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An Ex Amish Independence

                                                               March 14, 1994

The boy adjusted his gallouses and tried not to look over his shoulders as the family farm disappeared slowly behind him. The red barn was the reminder to fade, reminding him of the life he was leaving behind. It was early afternoon. The snow was only about sixteen inches deep. He pulled apart the middle two strands of the barb wire fence and climbed through. His mind was made up. The world held too much for him to remain captured on such a small island for the rest of his life. The men in the community who had become his father since his own father had passed two years earlier, were not going to rule him and his life ever again. He was an adult now. He would make his way and live the sinner’s life that he had been warned about since he was a child sitting between his little brothers on the hard church pews listening to the bishop preach against the evils of the world. Now he would live the life that he wanted to live during this short time on earth, and then he would die, go to hell and face the consequences forever. It was a decision he had wrestled with, and now at fourteen, he was ready. He was at peace.

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          Summer 1997

 

Garth Brooks came through the earplugs of his battery operated radio reassuring him as he crossed the frozen creek and hit the gravel road a mile away. On the fringes of the community, and almost out of the reach of the long arms of the judgemental people he had come to resent.

Two hours later he walked down the snow-packed driveway of the milkman who picked up the milk every morning. They had become friends, and although he had never dared voice his desires, he was sure the milkman would allow him to live there, and keep his whereabouts a secret. Martin Hartz did not answer the door when he knocked on it. This was not a surprise as he was probably out ice fishing again. People of the world never had to work. They lived the life of ease and money flowed to them at will. He would wait for Martin to come home.

The unlocked doorknob turned and he passed into a world unknown to him. The television was on in the living room. “As the World Turns” was playing a scene of betrayal. Bye and bye he lost interest and began exploring the house. In the basement he found some bright lights with what must have been about a hundred small plants. He had never seen such small green plants with long green leaves in sets of three four and five. What could be the purpose of growing plants that produced nothing? No fruit or vegetables grew underground nor did any hang from the leaves.

Back upstairs he browsed through some videos under the television and marveled at the variety of pictures on the covers. Somehow they must play through the tv, but he could not make them work or fit in anywhere.

The sound of tires on the snow outside brought him out of his trance and he went outside to meet Martin. Martin was very surprised to see him and after telling him his entire plan, he was surprised and confused to learn that Martin was not at all keen about giving him a home. Martin went on and on about irrelevant theories about harboring a minor, kidnapping, and the wrath of all the people within the community coming down upon his head. As the sun slowly sank over the treetops in the western Wisconsin sky, the boy bid Martin, his only connection to the outside world, a farewell, and trudged back out the driveway. He would find another place to live. A place with no connections at all to his past.

As dusk crept across the road, the first few pangs of guilt anf remorse crept in. For a few miles he fought a gallent battle, but inevitably, realized that his footsteps were taking him back the same way he had come earlier that day. Fear and dread hit him, and he swallowed bitterness and despair as he crossed the creek and climbed back between the same two strands of barb wire fencing.

An hour later he was sitting in the barn, milking the same five cows, in the same order he had milked that very morning, and a thousand times before. Cows he had vowed to never set eyes upon again. His story of spending the afternoon hunting squirrels unsuccessfully, only got his ears boxed by his older brother. Small punishment for the narrow escape he had avoided.

Martin forever kept his secret, and over the next few years they formed a relationship that would seem odd to anyone else. A lonely bachelor born into the world, and a miserable Amish teen who shared a secret. The secret of the first time he had tried to break the chains of bondage that he was born into.

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                                                             February 22, 1996

The chores were done. His four older brothers were gone for the day, working on various jobs that brought a little income to men within the Amish community after they turned twenty one. This time the boy found himself at the farmhouse of Randy Clark, on the other side of the community. Randy had hired the boys a few times to help with work around the farm, and seemed like sympathizer to the tough confines of the community. Randy was not surprised to see the boy at his doorstep, and immediately offered to give him a home. He could use the extra help around his dairy farm and he knew it would come cheap. But almost immediately things took a strange turn. Randy and his wife were traveling to Florida, and would be gone for two weeks. The boy was faced with the abrupt decision of traveling to a country worlds away, with people he barely knew. Nobody would ever find him if the world swallowed him up, or option two was that Randy would let him stay at the house and help run the farm with the hired hand he had found while he was gone. The boy chose the latter.

That evening after chores were done and the hired hand went his way, the boy found himself in a cold, lonely, dark house. With no knowledge of how to cook food, or turn on the TV, he sat on the soft couch and weighed his options. The Amish came to this farm regularily to use the phone. He would be found, and at sixteen, would not be able to withstand the pressure brought down upon him from the entire community and their religion. He missed his little brothers and sisterd already. And the pain he was surely bringing to them. Was it the right time after all? Was it really as suffocating and depressing in the community as he had led himself to believe?

At 10:15, he heard the amber alert come across the waves of his battery operated radio for the missing sixteen year old Amish runaway, believed to be currently fleeing to live with an uncle in Columbia, Missouri. At 1:45 A M, after several unsuccessful attempts at sleep, under the clear moonlit skies of Wisconsin, he trudged the 3 miles back home.

The next morning, when the rest of the family, after spending a worried and mostly sleepless night, arrived in the barn at 5 A M to begin the morning chores, they found him, sound asleep on a pile of hay.

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He could hear the gut-wrenching sobbing of his little brother behind him, whipping the horses into a gallop, fleeing home to get help. The boy had lured his little brother into going with him to hunt squirrels, but after driving 3 miles away, he had suddenly and without much warning, broke the news that he would not be returning home with him. Two days earlier, at the singen, he had been caught trying to trade radios with another lad. The news had broke hard and fast. He was the first in the community to have a radio, and the rebellious, fatherless teen had to be made an example of immediately.

Years of planning and plotting and trial runs had wizened him to the ways and judgments of the community. This time he would disappear forever. By the time they caught him, he would be so hardened to the world and it’s ways, they couldn’t touch him. But he needed at least a month of complete disconnect with anyone and anything he had ever known. Only then, could he resist the harsh judgments that would follow.

He trudged for fourteen miles, across the Black River, the ice breaking up with spring that was just around the corner. The wee hours of the morning found the boy knocking on the doors of a farmer about ten miles outside the community and on the other side of town. They would never find him. He was worlds away. Even the Amish reach wasn’t this far.

Simon Potts took in the kid from the community. He was a good worker and really cheap help. Practically worked for free and only wanted food and a place to stay.

For six months, he watched the kid labor on his farm, seldom saying much. He was up at the break of day, and worked long after dark. It was a true bargain for Simon on his farm, and he kept his secret because it meant him losing his cheap help if he opened his mouth.

Sometime during the second month, word got back to the Amish community, and Simon watched as the Amish began arriving in droves. They came randomly, unannounced. At times there were fifteen there at a time. Other times they came one at a time, trying to break down the will of the boy who seemed determined to live his life in the outside world. Simon marveled at the kid who was able to go toe to toe with the most well versed and hardened Amish preachers and Bishops and come away seemingly unscathed.

And then one morning it was over. The boy bid him farewell, thanked him for allowing him to stay there, climbed into a buggy, and disappeared down the gravel road, to forever disappear back into the Amish community. He had tried the world, had sown his wild oats. The Amish had won. He had a look of determination on his face. He could make it as a good Amish man. He would settle down, marry, start a family. He would be the man everyone expected him to be. The world had had it’s chance.

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It was springtime in Yoder, Kansas. He had spent five years back among the Amish, four of them teaching school. He had weathered a heartbreaking love gone wrong, and had become baptized into the Amish faith, thereby forever sealing his fate. The boy was closed the drawer of the desk. He would spend the summer doing construction, and then come back that fall and teach again. He had moved from one community to another, trying in vain to find the one that fit his inquisitive personality. Yoder was about the most lenient community he could find. Here he would settle down for good. But first, he would travel. He would see the west. A place where he had heard tales of miles and miles of cities and mountains. He had to get that out of his system. The same world that had felt threatening and intimidating to him at sixteen, now needed a second chance to be explored. He could impress the other lads his age with the tales of his travels before he settled down for good.

 

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          Winter 2001 Yoder KS

 

Boarding the train for the west coast, with a few buddies he had met in a few of communities along the way, the tracks stretched out endlessly in front of him. First stop. Las Vegas, Nevada.

The five weeks that followed bore tales too many even to write a novel about. Miles and miles of vast wilderness with not a building in sight. Mountains covered with snow, even in the heat of spring and early summer. Concerts in Vegas. Rafting in the mountains of Idaho. Biking to the ocean in Anaheim California. A harrowing adventure on foot, into the mountains of California, that looked a mere five miles from the hotel room, but turned out to be more like thirty.

The journey, as planned, took him back through Wisconsin, visiting family he hadn’t seen in three years. Here he was shocked to see that the boys he had grown up with, and corrupted with his teenage exploits and radio songs, had all married and were having babies. The elders who had once had such a grip on him, now only looked sadly at the young man who had chosen his destination in a community so liberal that they could not even touch him. They had lost all the grip they ever held. But it was still worlds better than living in the outside world.

On the last morning before boarding the train back to Kansas, he stood and looked out the window of the upstairs farmhouse where he had been born and raised. And that morning the answer came to him as clear as anything had ever come to him in his life.

“It is time. You are ready. You have outgrown the Amish life. Go and live your life of freedom you have longed for since you were a child”.

This time there was no deceit. No sneaking out while nobody was looking. In the barn during the morning chores he had the conversation with his family. There were tears and prayers. But even the toughest of them knew it was done. The ties that had remained at birth were forever severed. He had chosen his lot in life. He would never know his nieces and nephews. He had chosen the lonely life of the world. But he had chosen freedom.

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This blog was written in remembrance of my time spent within the Amish community and the impact they had in my life during that time. While most of America is celebrating the independence of being a free country, I can expand upon that even further by celebrating fifteen years of independence of my own.

                                                 

                                                            Happy 4th of July America!

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