One cold and blustery Saturday morning, Rachel and Mary came to the saw mill with an older brother. The Muller project was nearly finished and they were in for the last of the lumber. Anna timidly mentioned, “I sure will miss having you girls come to the shop!” The girls looked at each other and then Mary turned and said, “Why don’t you come home with us now? We will bring you back here this evening.” Anna’s only thought was, “I’m getting out of here! If only for a moment, I’m getting out of here!” She blurted, “Let me go tell my dad!” and ran off toward the loading dock. Of course he gave his approval, mostly because the Mullers had given them good business. Within twenty minutes she was sandwiched between the girls in their large pickup truck and on their way to Platzville. She dreaded sounding ignorant, but slowly began asking questions about their family. John and Sadie Muller were the parents. They had eleven children between twenty-eight and six. There were three married siblings who all lived close to the parents. As Anna has suspected, they were not Amish or Mennonite, but simply dressed and lived like them because John thought that was the only way to live. She thought of a phrase she had for these sorts of people around them who were not one or the other: just want-to-be’s….pseudo-Amish. They live and make countless rules about living because they think it will bring them close to God. It seemed too complicated to Anna.
They began asking her questions as well. “So, what community do you belong to?” Mary asked her. She cleared her throat and responded, “Well, we don’t really have a community. I mean we just stay close to home, you know.” Mary nodded and flashed a disapproving look to her brother who was driving. “These are interesting clothes, do you make them?” Rachel asked. Anna got a little sick to her stomach and simply replied, “Um, no.” By the time the thirty miles had passed, Anna was feeling very uncomfortable. She realized that it was not self confidence which made them hold their heads high---it was out and out pride. She already felt as though these people didn’t like her. This feeling overwhelmed her as they arrived and she began to meet the rest of the family. The matriarch, Sadie, let out a “humph” and a thorough up and down with her eyes upon her introduction to Anna. Anna swallowed forcefully, while trying to keep smiling. She was keenly aware that her plaid shirt was standing out as much as if she had been wearing a bright red burlesque costume. There was not a patterned fabric in their whole house. She tried to stay on the fringes of the buzzing activity inside the large house. Soon they were all seated around the enormous dining table for supper. Anna wished she were twelve inches shorter so that her shirt would be hidden. She nibbled haltingly the fat and carb rich meal. Realizing these people had to eat richly to do the hard labor that a farm necessitates, she tried not to think about the number of calories on the plate in front of her. Halfway through the agonizing feeling of digging her way through a solid block of lard with a plastic spoon, she raised her head to glance around the table. Down the way she caught the gaze of one of John’s sons. She immediately noticed he was different. He had dark hair in a handsome haircut; while all his brothers had what looked like bowl cuts. He wore small black rimmed glasses that flattered his face. The icing on the cake was his medium blue t-shirt. Every other male at the table wore a drab colored shirt with buttons. “Made right here at home,” she assumed. He cracked a smile at her and she felt butterflies in her stomach do flips. After supper, he stood and she realized he was wearing dark blue jeans instead of the ugly brown pants all the others wore. She was so intrigued by him, but knew it was taboo for her to approach him. Girls did not speak to men in this home, unless they were related. They were all staring at her as they took the dishes to the kitchen. She felt thoroughly scrutinized. She soon began to think with anticipation of returning home and getting out of this acutely uncomfortable environment. In a few minutes, however, Mary told her, “Anna, a heavy snow has started to fall. We’ll have to take you home in the morning.” She felt like she had been kicked. Her thoughts assaulted her, “You mean to tell me that I’m stuck in the midst of this malicious tribe with no way of escape?” She calmly replied, “Oh, alright. I hope I won’t be a bother to your family.” Mary clearly smirked and said with sarcasm, “Of course not.”
The family gathered in their large living room. Anna tried to hear bits and pieces of conversations. They seemed to all be gossiping about one family or another who had broken the rules of their simple life. “So-and-so stopped wearing a head covering.” “Did you hear that guy drives a red car?” “She went and found a man in town, so shameful!” She couldn’t bear to hear anymore. In the dark corner of the room was a chess table. Anna ran and sat there to salvage her dignity. She felt that although they were not saying her name, they were all in some way talking about her indirectly. She thought perhaps she had been invited here expressly for the purpose of being conversation fodder. Her racing thoughts were interrupted by a male voice saying, “Would you like to play a game?” She quickly looked up to see the handsome face with glasses. “Oh, yes! That would be great!” She hoped she didn’t sound overly enthusiastic. He sat down and said, “I’m Roy.” Believing he already knew who she was, she didn’t offer her name. They played in silence for a few minutes and then fell into comfortable conversation. “You play very well,” he commented. She explained, “I’ve played regularly with my Dad.” As the game progressed she learned that he actually had a college degree and was a licensed CPA. He worked in the suburbs of Knoxville and commuted to work each day. She wanted to ask how on earth he was a part of this family and yet was educated and worked “in the world,” since both those things were taboo. Feeling like the family was still glaring at her; she decided not to ask him about it at that time. His smile made her feel good and somewhere in the recesses of her heart she thought maybe he liked hers, too.
The next morning she was hastily escorted out to the large truck and taken home. “I guess they are as anxious to get rid of me as I am to go home,” she speculated. When she was comfortably at home with her mother, she recounted the previous day’s adventures into the land of the pseudo-Amish. Her mother just sighed. That sigh told volumes to Anna. She knew her mother had traveled and experienced many adventures, but love bound her here in Clements. Her left eyebrow arched when Anna described Roy. He seemed like a good possible mate. Anna was sure, however, that she would never hear from the Mullers again.
That week she threw herself back into her work at the saw mill. She found it so difficult to smile at their customers. Wishing she had never gone to Platzville, she steeled her heart even more. Every customer that came into the shop was judging her. At least, that is what she thought. “Someday I will leave here,” she determined. She had no idea how she could leave. She certainly could not ask her parents for money. They could barely keep the saw mill going. She figured marriage would be her only way out, but that seemed impossible at the moment.
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