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Big is Better
|I was born in late November, not in the maternity ward of hospital but rather in my parent's bed at home. Home was a large rural farmhouse located within the town limits of place called Intercourse. Our town, in turn, sat inside the borders of the County of Lancaster, roughly in the geographic center of the great State of Pennsylvania.
I never stepped foot outside of the Lancaster County for the first 18 years of my life. Moreover, I seldom stepped beyond the borders of my family's large farm except to attend Amish school, or church, or to take occasional trips into the town center which happened as a rule only on Saturday mornings.
The whole of Lancaster County was then, and still is dominated by several distinct groups of Amish people - and yes, I'm Amish-born, too. My family belonged to a particular Amish group known as the 'Old Order'. It's a tight-knit, pious and very closed clan governed by a group of men known as the Elders. You would find the social order extraordinarily conservative to a degree that would be almost incomprehensible to you.
And rules - there were rules in abundance - rules that governed just about every aspect of Amish life. If I could somehow condense all of the Amish philosophy concerning life into one short phrase, it would be, "Keep It Simple". And in the tradition of keeping it simple, as a young boy I only knew of two groups of people in this world - the Amish and the 'Outlanders'. Outlanders were anyone living outside of an Amish community. It's also a given that most Outlanders would understandably view our rigid Amish social conventions as being very repressive and even backwards. Nevertheless, these were 'our ways'. My parents were raised with 'these ways', and so for that matter was I. But above all else, it is also a community and social structure that strongly supports and cares for its own.
My education was received in a private Amish one-room schoolhouse for the first 8 grades, then I subsequently transferred to the regional public high school. The magnitude of the culture-shock I experienced during that first year in public high school was simply just stunning; moreover my freshman year of public high school was also the very first time I would come to know any of these outlanders more personally.
My family life, not surprisngly, was a very simple one. We had neither electricity nor a telephone nor plumbing in our farmhouse. The only running water came from a one hand pump mounted on a corner counter in our large kitchen. There were however two vehicles always parked in the barn ready for my family's use. One was a pretty snazzy black convertible, actually. We used that most often during the fairer and warmer months. The other was a hardtop utilized mostly during the cold Pennsylvania winters. One of my first routine chores that I learned as a very young boy was how to take care of the large work horses that we used to pull our vehicles, too.
Both of my parents were themselves also born and raised in Lancaster County. Mine was a long lineage of hard-working and God-fearing farmers who had always meticulously kept to the proscribed old ways. My parents spoke three languages which I also learned to speak as well. A dialect of German called Pennsylvania Dutch was spoken at home. We used High German during our church services and I also learned to speak English in our private community school.
Farming "Amish style" was then, and for that matter still is to this tday, a particularly hard and physically demanding life. The work is performed without the benefit of any mechanized vehicles or machinery whatsoever. The work rituals and daily chores were endless; our days routinely began well before sunrise each and every morning and didn't end until sundown. This went on 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year. Vacations were a concept completely unfamiliar to the Amish. I didn't have many friends growing up, but that also wasn't particularly unusual for most Amish farm children either. My social life revolved mostly around my own family, and whatever childhood play I engaged in was done primarily with my brothers, and to a much lesser degree with my closest neighbors who happened to also be my 1st cousins - and to put 'closeness' in a better perspective, that would have been roughly a mile away. But there was little time for playing however, at least as you'd probably conceive it. The farm work just never ceased.
My parents themselves were just plain 'good folk' - very honest people - in fact, honest in a way almost unknown now in this modern, fast-paced world of ours. My parents were loving and very giving. The degree of their generosity again wouldn't likely be easily comprehended by anyone not raised within an Amish community. My mother was an incredible woman. To say she was just hard-working would grossly minimize what that woman accomplished on a daily basis. She was a petite woman actually; short and trim to the point of being tiny. But don't let that description fool you because physically, she was one very strong woman. If someone had ever videotaped my mother's daily routine, it would have easily been the killer workout tape of all time. My Mom had beautiful alabaster skin and huge dark-rosy cheeks that absolutely radiated from underneath the bonnet that she often wore - a rather striking physical feature which you doubtlessly would have instantly noticed. Mom also carried a constant big warm smile for everyone, and she had a very infectious laugh. And her heart- well it was as big and wide open as the rolling fields of our farmlands.
