An Amish Wedding

For most Americans, Amish means a tourist destination in Lancaster County, PA. Quaint people with quaint customs, at whom you may gawk, as long as you do not photograph them.

If you live about two hours WNW of Lancaster, in Centre County, the Amish are local famers, neighbors, and – if you are lucky – friends. My wife and I managed to become the last. The immediate benefit is an understanding of what it means to be Amish.

These are deeply religious people, who live their faith. They dedicate their lives to their god, their families, and their communities. The community church is the centerpiece of their lives and the bishop is there to guide them. They are primarily farmers. However, some perform millwork, furniture making, and construction within the community. Others may work in shops run by the English – the Amish word for Americans outside their society.

Amish daily life varies among different communities. Some reject almost everything from the modern world. Others have found a comfortable accommodation with piped in natural gas for cooking and a community telephone, for limited purposes. This includes arranging for transportation, when travel by horse and buggy is impractical: they may ride as passengers, but may not operate a motor vehicle.

Our friendship with one family began at our local farmers’ market. Rather than rush through our weekly Friday shopping, Theresa would routinely stop, chat, and especially notice how their children – who were frequently present, when we first met decades ago – were growing. Then, after more years, how they in turn had their children in tow.

Visits to the farm of the head of the family – particularly, Theresa’s annual visit to participate in picking and shelling peas followed. Subsequent offers of assistance with travel solidified our friendship: first for health services, (our local families accept modern medicine), and then for shopping for items not available locally.

A year ago, this included an invitation to a daughter’s wedding. This is a true privilege and honor, linked to friendship. It was a beautifully unique experience, and as distinct in its customs as the simple Baptist wedding ceremony and reception that we attended in Kansas and the ultra-orthodox Jewish celebration in Pennsylvania.

The Amish plan weddings for October and November, after the harvest and before poor weather make travel difficult. These are community – i.e., the members of the local church – events: the posting of the banns (the announcement of the intent to marry) serves as the invitation to the community. Word spreads to the extended family. Only the few English ­– non-Amish outsiders – receive personal invitations.

By convention, weddings take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at the home of the bride’s parents. This is a practical consideration. All organization is communal. Sundays are the day of rest. It takes at least a full day to finish food preparation and final set up.

In this case, it also involved putting up a temporary building that seated 400, with attached kitchen. It then takes a day to finalize everything for the next wedding. Friday is clean up. Saturday is preparation for the Sabbath.

The families of the bride- and groom-to-be invited 10 of we English to a celebration that, over the course of 16 hours saw – by my estimate – 600 attendees. (People, especially men, came and went during the course of the day, as all had farms and businesses to keep running.)

Amish religious services have an indeterminate length. The center of the service is the bishop’s sermon, which he delivers spontaneously and lasts until he decides that he has said what he intended to say. For weddings, the additional prayers, etc., follow the sermon. The language of the entire service is the local German dialect.

Because congregants come and go during services, our hosts suggested that we could arrive near the end of service, as none of us spoke German and were of various faiths. As it happened, the sermon ran long, by about an hour.

The order of the service was less alien than I anticipated, as it has several superficial characteristics of Jewish services in the Orthodox tradition. Men and women sit separately, facing each other across a center aisle. The wedding party stood out, as the only exception to this, in the middle two rows.

The men all wore black, with white shirts and they almost universally had beards. The women dressed very modestly, with head coverings. There was much standing, chanting, and responsive prayers in a language other than English.

However, there were differences. The men were bareheaded. The scripture was decidedly Christian, except for the actual section that was the wedding. I could pick out enough Hebrew Testament names to know that the bishop was discussing Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah and Rachel.

There was also frequent kneeling. Even this infrequently observant member of the Hebrew faith will not take a knee as part of a religious ceremony. It is a testimony to Amish dedication to hospitality that no one gave us a second glance during the service or made a comment afterward. It was a rare reminder of what it truly means to be the other.

