Vol. I, No. 2
I am a child of the Pennsylvania Dutch. I’m also a child of Irish and English immigrants, but for some reason, very little of that identity stuck. Perhaps it’s also because I live in Pennsylvania and am surrounded by Pennsylvania Dutch culture. While Pennsylvania’s ethnic diversity is growing and it has become more of a melting pot in the past 20 years, it still has very active and plentiful pockets of PA Dutchy-ness. I will write more about the Pennsylvania Dutch culture in future blog entries, but it’s safe to say that it takes on a Germanic identity- linguistically, in idiomatic expressions, aesthetically, in decorative arts, and in a great deal of other ways as well.
I grew up with words like spritzing, strubbly, and rutching. It wasn’t until I got to college—beyond that, actually, that I learned other Americans didn’t use the same expressions.
I always knew about the Amish. My Great-Great-Grandfather was born into an Old Order Mennonite family (again, more about that later), and left the community to go fight in the Civil War. He heard Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address, but that is just something that I like to brag about as if it’s my accomplishment.
I remember going to roadside produce stands in the summer on the way home from Grandma and Grandpa’s in Hershey and having my first interactions with Amish people. Then, in high school, we would take an annual field trip to an Amish farmer’s market. In addition to all the incredible food, we bought an Amish man’s wooden crates, which were then the fashionable thing to house one’s records. (No, not paper records, vinyl records, children, look it up!)
So I knew about this lifestyle, this community, on my periphery but frankly, really didn’t care. The trips home from my grandparents were bor-ing! What does a kid care about scenery?
Then, in August 1989, when I was 25, I took my first job in Center City, Philadelphia. While I love Philadelphia and am truly proud of it now, that summer it was hot and smelled of trash dumpsters with rotting food inside. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, you couldn’t walk one city block without encountering a homeless person. While I have true compassion for the homeless, back then you didn’t know if you’d be solicited for money, left alone, or even accosted by a person suffering from mental illness. This was routine. And driving! It was like playing one big game of “Chicken.” I loved the fast pace, but I felt a bit assailed the whole time.
So, when I visited my grandparents the next time, I was amazed at how beautiful everything was along the way. And this had been right under my nose, all the time! I also flew quite a bit for business then, and invariably we’d have to circle around Harrisburg to await permission to enter Philadelphia. Out the window was an incredible patchwork of fields beneath me: different shades of green and brown, all sown in intricate patterns. Philadelphia magazine ran an issue on great road trips, and included one on Lancaster County. I decided I needed to take a trip there. And it was then that I had a life-changing adventure: my real introduction to the Amish!
NEXT TIME: WHERE THE WIND TAKES YOU
Map: By The original uploader was Dddstone at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons