Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Sun Kissed Community
Summer vacation brings many lazy road trips amidst the endless days of unstructured play. Our recent adventure was prompted by my husband who had researched a nearby Mennonite community for a film project a few years ago. He wanted to bring our girls to visit their community, to open their eyes to a lifestyle quite different than our own. As it turns out, we were surprised to discover that we had more in common with the few Mennonites we spoke to, than we do with our own next door neighbor.
The community is spread out like any other residences you would find out in the country. There was no gate with opening hours or any tours or merchandise available from vendors. Each family had their own house, built collectively, on their own property with their own garden, and their own horse and buggy. As we drew closer to the community, my husband stopped at a self service table that had beets for sale for 50c a quart. You were supposed to put your quarters in a little 'honest' box. He stopped the car and asked me to get some, but I hesitated saying that I don't know the source and whether or not they are sprayed. His response was that Mennonites are organic and natural and everybody knows that. This spawned a discussion whereas he grows tired that I question everything. Fortunately, I had a little bit of signal left and was able to google this information before going in. As usual, I was right. ; )
We stopped at the first market to buy tomato juice. I asked the shopkeeper if she knew the farm that made it and she said she did. I asked if it was an organic farm and she said it was not. We didn't buy the juice. She gave us directions to the one farmer that she believed was the only organic farmer in the community.
We pulled up to Andrew's house. It was well over 100 degrees. He came out in his socks and buttoned up to his chin in wool clothes and suspenders. He sat on a stump and explained (without giving me eye contact as I'm not only a woman, but a woman who foolishly chose a dress with bare shoulders that day) that they are offered an 8th grade education in the 'plain circle' that is their community. This is a vast and beautiful, very green region with no electricity, no wifi, no air pollution, no modern day materials that make people sick. The only thing they are using and using plentifully, is pesticides. And genetically-modified seeds. We had a discussion about Monsanto being the devil and that all we can do is pray.
He explained that he learned farming practices from the generations that came before him. They all used pesticides. He said that when his great grandfather, his grandfather, his father and his sister ALL died of colon cancer in their early forties, it made him question why.
Next, we stopped at another small grocer. Paul was very very old, with piercing blue eyes and a snow white beard to his belly. As soon as we entered, he looked deep into my eyes and asked me where I've been. He insisted he'd met me before. I'm enthralled with his face and desperately want to photograph him. He says 'no dear'. I later find out he is dying of bone cancer. He is the father to Thomas, the other organic farmer on the land, and one of 11 of Paul's offspring. I was delighted to find a case of antique blue mason jars with oxidized tin lids for $2 ea. I bought a handmade chickweed and comfrey ouchie salve for $2.75. This salve led us to Thomas' house.
Thomas was younger than me and already had 9 beautiful children and another on the way. Two of them at a time came out to smile at us. They had sun-kissed faces, were barefoot, wearing bonnets, and were as beautiful as the sun. Such beautiful and peaceful children. The nine- year old was carrying around the two- year old and I felt like I was in an episode of Little House on the Prairie. My girls stared at their girls and they stared back. Each pleasantly curious about the dress and actions of the other. His girls were in tailored cotton clothes, covered to their chins, and handmade muslin bonnets. My girls had wild, messy hair, mismatched clothes, Whole Foods tattoos on their bare arms and were eating dandelions.
Thomas was very curious to hear my story, about alternative health and my daughter's allergies and how I started my company. However, he could not look at me or speak to me directly. He engaged the visiting chiropractor and asked the chiropractor to listen to my concerns. He listened intently and we talked for well over an hour via the 3rd party that was the chiropractor. I have never communicated in this way. He is commissioned to work with local hospitals in the burn units as they are discovering that his way of healing with plants is more effective than their way of skin grafts and antibiotics. We discussed midwifery and vaccinations and herbs.
As we left, a woman in a field of okra called out to me and asked me who I was. She asked why I haven't been there in so long. Again, I told them this was my first visit. They were consistently mistaking me for someone else.
She looked youthful from a distance and told us how she transferred from a community in Wisconsin. I asked if she was Thomas' wife. She said no and looked at the ground. We asked if she had come to find a husband. She bent down to pick okra and would not look up. I saw her wipe her eyes. I was sickened to realize that I'd hurt her feelings. I apologized and asked her if I had offended her. She would not look up. I said again, 'I'm so sorry' and still she would not look up. I turned, not knowing what to do. I saw a beautiful stone on the path. It was a highly polished, flat and circular stone. I walked up to her to give her the stone and to tell her how sorry I was and that the stone was a gift, left on the path for her and I wanted her to have it.
When I got closer, she was beyond middle age, with crumbling teeth and a great big smile. She said I probably thought she was crying, but she had just put banana peels in her eyes to help with her poison sumac. Banana peels? Now, I'm thinking that I am in a movie. None of this is real. Nancy was her name. I don't know her story but something about it is painful. We shared a sweet moment and I wanted to hug her, but I regretfully did not.
My youngest daughter said she was a ghost and did I notice that her feet weren't touching the ground? The whole day was very touching and quite surreal and maybe I have been there before. I know for sure, I will be back.