The end of the service marked a clear shift from the formal and restrained to the relaxed and celebratory.

Everyone moved outdoors. The young broke into groups to socialize or play volleyball and other games. Those adults close to the families of the bride and groom gathered to chat in the bride’s family home, one well designed to hosting large groups. (The Amish rotate their biweekly Sabbath services among the homes of member families. Hosting 80-100 guests is not a challenge.)

Meanwhile, in the temporary structure, congregant chairs moved to stacks along the walls. Tables appeared. Places were set. Bowls of food appeared, as dining is both communal and family style.

Of necessity, dining was in shifts, with dozens of women of all ages assuring that all went smoothly. However, weeks of preparation assured that no one lost an opportunity to taste everything.

Plain food does not mean poor food. Turkey and pork, potatoes, bread, all varieties of pickled vegetables, tureens of celery soup, water, and cider left everyone full. No alcohol, of course.

Lunch required three shifts. Honored guests, including all the English went first. Then the majority of other adults, with their younger children took over.

Finally, the unmarried teens came in – alternating male/female, but with the requirement that none already knew the person on either side very well. Wedding season for the Amish is also the time to begin courtships.

Note: despite all the structure in Amish daily life, the religion and culture values free will and individual choice. This starts with the basic tenet of Anabaptist sects: the commitment to god must be a free, adult choice. Therefore, while setting boundaries on the interaction among the unmarried males and females, they do not arrange marriages. If you are not interested in pursuing a courtship with your tablemates, there are two other meals that day and other weddings that season and in future years.

After lunch, the adults return to the house. The younger children resume play. The teens remain in the dining hall, put chairs in the center, and spend time singing hymns of their choosing, sometimes polyphonically.

The 4 PM light meal was more casual, as some guests had left. Some tables again held teens alternating by gender, although some shuffling of places was apparent.

We stayed through the start of the evening meal, where the newlyweds occupied a place of honor and near the wedding cake. Seating was by families, with special provisions for we English, near – but not part of the wedding party.

Many seemed prepared to continue the social part of the day well past our departure, around dark. Certainly, a good time was had by all.

 

Photos

The Amish believe that their adult images violate their religious believes. With permission, you may photograph young children. However, on this important day, and as honored outsiders, I avoided using my phone’s camera around any guests. I did take a few photos, to give a feel for the setting: the parking lot; a view of the farming valley; and a willing non-human subject.

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Thank You, Dean Flower

Thank You, Dean Flower

Recently, I had the joy of attending a performance of Bach’s Magnificat, as part of this summer’s Penn’s Woods Music Festival. The performance was superb, which reminded me that I would always be grateful to John A. Flower, Associate Dean, School of Music, when I was a Michigan undergraduate.

I grew up within minutes of one of the planet’s centers of high culture, midtown Manhattan, in the 1950s and 1960s. My father loved books and Frank Sinatra. Otherwise, our home was devoid of art or music.

A series of minor choices led me to love instrumental music. However, through high school, I maintained a baseless antipathy toward choral music, opera, and art song. Perhaps, I disliked what I did not understand.

Then I discovered ballet. My cultural environment argued against adolescent males appreciating dance. However, there was Omnibus, an NBC cultural series, which provided exposure and piqued my curiosity. A little reading in The New York Times made it clear that dance was dependent on the generosity and patronage of the wealthy and educated. I decided that, if it was good enough for them, I should try it.

Off to the New City Ballet production of the Nutcracker. I was hooked.

Then it was off to college and the chance to expand my understanding of music as an art form. First was the Literature school’s introduction to orchestral music – emphasizing form and structure. Coincidentally, it also introduced me to chamber music.

Again, I believed that I would find a musical form dull and boring. However, one morning, during the orchestral class, the course on opera, on the floor above, was sufficiently loud, to be a distraction. To send a message, the professor rolled out a recording of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. Beethoven originally planned it as the close to his Quartet for Strings, No. 13. Two violins, viola, and cello drowned out and silenced the noise from on high. I was sold and began to explore chamber music on my own.

