Sunday, July 3, 2011

Surprise, It's Some Mennonites

Jaci graduated, and I left South Carolina the following morning at 3:00am. By the time I reached northern Pennsylvania I was caffeinated, stir-crazy, and freaking out at the warning signs flashing TRAFFIC AHEAD FOLLOW DETOUR. In a rare moment of direction-following I veered off I-78 and found myself in Grimville, a town unchanged since 1780.

Had I not been so bleary-eyed, such a detour would have been delightful. Lord knows I am a sucker for kitsch. Perhaps I would have stopped to photograph the green fields and red barns and white churches. Instead I tried to maintain the speed I'd been driving on the interstate, but felt compelled to slam on the breaks when I spotted a gaggle of Mennonite* children swarming around the front yard of an old farmhouse. The boys were each dragging pre-industrial farming apparatus and the girls were each dragging a toddler. The latter were swathed in bonnets and long-sleeve, grass-length dresses and aprons. It was 95 degrees outside. I was sweating in my air conditioned car, and I wasn't wearing hardly anything, comparatively speaking.

I drove on, resisting the urge to stop in the cured meats and Amish trinkets shop (an obligatory Foamhenge pilgrimage had put me behind schedule). I did, however, think it would be charming to have my picnic lunch of Cheeze-Its and and pound cake by a lush, winding brook, so I started to pull over when I found one. Only it was surrounded by a barbed wire electric fence. The nearest house was obscured by a yard full of deceased lawn mowers and a giant Don't Tread On Me flag. So were the surrounding houses for the next seven miles.

I was confused, because I associate defensive rural weirdness with the South. Sticking to the interstate on my drives northeast generally means the Dixie Outfitters is the last bastion of bigotry I encounter on the way out. Grimville proves, however, that these staunch us-vs.-them enclaves exist all over the country (roadtrippers of America may be pleased to know). For this and other reasons**, the Midwest scares the living daylights out of me.

I made it back to New York and unloaded the sets of dishes, the masterpiece gourd birdhouse***, and what was left of the pound cake my grandparents had sent up with me. Some manholes had exploded on my street but if toxic gasses wafted in through my open bedroom window they just made me sleep harder. I was glad to get back to the city, but I couldn't stop thinking about Grimville. I wished I had stopped at the cured meats and Amish trinkets shop. The kitchen in my apartment is mostly complete, but I'm still seeking a hand-made butter churn, and I bet those Amish would have had just the thing.

*This is an assumption on my part, based solely on the "YOU WILL MEET GOD -Mennonite Church" sign I'd just passed.

**Tornado Alley, Fargo, Michele Bachmann

***Gramma and Grampa grew a backyard full of gourds, and now they are bonafide gourd birdhouse artisans.