It was off to Pennsylvania for your faithful correspondent and his lovely wife last week. We took a spring vacation in Lancaster, PA, home of the Amish community.
It's maybe 60 miles from our house, the Lazy 'C' Ranch, but in many ways, it's like 6,000 miles away. For one thing, it's exceedingly rare to see a horse and buggy clomping along a street in Baltimore County. In fact, I'd say it hasn't happened for many years here. If there was one on our streets, the logical supposition would be that someone stole the rig from Lancaster and clopped all the way home with it. But in Lancaster County, people just live together nicely. Sometimes you get stuck behind a horse carriage, and so what? You're in such a rush already? The Amish people are very nice; they just mainly would prefer to be left alone to live their lives as they wish.
And you've never seen so many clotheslines in your life! You can drive around our town from sunup to sundown and not see clothes hanging on a line. I suppose this is for two reasons, the first being that our air is not quite so clean and pure as it is in the non-industrial farm area. If you hang some nice white sheets out at 10 am, you might find them a tad dingy by 4, tainted with smog, smoke and fog. And also, let's be honest here. If you hang out a week's worth of laundry in the morning and leave the house to go to work or the Try 'n' Buy, you might just come home to find yourself short a couple of pairs of shorts. Everybody's talking about that "Pants on the Ground" guy - you might find your pants on the guy two blocks down. For these reasons, we tend to dry our duds in the Maytag, and envy those who can use clotheslines for that natural outdoorsy scent that no amount of chemically-saturated polyester Bounce® towelettes can add.
It's an interesting environment. Besides the Amish lifestyle tourist spots, the local crafts, bakeries and antique shops, there are giant outlet malls right on the main highway. These malls attract busloads of people coming from all over to load up on Calvin Klein and DKNY and I don't know what-all else at discount prices. The cultural juxtaposition of seeing Vinnie Barbarino from da Bronx being waited on by Rebecca Faith Holtzapple, and realizing that we are certainly a diverse salad of people and folkways, is endlessly fascinating to me.
Lancaster County is a tad bit north of us, but from the looks of things, they have the worst weather in the world, because every ten feet you see a school bus shelter where the kids can huddle together to fend off the gales, the tornadoes and the typhoons that must come through every morning. You never see these things around here, and I can only attribute their presence in PA to a heightened concern for the well-being of the kids, and their absence here to concerns that who knows what the local youths would be up to or down to inside a shelter. Chances are that many of them would tunnel their way to freedom from the shelter floor. I certainly would have.
But all kids have their ways. In the Amish culture, when a child turns 16, male or female, they are allowed to go on a "rumspringa." The German word means "running around," and that's what they get to do - drink a beer, smoke a Marlboro , ride around in a car, wear jeans and t-shirts, and see if they like that worldly life. If they wish to stay gone, that's it; they leave their church and family and go do whatever. If they come back and join the church, they are there for life or face "shunning" if they violate church tenets later. Most likely, they will come back and remain in their faith for a lifetime.
To tell you the truth, the more I see of our modern technology-enriched, crime-ridden, Gulf-ruining world, the more value I see in theirs. Young Amish, my advice would be, come visit and then go back where it's gentler.