My take-aways from that class meeting:

  • Chamber music could be anything but dull and calming
  • Opera had power and, like ballet, attracted the wealthy and educated.

However, I had a problem. The syllabus for the vocal music course in my college, Literature, Science, and the Arts, looked to be less than challenging. I also was toying with changing to a music major, musicology. The courses I wanted were in the School of Music. The rules said I met the criteria for reassignment. However, I wanted to test my fit before making the change, especially as many courses in one did not meet graduation requirements in the other.

Off to Dean Graf. As head of the Honors College, within LS&A, he was very protective of his charges. I made it clear that I really wanted to take the Music School version of the choral literature course and thought it might be smart to take the introduction to music theory, a core prerequisite for all music majors.

His initial response was that I could not cross-register. I countered with saying that I would make the transfer. As he and I both knew that these rules always have a workaround, he sent me to make my case to Dean Flower.

Dean Flower treated this impetuous freshman as seriously as he would a PhD candidate. What did I hope to achieve? Did I think that I could compete in a class of specialists, in a course tailored to their expertise? My answers satisfied him. I received a waiver to enroll in two Music School courses, with full transferability of the credits.

I also received a motorcycle. However, that is a tale for anther post.

The choral literature course was a revelation. It began with Bach’s Magnificat. In a course full of performance majors, who could demonstrate how passages were and could be structured. The requiem masses of Berlioz, Verdi, Brahms, and Faure. Beethoven’s Symphony #9. The operas of Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, and Berg. Art songs by Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, and Mahler. Only two credit hours for a class that met six hours a week, but more joy over a lifetime than I can describe.

Finally, I truly owe Dean Flower thank you twice. The chance to take the theory course helped me make a good decision that a career in music was not in my future.

 

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A Visit to The Frick/Pittsburgh

I recently took one of those tests through a Facebook link, one on matching artists and their works. What I did not get correct was a reminder to myself that I never took a formal course in art history. My focus, as an undergraduate was music: chamber, orchestral, choral, opera, and song. It is a choice I would make, again, without hesitation.

In a sense, when it comes to art – paintings, sculpture, sketches, photographs, etc., I am almost a cliché. I know what I like. However, I have tried to get past this level of ignorance.

I grew up with access to some of the great collections of the world in midtown Manhattan. When living elsewhere or traveling, art museums were and are priority stops: the Boston Museum of Fine Art and the Isabella Stuart Gardner on the Fenway, the National Galleries of Washington, D.C. and of London, U.K., the Art Institute of Chicago, etc. However, before and after each visit, I make a point of reading about the major holdings. Additionally, 45 years of reading exhibits’ coverage in the NY Review of Books has been a master’s level education. Yes, this has been hit-and-miss, but it has made for an enjoyable journey.

Therefore, it was with the same attitude that I went to recent The Frick/Pittsburgh free exhibit of its core holdings, The Frick Collects: From Rubens to Monet. (Yes, I paid for a membership.) The Frick is small and reflects the specific tastes of Henry Clay and daughter Helen Frick. It is also manageable to view slowly and closely in a few hours. Which I did and learned.

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  1. When you can get almost nose-close to a Rubens, the visible detail can be amazing.

 

I had not been familiar with Fragonard, beyond name recognition, but found this child’s portrait to be incredible:

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Perhaps, best of all, as Henry Clay Frick liked portraits. The exhibit had four lined up.

Therefore, you could see how the styles of Hogarth (1st), Gainsborough (2nd), and Reynolds (3rd and 4th) differ.

[The Gainsborough is of Thomas Brinsley Sheridan, author of “The School for Scandal,” one of my favorite plays.]

 

 

The Frick/Pittsburgh is small, intimate, and exhibits change several times a year. A stop worth the time, when in Pittsburgh.

