„Turn to Salem for a taste that’s Springtime Fresh“

 

Salem.jpg

During one of my visits back to the States, I along with a school friend and our girlfriends – mine being a German – took a weekend trip from New York City to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the heart of Amish country. In that county there’s a town called Intercourse, which was still funny for us twens when we spotted the sign “Entering Intercourse”. Through a tourist office we got a room with a Mennonite family; they belong to a Protestant sect which is generally not as strict as the old school Amish in their ways and morals. That no one asked whether we were married surprised me. We weren’t. I guess the room fee was enough to keep them from asking too many questions. They were friendly in a natural and honest way, which can be slightly embarrassing for wise-guy students like us. The Missus asked us if we would be attending mass the next morning. We looked at other and having no ready excuse, said yes. She gave us instructions on where to go and informed us that the family would be leaving early in the morning for the church. Later that evening, the Mister of the house brought us to an Amish family whose barn was recently and collectively erected. The Mennonite did introduce us to the Amish man, who didn’t seem interested in talking with us. As the two men were conversing, I told my girlfriend she could address the young Amish boy standing near us in German. I knew that the regional dialect was a strange and antiquated South German and English mix. Actually, “English” in Amish means foreigner, even in regard to fellow Americans. Now, that’s a parallel society! When she said hallo and asked him how he was, he fell to the ground and began screaming. Without a word, the boy’s mother brought him out of the barn. The incident was so strange that neither of us could formulate a question and no one offered an explanation.

The next morning, we woke up and ate the breakfast that was laid out for us. We were impressed by our host’s trust, which we respected. On the way to the church, the road was flanked by endless corn fields which, of course, brought up “humorous” associations to the then current film, “Children of the Corn”.  We were in alien territory. A large billboard advertising Salem Lights cigarettes explained itself, associatively speaking. My old high school friend remarked that my girlfriend’s wild hair style was indeed a bit witchy. Arriving at the small white church building, we saw no vehicles and assumed we were too early. My friend walked out behind the building to the graveyard and stood next to a freshly dug grave. He called over, asking the German what her name was and remarked that’s the name on the grave stone. In the church women were seated on one side of the aisle, the men on the other side. As we seated ourselves in the back, the minister introduced us quite directly as “foreign” guests, whereby the entire congregation turned around and looked at us. By the way, my school friend is a talented comic artist and always joking. I didn’t dare look in his direction during services for fear of bursting out laughing. After mass was over, one of the congregation came over with a Bible opened up and read an appropriate passage to the German girl about women covering their hair in church. Walking across the small unpaved parking lot to our car was refreshing on that Sunday morning.

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