My father was only of average height, but he possessed a lean-and-mean build with unusually broad shoulders and a rather narrow waist which made him appear taller than he actually was. He was on the quiet side and usually said very little. Somewhat characteristic of the Germans, he was somewhat stern but never mean. And completely characteristic of the Amish, my father was also the undisputed and never-questioned supreme head of our family as well as its spiritual leader and guide.
Both of my parents practiced the creed, "Do Unto Others" every single day of their lives. Neither was at all physically demonstrative about expressing love and affection though. There was little to no touching or kissing, as I recall, at least once I and my siblings were basically out of the craddle - but there was never a doubt that we were all loved regardless. That fact was clearly expressed by them both in countless other ways and actions. But as for physical touch - kissing and hugging - just never was 'their way', nor likely the way that they had been raised by their parents before them.
A part of me wants to tell you that it was a very good life, actually, and today I more deeply appreciate at least certain aspects of having grown up in such an unusual environment, more now than I did perhaps back then. But this strict social system of the Old Order also commanded obedience and 'doing one's duty' without question. Above all else, that lifestyle demanded total and unequivocal conformity.
I don't return to Lancaster County often these days. As a well-educated and more 'worldly-wise' adult now, it's simply a world that I don't really fit into at all; moreover as a gay man I never really did. If the Amish even have a concept or word for 'gay' at all, well I've never heard of it. That tells you something about the prevailing social morays.
Let me emphasize to you that Amish beliefs and social conventions uniformly produced extremely naive kids, especially when it came to literally anything at all to do with the human anatomy, let alone the "birds and the bees". While I remained totally clueless about such things as a boy growing up within the Amish community, again I remind you that I was no different than the rest of my peer group either.
The discussion of anything remotely sexual was strictly verboten (forbidden). Nudity was absolutely unheard of and frowned upon to the extreme - so much so that I've had the thought at times that my parents somehow managed to produce four offspring while essentially remaining almost fully-clothed. So in terms of my personal knowledge of anatomy, physiology and especially human sexuality, I was sadly essentially a total moron - and I'd remained in that sexual naivete until I eventually went away to college.
To put this into another perspective, I didn't even have English words or a vocabulary to describe genitalia or anything remotely sexual in nature. I knew no 'names' for anything and often resorted to making up my own terminology in my head. This total lack of any useful information on the subject would also make my life as a gay boy in Lancaster County much more painful than it might have been otherwise if I'd been reared in the more progressive outlander's world.
I never saw my mother or sister or even my younger brother naked - not even once in my life. Actually I'd only seen my father and my older brother Zechariah naked just a very few times - and mind you, those times were also completely by accident.
I vividly remember though my brother Zec's male appendage. It's dimension was permanently etched in my memory at a young age. He was in maybe 16 or 17 years old at the time I accidentally saw his 'appendage', and I was perhaps age 7 or so. However, it was seeing my father's particular male endowment that just frankly stunned me. I only glimpsed my father's thing for a few brief seconds on two separate occasions. The man was simply an elephant with this 'trunk' attached to him. Among the very elite of the truly greatest male airships that ever existed in this world, my father's was absolutely the undisputed Hindenburg.
After I'd seen the sizes of these two other males in my family, I do remember bemoaning to myself how unbelievably tiny my own 'little thing' was, comparatively. Unfortunately my father's and brother's behemoths were also the only points-of-reference available to me as a curious boy. I'd formulated all my concepts of what I'd assumed were the 'average male' measurements accordingly. Since I was always shorter than other boys my age - another fact that I loathed about myself - I also automatically assumed that I was a runt in that department as well, which was more-or-less proven to me as being 'the gospel truth' by my having sighted these other two males in my family. I distinctly remember not feeling at all good either about how very little my very little thing was.
My self-concept was to eventually become... well somewhat revised... in my freshman year at the regional county high school.
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