Becoming Amish: One Grosse Pointe Family’s Journey to a Simpler Life

Traverse Classics: I met Bill Moser when he was 4 years old. I was 4 years old too. We lived three houses apart in a Livonia subdivision, a new one—most of the lawns were still dirt when we met. If it’s possible for a place to be extreme middle class, Livonia was it back then. No visible poor people. No visible rich people. No visible ethnic people. Even today, Livonia has the highest percentage of Caucasians of any city with more than 100,000 residents in the United States.

Sometimes I wonder if the homogeneous nature of our town, the monoculture, inspired Bill’s curiosity about other people, his desire to look into other worlds and understand and adopt the good that was there. Don’t know, but here’s something I remember. Bill was the first person I knew who was really into soul music. Not in a fake “trying to be a brother” sort of way, but just in a natural “I’m really into this sound” sort of way.

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The Moser family journey is now a book. Becoming Amish, a family’s search for
faith, community and purpose.
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One time, when we were 16, he bought us tickets to a Marvin Gaye concert at Olympia Stadium. We each took dates. This was 1974; the Detroit race riots were just seven years behind us. The racial divide was perhaps greater than ever, and people in Livonia were afraid to go downtown. But Bill loved the music, and he intuitively understood that people getting together for a Marvin Gaye concert—“How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You” and “Let’s Get It On”—were looking to make love not problems. And his 16-year-old’s instinct proved right. I remember seeing about 10 white people in the sold-out arena of 15,000, and everybody went out of their way to make us feel welcome.

Now follow along as we fast-forward. Bill goes to University of Detroit to study architecture. He graduates. Bill marries Tricia, the Catholic girl he went to the Marvin Gaye concert with. She, by now, is an occupational therapist, having graduated from Wayne State University. I am the best man in the wedding. When my wife and I get married a few years later, Bill is best man in our wedding; Tricia is a bridesmaid.

Now five years further, Bill and Tricia are living in Grosse Pointe Park. Bill has a lead role in designing a building in downtown Birmingham. Soon, he starts his own construction-design company. The couple is becoming increasingly religious, and they join an evangelical church. My wife and I have moved to Minneapolis. We do not become increasingly religious. Due to place and lifestyle, we drift apart from the Mosers.

Skip ahead to 1999. My family has by now moved back to Traverse City. I get a call from Tricia inviting us to visit their small farm near Ovid, east of St. Johns. It turns out I am heading to Detroit Metropolitan Airport in a few days to pick up my kids, who are returning from Minneapolis. It is height of summer, crazy busy, but their house is on the way. I pull off the highway, steer down dirt roads and pull up in the driveway. I see not a car, but instead a black buggy, as in horse and buggy. I get out of my car. I stand for a moment in the lush July dusk. A horse grazes in a small paddock. Chest-high grasses with seed-tops tinged in purple twilight fill a low swale. The orangey glow of propane lamps illuminates the house windows. I hear quiet. I feel peace.