Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Florida IV--Observations

I have always known that Sarasota/Pinecraft, Florida was a winter haven for Amish and Mennonites. My very tan cousin Norm lived there for years, my friend Cathy spent a few winters there, Aunt Vina goes now and then, and Mom even went down one winter in the 1940’s, before she was married, and told us stories later of how she was cleaning a hotel room one day and a shell-shocked soldier wandered in and scared her half to death, and the time she sat in the back of the bus with the black folks because that’s where the empty seat was, and when the driver noticed her, he stopped the bus and went back and told her she has to sit in the front.

I have also always known that Florida was where the wild Amish young people go to have a good time. My friend Cathy said you could always spot them a mile away. When she was a waitress she’d see these groups of young men trying to look all Englisch in t-shirts and cool haircuts, and she’d nonchalantly start talking Pa. Dutch to them.

What I didn’t know was that Pinecraft is basically a little relaxed Amish/Mennonite enclave of modest houses and bikes and foot traffic and little ice cream shops and fruit stands at the edge of a very large and bustling Sarasota with high-rise hotels and lots of shiny expensive cars.

Palm Grove Mennonite Church, where the ministers’ meetings were held, is right at the edge of Pinecraft, and the place we stayed is not far away. So I had opportunities—but not as many as I wanted—to taste of the local flavor and observe the culture. And one word keeps popping into my head: incongruous.

Honestly, it felt like your mind got a little twist every time you went down the street. The first day, I gaped out the car window and burst into giggles as we passed an Amish woman in a nice Amish head covering and dress. . .with no socks. . .and Crocs! Then there was the group of Amish girls. All had Amish dresses on, in varying degrees of adhering to the Odning*, but the headwear ranged from a regular Amish cap to very-trimmed ponytails.

Most of the Pinecraft locals ride either bicycles or those three-wheeled bikes—I don’t know if they call them tricycles or what. After becoming accustomed to sleek lycra-ed, helmeted bikers around Eugene, it was quite a sight to see Amish folks of every shape and size riding around town, such as the lady who must have weighed 250 pounds and bulged all over the place. I guess she needed the exercise.

But I have to say the Mennonite ladies on their bikes gave me the worst turn of all. You have to understand here that if you grow up Amish or Mennonite, it’s assumed you will always wear dresses or skirts, and beyond that the #1 rule for how you appear in public, the Magna Carta, the Preamble to the Constitution, the eleventh commandment, pounded into your head by your determined mother, is KEEP YOUR KNEES COVERED.

So I was surprised to pass a garage sale and see a Mennonite girl out front who stopped by on her bike. She had her hair up and wore a bitty lacy covering and a summery dress, and the dress was pulled up to thigh level as she straddled her bike.

Ooooo-kaaaay. Well maybe she’s just young and a bit foolish.

Then I saw the same thing again. And again. The crowning touch was when a bunch of us ladies were standing outside after our afternoon tea and a Mennonite couple came riding down the sidewalk. Mr. came first, with a button-down shirt and black pants and a trimmed gray beard. Behind him came his middle-aged wife, with her hair in a bun and a little doily covering and a tight gray dress. . .that was yanked way way up on her lovely bare thighs as she rode breezily along.

Starla Schlabach from Pennsylvania turned to me and said, "That. Is. SHOCKING."

I guess to me the most incomprehensible thing about this was that these ladies apparently feel that they are properly attired because they’re wearing dresses instead of pants, as they were always taught, and are completely oblivious to the painful perspective of folks in oncoming traffic. I think this qualifies as a case of tradition staying on and the principle getting utterly lost.

I also assume the middle-aged lady in particular didn’t have a mom like mine. Believe me.

I should add that the Amish ladies in their full-skirted dresses have no trouble keeping their knees covered on bikes.

And I have to wonder uncomfortably—what similar inconsistencies are there in my life that I am completely oblivious to? And are my daughters getting the foundation principles of modesty/femininity or only the applications? Yikes.

*what the books always call the Ordnung, or rules, and we always pronounced Odning

Quote of the Day:
"I put on my headphones and turned the volume all the way down."
--Matt, on how he overheard a very interesting conversation at a nearby table in the college cafeteria


  1. Oh tell me about it. I was back east visiting one of my sisters and was shocked at the Mennonites at Walmart. Seriously, there were two girls that wore big coverings with strings but they had on SWEAT PANTS! I almost broke my neck doing a double take. And then there were the woman who had cut hair under big coverings! Whats with that?

    Somehow the Mennonites here in Oregon seems less diluted or something. I mean here a Conservative Mennonite is a Conservative Mennonite is a Conservative Mennonite. A liberal Mennonite is a liberal Mennonite is a liberal Mennonite is a liberal Mennonite and never the twain shall meet. (parody on a rose is a rose is a rose)
    Back there their heads can shout conservative and there legs shout, not liberal, but unsaved!

    I mean I dont embrace the Mennonite doctrine anymore but modesty is basic to salvation in my book.

    Okay Im outta here.

  2. I linked you on my xanga, if that's ok! I loved that post. And I also loved it that you and Paul drove around FL in a Spyder!

  3. It's good to know that even Mennonites sometimes gawk at each other...I'm one of those people who drive down Peoria Road trying to spot dresses and caps like other travelers look for deer. There's just something so simple and poetic about it...when it's not riding a bicycle in Florida, I guess!

    Matt's quote cracked me up. Be careful he doesn't use that on you and your hubby at home. :)

  4. Dorcas, you had "to wonder uncomfortably" and that's a good thing to wonder.

    I say that as one who has wondered (uncomfortably) if the flaws and inconsistencies and outright sins I see in others mirror back to me what I prefer to "miss" in my own life.

    That said, and (hopelessly and unsuccessfully, no doubt) not meaning to sound defensive, I add...

    Those conservative Anabaptists sure are careless (if not outright inconsistent or even hypocritical).

    Better avoid 'em.


  5. what a cool dilemma to have (car)! Wish that would happen to me sometime....=)
    My mother said she talked to you at the meetings.....
    chambray7 (from xanga)

  6. Such stocking scene in Holmes County are daily. That "horrors" that use to stock me when seeing (a lady with shorts, tank top, and a half dollar doily on the head). Well I am so use to seeing it, that when you wrote that, it wheeled me back to realize how callous I had became. So now what are my daughters thoughts on it? Normal thinking (everyone is doing it). So now I must teach our daughters the importance of modesty and being a different Mennonite and not letting the church do "our" work! Thanks for the reminder!

  7. It's amazing to see the same thing in the Muslim world: Immodest clothing, but a huge veil.