Some of my favorite riding has been through Amish country in Pennsylvania. When I was little, my parents took our family on a cross-country trip in a car and a camper, and I do recall seeing the Amish on that trip. Jerry’s early impressions are stronger than mine, because he grew up in Pennsylvania, and went to school at Penn State. He did a lot of driving through Pennsylvania Dutch country. (2)
He’s very surprised on our trip to see that the Amish people will wave at us, sometimes even before we wave at them. His memories are that the Amish used to turn away from him and the other “English,” (3) and they would turn their children away as well. He decides it has to do with our being on bicycles, rather than in cars. I privately decide it has to do with how he looked in college. I’ve seen his I.D. from his internship year in Burlington: Charles Manson with a stethoscope. I’d have turned my children away, too.
The first that we see of the Pennsylvania Dutch is actually in Maryland. Jerry already wrote about this in his blog titled “What? No Starbucks?” So you know that we have a bit of trouble finding a Starbucks. We are frankly disgusted with the chain by a certain point. Where is their sense of completion in coffee hegemony over the United States? For heaven’s sake… After a few false starts, Jerry sees the cafe that leads us to the Pennsylvania Dutch Marketplace, and so on. I won’t repeat the story, but I’ll share some pictures.
I did ask permission before taking these pictures. The woman I asked said yes with an actual waving-off hand motion indicative of, “Sure, no problem.”
It is days later that I discover a real love for Amish country, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The rain has stopped, the sun is out, and we are riding through beautiful towns and farms, one after another. We see Amish in horse-drawn carriages, (4) and on farms, and driving cars. This last comes as a bit of surprise to me, but Jerry informs me (because he knows everything – kind of irritating, sometimes) that different Amish sects practice differently, just as Reform Jews used to be less stringent than conservative, but now that’s all gotten very confusing, too…
Anyway, about the Amish, one woman is actually out cleaning up her driveway with a leaf-blower (!) while her children play in the yard. They all wave. They all seem happy to see us on our bikes, working our way north.
At one point, I pass two women (of the “English” variety), out for a walk. Just beyond them, I see the most lovely scene: a wagon, pulled by very large horses, being loaded with hay by two Amish farmers. The sun is low in the sky, and everything has this honeyed glow. I stop, park my bike by the side of the road, and take a picture of the scene.
Just then, the walkers reach me.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” asks one woman.
I avoid looking pointedly at my loaded touring bike, because that might seem a little rude. “No,” I say.
“Thought so,” she says. “People who aren’t from here always take pictures of the Mennonites.”
I am tempted to tell her that a Mennonite with a leaf blower just took a picture of me on my bike! It would have been a lie, but it would have been kind of fun. Unfortunately, I was raised by a sect that said liars pay in purgatory, and so I just look at her stupidly. (5)
“Is it bad,” I finally ask the walker, “to take their picture? Do they not like it?”
“Oh,” she says uncertainly. “No. Well, I don’t know. I don’t think they’d like to be recognizable in the photograph.”
I thank her for letting me know (what she thinks but clearly doesn’t really know for sure, despite being bossy and “from around here”).
Later, when I look at the photo, I decide the farmers’ identities are entirely safe with me. (6)
(1) To keep the story from being broken up by all these interruptions that kept popping up for some reason in this post.
(2) Because I’m using some terms interchangably, and no doubt incorrectly, here’s an explanatory excerpt from the Wikipedia entry: The Amish (/ˈɑːmɪʃ/ ah-mish; Pennsylvania Dutch: Amisch, German: Amische) are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships, closely related to but distinct from Mennonite churches, with whom they share Swiss Anabaptist origins. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, and reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology. The history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish.
(3) The Amish refer to non-Amish as English. Think Harry Potter and Muggles. Jerry finds the idea of his being referred to as English very funny, since most actual English wouldn’t have counted many Shapiros among their country-club sets in the ’70s. (7)
(4) These carriages, Jerry points out to me, are pulled on iron wheels with no rubber tires. Must make for a bumpy ride! I say. Beyond this, Jerry points out, the no-rubber wheels must make work that much harder for the animals. He wonders aloud if these people, in their quest to please their God through clean living and hard work, make a place in their heaven for the animals that work for them. Are they among the people who believe dogs, cats and horses have souls? Do they feel that pulling wheels without rubber improves the soul of the horse, assuring his or her own place in heaven? I don’t know, I snap, and stop interrupting my blog post. Write your own!
(5) Stupidly: the same way Jerry and I will look at our hotel check-in clerk a week later, as we arrive at a Courtyard Marriott, when she asks where we started out that morning. Between the two of us, we’ll have not even half a clue of where that day’s ride began.
(6) Since the picture came out really poorly and you can’t even make out that they’re there… (8)
(7) Here, I will insert a footnote within a footnote, to blow your mind entirely. This footnote is a lesson in apostrophes. Jerry wanted me to add an apostrophe to the plural name “Shapiros,” above. No, no, no! One should never use an apostrophe to make a last name plural. If your name is Shapiro, the plural is Shapiros. If your name is Connor, the name is Connors. “The Shapiros weren’t invited to join the country club.” “The Connors forgot to RSVP.” Also, just because I’m thinking of it, when abbreviating a decade, use the apostrophe as a stand-in for the first two digits of the decade, and not between the last number and the “s”: the ’70s, not the 70’s. See? I, too, can be an irritating know-it-all.
(8) But later in the day, I got this guy, and I really love how he came out: