Saturday, April 08, 2006


I walked 32 miles last Sunday, 21 of it through Amish country. I have a fantasy about Amish women, thanks for asking. I imagine that they are all sexually repressed and ready to blow. All my fantasies are duds, however. When the pin is finally pulled, none of my fantasies ever explode. If you want the truth of a thing, analyze my fantasies and believe the opposite. The truth of this Amish matter, therefore, is that Amish women are happily asexual and ready to weave a blanket.

I passed through a small town, Vicksburg, named after the historic Civil War battle. The town was old enough, I believe, to have known the smell of gunpowder. Walking through, I expected to see General Lee himself galloping out of the morning mist. Hand-painted lettering on one of the wooden buildings said, “D.W. Coburn, Horseshoer.” Coburn, no doubt, fought for the Union. At this early hour, he was probably still in bed.

I sipped some Gatorade from my drinking tube and slapped myself back into the 21st century. Turning a corner out of town and heading north on Gimbly Road, a string of Amish buggies came down a hill toward me at two-hundred yard intervals. If you have never seen such a thing, you should. It’s a postcard on a squeaky iron rack in a sausage-scented restaurant. The sight slapped me back into 1865, only this time I expected John Wilkes Booth to hobble from a barn.

I waved to the occupants of the buggies as they passed. I saw some of their faces. Who were these people? I considered jumping into one of the buggies: “Who are you people?” I would mount the vehicle, nudge open the door, snuggle in beside the happy (?) couple and begin querying them, beginning with the woman.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Are you sexually repressed? Don’t mind me, I’ve just always wondered. Oh, hello sir, yes, thank you for hitting me. I thought you were all pacificists, but I see that another Amish fantasy of mine has failed to detonate. May I have a word with your wife? That hurt, you know. My name is Martin Zender. Hello, ma’am. You are happily asexual, I presume. Is this your blanket?”

But I only waved. One young man wore round glasses and was laughing. The man was laughing. What was he laughing at? What else but me? He and his wife no doubt found humor in my Amish fantasies. Are they that transparent, my fantasies? They must be. The horses clopped toward church, I knew. If the riders were to laugh at all this day, now was the time. Chuckles, at church, get buggy-whipped to the sod, where the pews are screwed in and the hobnailed boots of the congregants scuffle. It was now or never, and here was the opportunity: a stupid-looking walker with hilarious Amish fantasies. Oh, they were laughing at me, all right.

When the last of the buggies passed, the bell of a distant church tolled. It tolled again and again—for me, I knew. It sent a shiver down me. It was now 1837 and the rote of a dark tradition overcame me. I had to get out before General Washington showed up. Or worse, a contingent of the British.

I stopped for a break at an old cemetery and sat down to put my back against the wire fence and eat an orange. A car went by. Then two. Then three. I peeled a sticker from the orange that said, “Sunkist.” Slowly came the world again, the one I had known. Straining, I could no longer hear the church bell, or the clop of a single horse. I got up and stared for a long time, behind me, at the crumbled stones. Beneath these markers, they all lay still. Not a soul laughed. I was humbled and ashamed of myself. They had all once heard the bell that had tolled so recently for me. I strained in my mind’s eye to see the Amishman again. I would not be so rude this time. I would bow, courteously, to his beautiful wife. He was laughing at me, yes—at me and my time.

To some, there is no time, and these are the Amish, the church bells, and the citizens of the grave.

And the only ones of these three able to laugh, do so.

© 2006 by Martin Zender