Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Amish Country Ohio Adventure (Part 1)

The following is the word-for-word account of my trip to Ohio.

Thurs. Aug 7th, 2008
So my Aunt Jill has a lake house cabin in a gated Amish community in rural Ohio. That's really all the information I needed to know to go on this trip. My mom's side of the family is pretty mysterious - I haven't met hardly any of her extended family, and apparently, in the weeks leading up to this mini vacation, word got around that this little soiree was turning into a family reunion of sorts.

My knowledge of the Amish is quite slim. I know little of the culture, or why they do the things they do. When I served at Randy's in college, I remember one late Thursday night when a group of 6 Amish people walked in. And when I mean 'walked in' - I literally mean 'walked in' - they arrived by . . . foot. A few beers were ordered and the women ordered a few alcoholic fruity drinks. One - a tequila sunrise; an odd choice for a bonnetted woman, you must say. The meal was served, and thus far, Amish people were just normal people who didnt drive cars and wore fucked up clothes from the civil war era. So imagine my surprise when I came to present the check, the mother was letting her INFANT drink from the straw of her tequila sunrise. I almost lost my shit right in front of them, but managed to hold my laughter in long enough to not be rude. Didn't matter anyways, as I got about a 10% tip on a $50 bill. So one thing I know about the Amish is that they're cheap.

A few weeks ago, I was at abar with 'Mark' - former co-owner & brewmaster of Randy's. I told him about this trip. His eyes lit up upon hearing this. He starts to tell this elaborate schpiel about how Amish families are inbred. Whether or not this is true, I have no clue. He continues to tell me how desperate these Amish families are to break the inbreeding chain that they will offer up to $5k for a studly young man to "plow their daughters", as Mark put it. I laughed. At this point I'm not believing him, so he continues to say that the 'act' is more of a ceremony. The girl wears this multi-layered, frilly dress witha very small slit in the crotchal region. The father IS in attendance, in the room, most likely wielding a large wooden mallet, ready to bonk you if it looks like you're actually enjoying yourself (I made that part up). That really concludes Mark's crazy "Amish people are inbred" story. Now, I won't be participating in the sexual conquest of a young Amish lass, but I will be looking for A) slightly odd looking people that resemble that really ugly thing from The Goonies, and B) a young gentleman, witha fat wallet and a look of pure regret on his face.

As I write this, it's 7:21am, and we're somewhere in Porter Co., Indiana. Both mother and father are desperately trying to figure out the Garmin navigation system. It's hilarious. I'm tired as hell, as I worked at the bar till midnight, had a pizza, packed, and finally arrived home at 3am. My dad had the assonine idea to leave at 5am to beat the Chicago traffic this morning. But, of course it was busy & sucked anyways. Finally, my mom just informed me that we'll be having dinner at an actual Amish home. "Like a restaurant in an Amish home?" I say. "No, like an actual families house," she replied. She was serious. I'm scared, yet excited at the same time. You KNOW something ridiculous will happen at that. It's like I'll be participating on an episode of Fear Factor: Amish Edition. Let's play...
Mom made a mix cd for the trip. I thought Rihanna's "Please Don't Stop the Music" was an awkward choice, but she definitely surpassed it with "Hollaback Girl" immediately following. I have no words. Dad - "This might be one of the worst songs I've ever heard." Hahah AWESOME! Dad made it to 9:56 - love it.

So Ohio looks exactly like Wisconsin, just a tad more hilly. The scenery is a mirror image. Rolling hills...oak, maple, pine, and willow trees scatter the landscape. Numerous times we discussed the resemblance to mid-northern WI. Gray, drab tiny 1 bedroom houses on the side of the road no less than 20 feet away, battered by what I can only imagine as a less menacing winter. Silly-named towns, villages, and obscure little shops (like Jake's Handcrafted Oak!) are also prevolent. It's summer, obviously, and all is a vibrant shade of green. It may be boring at times, but I still have love for the midwest. Gas was as low as $3.57, a sure bargain.

Stuck behind our first horse & buggy. Sure enough - a sweet shaggy white beard adorned the driver's ancient face. I hope I see more of this.

