The Saturday after that wonderful farm Thanksgiving Day of 1959, Alex drove Shawn around Lancaster County.
“Let’s stop and buy some venison,” he suggested. The Oldsmobile’s tires crunched on the crushed limestone farm lane as they pulled up to a house and found Ruth Hostetler standing in the kitchen doorway.
“Where’s Seth?” Alex asked.
“He’s still sleepin’.”
“Oh, don’t bother him; we want some venison but we can come back later.”
“That’s all right. Chust come and sit here in the livin’ room and I’ll go up and get ‘im.” They sat down, enveloped by the smell of the hot woodstove with its black chimney.
After about ten minutes Seth walked down the stairs in his long underwear. Ignoring the boys, he leaned over to tap out his pipe at the woodstove, his bare rear end peeking out through the undone flap. He refilled his pipe, lit it from the stove, sucked on it, then turned toward the boys without smiling.
Alex inhaled the sweet tobacco smell, then introduced Shawn. “This is my friend Shawn from the Bible Institute, Seth. We were hoping to buy a couple pound of venison.”
Seth looked to be in his mid-seventies, balding, a long gray scraggly beard, no mustache. Said he’d lived here on this farm all his life. Other than asking Shawn where he was from, he seemed un-curious about him.
Shawn had a hundred questions but didn’t know if he should ask them. Alex had cautioned him, “Don’t ask about doctrine; Amish people don’t talk theology.”
After Seth sat down on a stool across from them, Shawn asked, “Do you use candles at night?”
“No, not usually. Some Amish use kerosene lamps, but in Lancaster County we use propane.” He pointed to a lantern atop a long metal pipe that disappeared into a small wood cabinet. When Seth lit it, it whooshed up a propane-smelling ball of flame. “It gives all the light youse need at night.”
Seth handled English well, but his speech betrayed it as his second language. He said saeys instead of says; pungin for pumpkin, fortnight to refer to a two-week period. He referred to his wife as “she,” never using her name.
After leaving Seth’s, they drove back to the farm to present the meat to Alex’s mom, then walked in the cold November day out to the barn to help with the milking.
The Monday after Thanksgiving, Shawn and Alex left Lancaster County headed back toward Chicago. They overnighted in Ohio with one of Alex’s Mennonite uncles, then continued west. The snow had turned into a cold misty rain when they pulled into an Indiana truck stop for food. The parking lot smelled of diesel exhaust. The place was populated mostly by truck drivers—-solitary, untethered men, bleary-eyed from long hours over the road.
They sat down at the lunch counter next to an old trucker who looked like a character from a Marlboro ad. “Bud” had two days growth and a black bill cap that read “True Outlaw Country.”
“Where’re you guys goin’?” Bud asked, putting down his egg sandwich.
“Back to school in Chicago,” Alex said. “Torrey Bible Institute. We’re just stopped here for gas and food.”
Bud’s smile widened. “Well, watch out for them lounge lizards. They’re jailbait.”
“Lounge lizards?” Shawn asked, in-between bites of his muffin.
“Short skirted, big-breasted lounge lizards. Them skags hang around truck stops and chase truckers who got them new sleeper cabs. But they’ll pick up anybody.” Bud saw himself as the seasoned sage as he passed valuable counsel to two naïve teenagers.
“Okay; we’ll be careful,” Shawn promised, as he noticed a well-endowed young woman walking through the restaurant. He thought himself bulletproof against sexual temptation. Foolish boy. They paid and drove away.
It was now evening, the rain had stopped, and Alex was driving. They had the windows cracked and inhaled the crisp winter air. It was 1959, the cold war was at its height, and talk turned to the draft. Shawn said, “The U.S. has 2,000 military advisers in Asia, and Russia’s building a hydrogen bomb. What do the Mennonite boys do about the draft?”
“Well, they classified me 1-A,” Alex explained, “so I talked to my bishop and he wrote my draft board. They reclassified me 1-O, Conscientious Objector, because I was in the Mennonite church. Mennonites don’t join the army.”
“Wow! They classified me 1-A in September, right after I started TBI. I talked to Dean Winters and he sent a letter, so they re-classified me 4-D, ministerial student. But if I leave TBI, they’ll probably draft me and send me to Vietnam or something….”
Alex pulled away from the signal light. “Vietnam? Where’s Vietnam?”