could consign on their crafts such as doilies, quilts, wall hangings, and jams. They would, so now to find the place.
Merle was coming home from building a storage barn and saw a man fixing up an old pizza shop, so he stopped to inquire. The man said that three people were ahead of us and wondered what we would sell. When Merle said, “Amish baked goods and crafts,” he said it was ours. That was in May of 2003.
J) What’s been the greatest obstacle since you opened? The greatest triumph?
B) The hardest challenge was to keep care of my children and hubby and run a fulltime business, too. The first two years we made no profit; I made no salary. The money went for products /restocking shelves and paying my consigners. It was a struggle. Especially living a half hour away, lots of driving. We now live closer to the store, so driving is less.
I live by the golden rule and sadly have found out others do not, but I have decided to let that between them and God. My greatest triumph is seeing my business help our community grow and making friends with my regular customers.
J) Do most of the Mennonites and Amish accept you, though you are not Plain yourself?
B) I’d say most, if not all accept me. I have always tried to show respect for the way they believe and be honest in our dealings. I believe that is what God and our parents would want of me, which is important — as the store is in their honor.
J) Any advice for someone wanting to start a small business?
B) If you want to open a small business, first enjoy people and look for the good in mankind. Don’t do it for the money only, but to look to offer a service. Hang in there when things are slow, they will pick up. Keep looking for ways to expand: we now sell barns, swing sets, gazebos, pergolas, and lawn furniture. We expanded after seeing our big grassy lot and saying — again over supper — what could we do with it? These outbuildings are what keep us afloat, not bread. Bread’s just a drawing card.
J) Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to add?
B) Yes, I would like to add: I see [my store] as a source of ministry. Across my back wall it says, “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord, praise ye the Lord.” There are days that folks come in hurting, so I pray for them. We have gone to three Amish weddings and, sadly, four funerals. We try to be God’s hands and feet in those times, too. I love my little store, and when this season ends, I will miss it. It’s a part of me; who I am, and I love that.
Thank you for having me on here and many blessings to all your readers,
P.S. When y’all are in the area, stop in for a visit. : )
Miller’s Amish Country Store:
2471 Hwy. 41 South
(615) 643 – 7574
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Thank you, dear readers, for playing along. We have selected a winner: Ana Raquel!