Just got out of the Millersburg Walmart. Suspenders, beards...solid colored dresses & bonnets. Shit is awesome. Bought 2 disposable cameras - don't have the heart to my mom I lost the digital camera in Minneapolis that she bought me for Xmas 2 years ago.

Fri. Aug 8th, 2008
Last night was pretty unventful, but interesting. A few of my mom's relatives stopped by. (Names withheld) ate some pizza. Amazingly entertaining though, was watching the hummingbirds divebomb each other like Japanese Kamikaze pilots. It was insane. Literally 4-5 feet away from us, these nutjob birds would chase each other around like prepubescent grade-schoolers near the swingsets at recess. These swingsets though, were sugar water feeders. No matter was the conversation was, we'd stop to marvel at these miles-per-minute birds. I can't really write how cool it was.

Today at 10am, a caravan consisting of 3 cars - all of which contained more of my mom's distant family - drove to the Herschberger Antique Mall. Along the way we were given a lesson in Amish culture by our gracious host Aunt Jill. A highlight was the 1-room schoolhouse on the edge of a farm field. The only bathroom - an outhouse - had 2 sides - one for boys, one for girls. She also lent me 2 Amish books to read so I wouldn't be so naive with the Amish subject. I'll tell you what I now know.

Her lakehouse, on Lake Buckhorn, is nestled in Holmes county Ohio. Holmes County is home to the World's largest Amish communities. I asked her what the ratio of Amish to English Americans is, and she (and I believe that there are more Amish. There are two types of Amish: The menanites, and the Amish. The Menanitesare more, well, liberal - and can have electricity and drive cars and have credit cards. Whereas the Amish use zero technology and specifically use the horse & buggy to get around. THe main question I've always asked myself was if they can have the technology, why not use it? The main reason they don't is because they have the mentality that their ancestors were fine without technology and electricity, so they should be ok too. I respect them highly, I really do. On the way to the antique mall, we encountered numerous horse-drawn buggies. The women all wear dull colored, calf length dresses. They don't / can't cut their hair, so they put it neatly in a bonnet. The men have a vast variety of options: white, brown, gray, or black. All wear suspenders, which kick ass, and have a full, perhaps rogaine-induced beard & mutton chops combo. Basically even if I wanted to be Amish, I'd be ostricized due to my lack of ability to grow facial hair. These are the thickest, longest beards I've ever seen. ZZTop would be jealous. Amish families live off the land and the farm animals that inhabit it. ALthough, I should say, most young Amish have jobs that you and I would have- general stores, diners...etc. Factoid for you: The Amish are so family oriented, and such great craftsmen, that they can build a barn in an entire day. Yes, during daylight hours. 20 of them, an entire family, can erect a BARN. Saw pictures and a timeline of it in a book - not in real life. But my aunt did say that she witnessed one.

The antique mall we went to was a great one. It had been a long time since I had been in one. Naturally I looked for old advertising relics. The place had 3 huge white barns filled with mirrors, furniture, anything - you name it, they had it. Struck gold when I finally eyed up an antique display case with vintage glass soda bottles.

On the way back we stopped at a family diner in the town of Berlin. It was decent. There was, I shit you not, a menu item called "Fried Mush". What kind of human being would you have to be to bypass, say, a turkey club, baked chicken, or fried perch, and get the "Fried Mush"? Mmm. Sounds good, I'll have that...

On the way back to the lakehouse, we saw the highlight of Friday. On the side of the road, near an Amish home driveway, was a kid...pulling another kid. Picture if you will: A small blonde boy, with a blue harness strapped to his shoulders & hips, pulling, actually running another Amish child sitting in a small cart. Eager fingers at the reigns. Swear to god it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. Kicking up dust in his little Amish boots, telling his brother to "run faster!", straw hats barely grasping the boys' scalp. Amazing.

After jumping in the lake back at the house, we talked & drank for a few hours on the pontoon boat and then headed to a restaurant called the Farmstead Buffet - all 14 of us. It was ok. I capped off the night by finishing up my Great Dane Belgian Pale Ale (Holmes County is a dry county - minus the wal mart) and Capital Brewery WI Amber by a small bonfire overlooking the lake. My Aunt, her husband, and I sat on our backs and watched shooting stars all night. It was beautiful.

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