Friday, October 06, 2006

My Very Own Mennonite Stories

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Check our Columbus Day specials for gods and goddesses you need to complete your set!

Well, the Amish have been much with us this week in all our prayers. But, frankly, they don't need our prayers because they are all going to heaven. And they know it, and it makes them brave and compassionate and ... insular. Why bother with what's going on in the world of the English, except to sell them quilts and scrapple?

In the years just before I was born (meaning, a long time ago), my mother taught Old Order Mennonites in public school. Of course, today you won't find a single Old Order Mennonite child in a public school. Heavens to Murgatroyd! The things worldly people want their students to know! Forget it.

My mother's students loved her, and vice versa. After I was born, and Mom's fragile health failed completely, her former Old Order Mennonite students would occasionally show up for a visit. You'd know they were at the house when you saw the black car with the painted bumper (chrome is worldly).

These folks are characterized by large families. Large as in 14 or 15 kids, with the last one usually having Down Syndrome.

Hey. I'm not being harsh, I'm just telling you what I saw.

One night I had a lot of homework to do when one of Mom's former students descended with about six of her kids in tow. I was in my room at my desk when a little girl wandered in, probably very little different than one that was buried this week in Lancaster County. She was cute as a button in her tight braids and plain dress with no buttons and black stockings.

She saw my pocketbook on the bed. It was a hippy-dippy leather thing with fringes. I made it from a craft kit.

She looked at me and said, "My mama says sinners carry those. Are you a sinner?"

Wow. What do you say to that? I sure wasn't gonna burst some six-year-old's bubble about heaven and hell by engaging her in a lengthy debate on comparative religion. So I just said, "Yes, but I'm working on it." She toddled out. Probably told all her siblings that she'd spoken to a sinner.

I recalled that exchange when my mom died in 2001. Somehow the Old Order Mennonites found out about Mom's passing. They showed up at the funeral home en masse, each one with the same fond story about how Mom took them on a field trip to Washington, DC. (Certainly a stronghold of sinners, then as now.) What struck me was that once they'd introduced themselves, men and women alike, they looked and dressed exactly the same. You couldn't tell Mary from Martha or Peter from Paul.

And I wondered, as I sat at Mom's funeral and listened to a eulogy by her favorite clergyperson, the gay choir director from her mainstream church (diamond stud in earlobe), what those Old Order Mennonites were thinking. Were they sad because they wouldn't see Mom in heaven? Were they wondering what they were doing amidst so many sinners? They certainly didn't try to convert anybody.

Once in awhile I run into one of Mom's students. They're getting old themselves now. One who runs a grocery in Flinstone, Maryland gave me some old black-and-white photos of Mom in front of the school where she taught.

They are one and all nice people with big hearts and long memories of pleasant times. I don't mind being seen as a sinner in their eyes if it makes them sleep better at night. On the Other Side, all distinctions become nebulous.

So sayeth the bored gods.

FROM ANNE
THE SINNER OF BERKELEY SPRINGS

1 comment:

Autumn said...

I suppose everyone must make there own choices and there own "heaven". I don't understand people like the Menonnites, but do feel for them as I would anyone in light of what happened this past week. I know your glad to at lest have happy memories from the ones who knew your mom