My Time in a Mennonite Community
I only have one picture—more of a snapshot, really—from the summers I spent visiting my friends in the Old Order Mennonite community in Kentucky. Now, at twenty-seven, I cherish the image and the memories it evokes far more than I ever thought I would when it was taken sixteen years ago.
You see, I often dreaded our trips to the community.
Though my heritage was Mennonite, our family lived an Englischer lifestyle. Therefore, I was always slightly nervous as our station wagon crackled down the community’s long flat lane.
I would smooth my jean skirt and Little House on the Prairie braids before getting out of the vehicle with my brother, watching the children playing kick ball in the front yard beneath the sprawling oak trees.
In the community, my brother and I were the oddities. We garnered the stares and the whispers, the giggles behind cupped hands, where—anywhere else—the Mennonites in their plain garb would have been the ones filling the sting of being singled out.
But children are children, regardless if they come from two different backgrounds or not.
Within thirty minutes, I was running barefoot in the dirt, my braids flying out behind me just like my Mennonite girlfriends’. We played Hide ‘n’ Seek in the milk barn, the motley crew of tom cats eating table scraps on the cement floor as hay twisted down from the loft above.
We took walks in the strawflower field beside the house. We rode the buggy around the pond with the dock and the water that reflected the cerulean sky.
Toward evening, the girls and I helped set the table. It was usually a simple meal: hamburger noddle soup with applesauce, butter bread, cheese, and crisp garden veggies arranged on a tray.
As the darkness grew, the hostess lit the kerosene lamp that hung over our heads. My eyes widened as the netted bulb popped and the room swelled with light.
It was a magical experience, but I still did not accept their offer to stay in the community over summer.
I didn’t want to wear skirts for three straight months and braid my hair. I wanted to swim at the YMCA in my pink Wal-Mart bathing suit and read books until my eyes rolled out of my head. The Mennonites almost always spoke English around me, but what if they lapsed into Pennsylvania Dutch?
What if I became homesick?
Not accepting that offer has been one of my biggest regrets. I could have learned so much about my heritage . . . about gardening, canning, sewing, and every other detail composing the truly simple life.
However, the time I did spend in the community impacted me far more greatly than I could have ever known back then. Now I let my toddler daughter run barefoot across our yard. I let her play in the dirt and the sand and pick weeds along with starflowers.
I am keeping a small garden, and my goal one day is to learn how to can and sew and do all of the things that compose the simple life.
But for now, I have a picture to remind me of that time in the community, along with a magical summer’s worth of memories.
Thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful blog post with us, Jolina! I especially loved the part about playing Hide ‘n’ Seek. With two kiddos and summer approaching, we will be playing that game quite a lot. Such fun!
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Jolina Petersheim is the award-winning author of The Midwife and The Outcast, which Library Journal gave a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. The Outcast also became an ECPA, CBA, and Amazon bestseller, and was featured in Huffington Post’s Fall Picks, World Magazine’s Notable Books, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and The Tennessean. Jolina and her husband’s unique Amish and Mennonite heritage originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. They now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughter. Whenever she’s not busy chasing this adorable toddler, Jolina is hard at work on her next novel.