This post is from the archives and was originally published last June, but a friend-who-is-a-lurker dug it up today and tweeted me they liked it, and so I re-read it. I had forgotten about it. You know what? I really love this one so I’m publishing it again. (-:
When we were in Lancaster, PA, the girls and I came across an Amish house, built in 1805:
We went inside and took a tour of ‘how the Old Order Amish really live’. We learned stuff that made me wonder if I am part Amish, or if I could ever be Amish:
- they can ride in cars but they can’t drive them (I can drive but I’m a Multitasking Minivan Driving Mama that some would say can’t drive).
- they don’t use electricity because of the temptation to be lazy and watch TV. (We banished our TV a couple of weeks ago pretty much for the same reason. My kids are still alive – shockingly adaptable…I’m the one pining for this season’s America’s Got Talent.)
- they don’t drink alcohol (neither do I)
On our buggy ride, I got to sit up front beside the lovely Amish farmer who I bonded with because he loved my children’s questions, and because I’m codependent. I was probably trying to make him feel more accepted by the outside world than he really is (with that beard – apparently, the day an Amish man gets married he stops shaving forever).
In the back of the buggy was a busybody from Florida who you could tell thought she knew better than the farmer.
She kept asking, “How old do you have to be before you have free choice to leave ‘the sect’?”
He was clearly annoyed and said, “I’ve got free choice. I could leave today and go drive a car, or watch TV, but I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to watch television.”
The woman refused to believe this, so she kept bugging him about how she had read somewhere that Amish people weren’t allowed to leave – implying that he was brainwashed. I wanted to ask her if she’d read any Noam Chomsky and if she thought she really had free choice herself, but I didn’t. If I had, the conversation would’ve gone like this:
Busybody: That poor farmer doesn’t have free choice.
Me: Do you?
BB: What do you mean? I’m not in a cult.
Me: Are you sure?
BB: What on Earth are you talking about?
Me: Have you read any Noam Chomsky?
BB: Gnome who?
Me: He’s an anarchist intellectual from MIT who would say that you’re brainwashed by consumerism, and that therefore, without your consent, you are participating in a cult. At least the farmer has overtly consented to being Amish.
BB: What’s she talking about, Leonard? Stop the buggy. I want to get off.
Me: Chomsky would say that capitalism is your God, and television is your altar.
BB: (whisper-shouting) Make him stop the buggy, Leonard! She’s from San Francisco!
<Cut to woman and her husband running across cornfields to get to the outlet shops before they close.>
Anyway, I told the farmer that I admired him for not watching TV, that it did make my family lazy, and told him we had gotten rid of our TV – for now, at least. Well – he slowed that buggy down to take a closer look at me. When I told him I don’t drink alcohol, he looked at me like I was some kind of freak – a kindred spirit.
“What part of the country are you from?” he said.
“Near San Francisco.” I could see that this surprised him.
“What religion are you?” he said.
“Huh,” he said. “Protestant – same as ours.”
“Except for the beards,” I said – and he laughed.
Ella asked him a question: “Why can’t Amish kids wear polka dotted dresses?”
He said, “Well, we like to keep things simple, and polka dots are not simple.”
I liked him – he was full of hard work and humility, and seasoned with the unexpressed frustration that comes from listening to the same questions from all the know-it-all busybodies who sit in his buggy and think they know him. He told me he dreamed of heading West to see San Francisco (they don’t ride planes unless it’s a medical emergency, so someone would have to drive him – or perhaps he could go in his buggy..?) He said his wife thinks that travel is “a Punishment” so if he went, he’d have to go alone. I pictured him making his way to San Francisco in his little straw hat and beard, wearing his suspenders, and all the people he would meet there who would corrupt and shock him.
Saying that I admired him for not watching TV (kind of a heretical statement in our society, actually) stopped the woman’s questions, probably because she was addicted to Judge Judy. She had wanted to pigeonhole him as a member of a cult and to intervene on his behalf and take him out of there back into her cult: mainstream America, the cult of consumerism, where he could exercise all the free choice he wanted – even be a couch potato, and worship at today’s altar, the TV set.
I’ve thought a lot about Amish people and cults lately, and I’ve decided that I could never be Amish – not just because the men have those Appalachian-looking beards that remind me of Deliverance, and not just because the women work harder than I would, and they can’t get polka dot pedicures at The Red Door, and can never experience the sheer joy of watching Adam Lambert nearly win American Idol. It’s because they don’t have music. No instruments! Just some hymns! No dancing. Holy Bob-frigging-Marley! Holy-Beethoven-to-Beetles-to-Beiber! How do they live without music? To me, raising a child without music would be at the very least neglectful, at worst just short of child abuse – and I don’t know how long I’m going to last without TV but I sure-as-shit wouldn’t want to raise my children without music.
Anyway, after our tour of the Amish home we went outside to the farm and discovered a wood shop where a wonderful (non-Amish) wood carver whittled small branches into delightful roosters.
We spent the afternoon with this delightful wood carver, and he was so interesting to talk to and watch that even Ella didn’t notice the 100 degree heat. He even gave the girls a bottle of milk to feed Peanut, his baby goat:
Meeting him and his pet goat was the highlight of our trip. He told me how he had put his kids through Duke, Yale, Brown and Princeton carving those little roosters. And he told Ella about his childhood in the Brazilian rain forest with his parents, who were Christian missionaries from the mid-West (shock, horror – more possible cult members! This would make three cults in a single day: Amish, Capitalist, and Born Again.)
Ella asked him what a missionary is, and he told her, “It’s someone who brings the Word of God to other places in the world.”
She said, “Don’t they already have God in the rain forest?” – quite a good question, if you ask me.
At the end of our visit, the three of them (four if you count Peanut) – Ella, Fiona, and the wood carver - skipped down a farm path to install Peanut back in the barn with her very best friend, not a goat…a Rooster.
As we drove away Ella said, “This was the best day ever, Mommy.”
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