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Pennsylvania Wandering: PA 235, August 24, 2016

Pennsylvania Wandering: PA 235
August 24, 2016

I had to go to Hershey recently and found myself with enough time to take a late afternoon alternate route home.

Years ago, I would check out options for my weekly commute between Harrisburg and State College, so that I could avoid long delays due to major road word.

One area, known as the Lewistown Narrows was a challenge. One of the only two bypasses took me over and around Shade Mountain. Much of the route passed through Bald Eagle State Forest – yes, forest, not park. PA has many of both, and the forests are noticeably different. The rest passed through some lovely, rolling farmland.

One thing struck me, beyond the natural beauty. The roads through the forest reminded me of our travels through rural Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands. The roads are narrow. Many of the turns are hairpin. Blind spots are everywhere. The one visible difference was that forest on Shade Mountain is denser.

Those through the farmland reminded me of the English midlands and southeast Scotland. Rolling hills and valleys, with lush pastures.

The one negative of the photo part – I would pull over where I could, take a few shots and then move on – is that it is all but impossible to tell one area from another. So, please forgive the apparent photographic redundancy.

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They are not Animals, Just not Fully Housebroken

They have returned! The 39,000+ undergraduates enrolled, live and in person, for classes, about 200 yards – 183 meters for the engineers out there – from our front door. Of these, several thousand live within the same distance in every direction. They officially started showing up two weeks ago and tomorrow marks the start of home football season – one that the blue-and-white clad warriors should win.

Winning is good. For us, it is very good. Winning means happy students. Moreover, there will be few unhappy fans from the opposition, as it is a long trek from their much smaller campus, in northeastern Ohio, for the event.

For us, happy students are peaceful students. The worst case is a home loss, on a last-second score, by a hated rival, in a night game: disappointment + exhaustion from a full day of partying + for too many, too much alcohol. This has been a rare event, but occasionally an ugly one.

Let me state up front that I have no right complaining about student behavior, drunken or other. We both knew what undergraduate behavior meant, when we picked a home across from a student high-rise apartment building and within passing distance (sports metaphor alert!) of at least eight fraternity houses. I was a Greek and probably created the average amount of mayhem, in a similar neighborhood, when I attended a large, Midwestern research university.

I was particularly adept at damaging hedges at 2 AM on Saturday nights, especially in the frequent icy weather. The next day, I could not have located these, but I knew it had happened. The occasional re-distribution of beverage vessels, comestible wrappers, and – especially – loud, raucous cheers and the repeated singing of the school’s VERY famous fight song, off-key, of course.

We also knew that we really wanted a student apartment in our basement. We had lived there and rented that more than once, when we were students. So, again we knew what we were doing.

However, there are limits. The first weekend saw no more than the usual number of underage drinking violations, ambulance rides to the ER for alcohol poisoning, etc. Noise that exceeded the tolerance of some neighbors. (Our house is built like a brick-and-concrete bomb shelter, so we rarely notice, except when it occurs under our open windows.) Beer and miscellaneous beverage cans and bottles and assorted trash at the expected levels.

Some incidents crossed the line, however. Some homes, not ours, had damage: a piece removed from an expensive stone garden wall at one and shrubs relocated at others.

The tendency is to blame “the students.” However, there are 39,000. Most are well behaved and polite.

One close-by student rental, for several years, earned the name Cheerleader House, because the parents of one bought it for their daughter and some of her pom-pom carrying friends rented from her. You would not know students lived there, if you did not see them coming and going.

One year into varsity hockey, we now have a Hockey House. The reliable word is that a hint of problems whispered in the correct ear will bring a world of trouble down on the residents from their coach.

Yes, some get too rambunctious, but only realize after-the-fact and are appropriately apologetic. The few, however,….

