Sunday, October 31, 2010
Familiar Foreigners in my Backyard
There have always been a few Amish and Mennonite families scattered around southern Illinois. In recent years several families have taken up residence in the older farms just to the south of us. I don't know if it is nostalgia or just curiosity but I find myself fascinated by this sub-culture of seemingly kind souls living amongst us. As some of you know I have a background and interest in sustainable technology that goes back to the late 80's. This is probably the root of my fascination. The fact that they are of a "fundamentalist" christian religion that is rooted in pacifism is also a key factor, particularly since it contrasts to the dominant Southern baptist and Methodist philosophies of the southern Appalachians where I was raised, or reared as they say.
I drive my daughter to school on a small winding back-road each morning in my red mini cooper. There is a Mennonite (I presume) family that moved into one of the farms on the way. Each morning we pass the children driving themselves in a horse drawn cart on their way to school (I again presume). I am always overly cautious about passing them to be as polite as possible. We have started turning off the radio and rolling the windows down so we can hear the clunk, clunk, clunk sound of the horse trotting. It really is a mesmerizing sound. The road is a lot of up and down hills, so we often have to ride behind them for a couple minutes to have a safe place to pass. We always wave at each other as we pass and I think they have come to recognize us. My daughter is currently fascinated by "Little House on the Prairie" and similarities are kind of cool.
The other morning we experienced an interesting case of irony. As we passed them (very slowly) one of the boys said "Weeeee" as we passed and waived. I thought it interesting and funny that while we thought it would be cool to ride the horse cart to school, they likely were thinking the same about our red sports car. One of these days I am going to stop by their farm and introduce myself and welcome them to the neighborhood. They really only live about 2 miles away, as the crow flies. They are always quite friendly as we pass by. Truth be told, their culture has faithfully maintained some of the knowledge and traditions that many of us now seek, such as growing your own food and materials and practicing sustainable agricultural practices that protect the land. In many ways, they are moving forward while we are reaching back.