This morning, my parents, my nephew and I journeyed across the state line into Kentucky and visited a Mennonite community. My parents have been going for years to buy fresh produce and have been on me about going with them. Being a historian, they thought I should see people living in a historical way.
The Mennonites that we visited are much like the Amish of Pennsylvania. Their religious beliefs lead them to live a simple life without modern conveniences. In fact, they speak Pennsylvania Dutch and, as one lady told us, speak German during church services.
We went to several stands owned by different families, and there was a crowd of people as each one. The fact that the Mennonites do not use many modern technologies does not prevent them from doing business with those who do. You just have to watch what you wear.
This includes stores like Walmart. We passed a couple of facilities designed to load long haul trucks. Oh yeah, I say that they do not use many modern technologies because a few guys had cellphones. I did not see women with cellphones. I wonder if that is allowed.
My nephew has taken a couple of years of German in school and was interested to see if he could talk to them. My dad made sure he did it at every place we stopped. That is how we learned that they mostly speak Pennsylvania Dutch. One man spoke great German but most used a mixture of different things. In one place, there was a teenage girl working who my dad thought my nephew should talk to. She was wearing a long dress and a small bonnet. I think my nephew likes them a little more scantily clad.
I realize that they want to live a simple life and stay away from modern technology, but that brought up a question in my mind. How do they decide what technology is modern? We saw the cellphones, which they probably need for business purposes, but that is not what I am talking about. As we drove around, we saw horse-drawn buggies; equipment pulled by mules and other things from the 1800s. At one time, those were modern technologies.
When did they decide that a certain state of technological advancement was far enough? Did Mennonites look back at the 1600s and say we need to live like that? Since it is a Christian faith, would they not go back to the simple times of Jesus and live like that? What made 1800s technology acceptable as simple?
I did not take pictures of the people. I did not seem right. Although everyone was giving them money for their stuff, I also got the feeling that people were also looking at them like they were museum pieces. I could be wrong, but I was still not going to take their pictures. Everywhere we went, the young people looked at we outsiders in a different way. My mom talked about how one girl kept looking at my nephew like she thought he was cute.
No disrespect for my nephew, but I am not sure that was it. Again, I may be reaching, but it was like they were wishing that they could put on shorts and a t-shirt and spend a Saturday in a car. They were born into this world, but they constantly interact with people in another world. For generations, people have been living the farm to get a new life. I wonder if that will happen to the Mennonites. Will their interactions with us eventually lead to an end to their mantra of a simple life?
Despite all of that deep thinking, it was a great trip and a great way to spend the day with my family. The farms that we passed were beautiful, and I can understand why people would want to preserve that way of life.
I also know that I would not want to live it. As we left the Mennonite territory, my nephew was falling asleep. I punched him awake when I saw a red Ferrari pulling out of a gas station. I am pretty sure that is the lifestyle he and I would prefer and want to preserve.