We have also learned that every few years, we need gently to remind our youthful neighbors that they are not alone. That there are families with children, families of faculty and administrators, and more than one member of Borough Council sharing the turf. Sometimes we have to point out that we – and others – not only have a right to live where we do in relative peace, but have been doing so since before they were born/when their parents went here (some, when in town, stop by to say hello)/when their GRANDPARENTS enrolled here.

Saturday night will be the test. Our excellent (really) local gendarmerie can call the State Troopers – including some on horse – if they expect real problems. (Probably not this game.)

Nevertheless, we can expect a few desperadoes – I use the term literally – to choose our yard as an open-air outhouse. (A minor positive: gender equity for this behavior arrived about five years ago.) We can also expect more surprised, late-night trespassers hurriedly exiting our yard, pursued by well-concealed – and well-conditioned – constables on bicycles, across yards and down our numerous alleys.

We shall see.

Next time, some amusing anecdotes from more than a quarter century among our future leaders, educators, and scientists. (Heaven help us all!  )

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Vegan Spring

I had expected soup season to end two weeks ago. I cleared the parsnips, turnips, and butternut squash from the big freezer and hit the carrots and corn stocks hard. All from our local farmers’ harvests last summer and fall.

I used several large beef bones and pureed the marrow from these – along with some of the squash, carrot, and corn – into the stock. Finally, I added more chunky squash, carrot, corn, and potato. Even after carefully skimmed, it was the richest savory soup I have made. Even better, in a large enough quantity that most of it will be waiting for us come the first frost of autumn.

It was now spring – a bit late, but here. We took down storms from the older windows and outside doors, and put the screens in everywhere. So we could enjoy the scent of lilacs, mountain laurel, mock orange, and one other tree/shrub whose identity is an annual mystery, and allowed my allergies to bloom with them.

The summer Farmer’s Market opened with fresh asparagus – my favorite, early spinach, and spring onions. Plus a panoply of baked goods.

However, Spring is again uncertain: chill air in the 30s last night and predicted again for tonight. Plants recently moved outdoors, including my new tea plant (potted, as last season we confirmed that camellia sinensis cannot winter-over outside in this zone), are again in the house.

As I always believe that every cloud has a silver lining, I took advantage of the chill and cooked. Although not intentionally, I did vegan. Pasta with asparagus, spinach, and toasted pinoli. Healthy, aromatic, and delicious.

With recipe attached.

Tasty Pasta with Asparagus, Spinach, & Pinoli – Vegan

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A New Low in Irresponsible TV Advertising

Thanks to television advertising, I now know that erectile dysfunction plagues middle-aged, rugged he-men living in semi-deserted Great Plains and Mountain states (Viagra) and upscale, metrosexuals in the rest of the nation (Cialis). These promotions long ago crossed whatever line remained for good taste. To their credit, the creators of these promotions usually include disclaimers about physician oversight, contraindications, and possible side effects.

The need for one of these prescriptions has likely captured the available target population, paving the way for a new category of generally under-regulated quasi-medications targeting a mostly self-defined population of less-than-fully-male Americans suffering from Low T. (Can we get a unison gasp of The Horror!)

Supposedly treatable with over-the-counter creams and gels, Low-T advertising does identify issues of controlled dosing and potential risks from exposure for women and children to the hormones these treatments contain. In other words, caveat emptor and proceed at your own risk and the risk to others.

In reality, I have little concern or quibble with those who make the choice to use these possibly pseudoceuticals. I do take strong offense to the other, less than subtle messages in the most recent television product promotion I viewed. For those who have not had the privilege, I will set the stage:

  • A financially successful over-50 male, attempting to look early 30-something
  • His coquettish actually 30-something femme du jour
  • A top-down ride in a 1964-vintage Mustang convertible – sans seat belts, shoulder harness, or roll bar – through the higher reaches of either the Rockies or Sierras during what is clearly mid-summer fire season
  • A romantic launch of a Japanese lantern, heat source flaming away, into the evening sky, ready to set the surrounding hills ablaze, symbolic of their chemistry fueled passion

Egad!

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