Monday, September 21, 2009

Into Amish Country: From Blue Ball to Paradise

Sorry for the delay in the continuing saga of my trip into the past--I'll try to make up for it with lots of pictures! Anyway, it took me a while to recover from even writing about that wild erotica writers’ dinner on the third day of our Gettysburg visit. Whew! Even the morning after, when I stumbled into Perkins Pancake House on Route 30 just outside of town for another smutters' meeting, wiping the decadent wages of sin from my sleepy eyes, I still couldn’t quite believe I was again part of an assemblage of some of the most creatively filthy minds our fine nation has produced. Everyone else looked a bit rumpled, too, I will admit, but that’s to be expected in this crowd. With a little breakfast, I knew we’d all be ready to start writing it all down for posterity!

After three days of “vacation breakfasts,” I decided to go healthy and ordered the oatmeal at Perkins rather than pancakes for which I assume the restaurant is famous. Actually, I’m very glad I veered from the well-worn path (and generally always have been happy I did). The generous bowl that arrived was really tasty, the perfect texture, too—not runny, but not gluey either. Unless it’s somehow spoiled by too much water and rendered into gruel, restaurant oatmeal is really the best. Something about being cooked up in big vats brings out the full grainy goodness of oatmeal, and so again, fine food and conversation went hand in hand, or hand in mouth, or hoof in mouth, or something like that, but it was all good.

The best part of the meal, however, was our “dessert,” the dill-icious dill hummus Jeremy Edwards described in his celebration of dill on our Summer Spicy Sunday blog tour. In keeping with the setting, our dippers for this truly tasty spread was a bag of locally made Herr’s potato chips. I don’t think I’ve eaten a potato chip in thirty years, but this utterly fresh, crispy sample made me remember why people would enjoy them. Or maybe it was the dill hummus that elevated it all to moan-and-crunch levels of sheer physical ecstasy? In any case, I recommend you invite Jeremy to all of your breakfast parties, with a gentle hint that dill hummus would be most welcome as a hostess gift.

When the eating was done, we all gathered to say good-bye, hugging, kissing, shoving our hands in what most people would call inappropriate places for a friendly squeeze (okay, I made the last part up). There was talk of doing it again sometime soon, and I’ll repeat my vote for Italy in 2012, but another east coast gathering or something here in the Bay Area would be lots of fun, too.
The Storey family then piled into our rental car for a day of sightseeing. Our first stop was a teddy bear emporium, Boyd’s Bear Country, situated in a huge red barn in the middle of a field. My younger son thought the advertisements papered all over Gettysburg were appealing, and as he’d been patient with all the history and family stuff, we thought we’d indulge him. Jeremy Edwards and Helia Brookes agreed to accompany us there, while the rest of the erotica gang was heading to the battlefield right after breakfast. We chatted and strolled through acres of stuffed animals, which is an oddly inspiring location for erotica shop talk. Let’s hope those glossy-eyed, innocent little creatures couldn’t understand what we were saying!

Our consumer fantasies thus surfeited with miles of plush animals from forest and veldt, we drove off into the summer heat to finish up the CD-narrated tour of the battlefield, which we’d started on Friday afternoon. We’d bought the “TravelBrains” audio tour narrated by Wayne Motts, and while I haven’t listened to the others, I’d recommend this one for his lively storytelling and the illustrated accompanying guidebook.

As we were sort of anxious to get to Amish Country, we didn’t do the full tour, but stopped at some highlights such as Little Round Top and The High Water Mark. Little Round Top is of special interest to me because of Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a college professor turned soldier, who used his smarts to keep the Confederates from taking this key high ground in a very challenging situation. I’m a big fan of professors who do surprising things, like say, writing erotica. I don’t think Chamberlain went that far (although who knows?), but he was fluent in nine languages and had a pretty cool head on the battlefield, too. After the war, he wrote things like: “In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women…shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream….”
Which is exactly what I was doing as I stood on top of Little Round Top, imagining what Chamberlain was seeing and thinking on July 2, 1863 as he watched the enemy swarm up the hill whooping the Rebel yell. A line of tourists rolling past on segways and the parked cars impinged a bit on my poetic musings, but the imagination can erase as well as create, so it worked out okay.

Later, when we paused at Devil’s Den, I looked up the hill with a Confederate soldier’s eyes, appreciating how daunting that climb must have looked to him, a rather gentle hill momentarily transformed into an unassailable, deadly height.

By the time we got to the High Water Mark, the northernmost point of Confederate penetration in Union territory, the kids were thoroughly immersed in their GameBoys, but Herr Doktor and I got out of the car to tour the monuments and see the location where General Armistead was mortally wounded. There is something awe-inspiring about that vista across the field to the forest where the Confederate charge began. A peaceful stretch of farmland was transformed on just one morning into a killing field of history. Waving grass and rolling earth went from ordinary land to something so invested with importance that thousands would die just to stand on a particular square foot of it. And now it is simple dirt again, anyone can walk here at any time, except of course during major re-enactments. I was in awe, not just of the history itself, but of how we instill meaning into the world around us and the consequences of that very human act.

Okay, well, back to the present now!

We’d “done” Gettysburg, now a different part of the past beckoned, a pacifist past. So, we headed east on Route 30 into the mistily nostalgic countryside with Amish Country as our destination.

We made one quick detour off the highway to the Haines Shoe House in my father’s hometown of York, which I’d visited once on rainy autumn day when I was about four (I'm judging this from the dog we owned at the time)—and had never forgotten. When I noticed the entry in my PA Dutch Country guidebook, I just had to stop by again to see if the magic was still there.

Built in 1948, the 48-foot long shoe house was closed on Mondays for “ice cream” tours, but I snapped a few photos, including the shoe doghouse and mailbox. I have vague recollections of touring the inside (I have an image of the lady tour guide standing by a window with yellow chintz curtains, remember breathing in a musty smell and thinking I wouldn’t really want to live here).

I also remember how excited my oldest sister was by the all-you-can-eat ice cream sundae buffet in the gift shop. Oddly, though, I only vaguely remember eating any ice cream myself—I guess it wasn't especially good ice cream? Anyway, I’d recommend "the big shoe" as a whimsical tourist stop if you're in the area (and let me know if the ice cream is any better), but thank heavens for Herr Doktor’s GPS-ready phone, because the place is not easy to find!

I thought I'd add one more somewhat darker memory from my past--on the way into Amish country we crossed the Susquehanna River, a surprisingly wide-ass river with an odd, musical, yet to me rather terrifying name. Looking over at a parallel bridge brought back a recurring nightmare from childhood of being stranded in a huge expanse of water on a narrow bridge. That image still terrifies me, to be honest, and I realized it came from precisely this scene. When I was little, I would dive down into the well of the back passenger's seat, so I wouldn't have to look at this bridge! I'm less skittish now, but I still felt a vague sense of unease....

Our next stop was the Julius Sturgis pretzel factory in Lititz, home of the very first hard pretzels in the world. The original Sturgis “invented” hard pretzels when he baked a batch of soft pretzels too long! So mistakes can be fruitful, as every writer knows. The kids had fun twisting their own pretzels and sampling the various types of pretzels (we bought a bag of the rustic-style extra-crunchy ones), but by this time we were all pretty exhausted by the heat and the driving. The mood was getting a little punchy as we toyed with the suggestive place names of Amish Country. “I had to go through Blue Ball to get to Intercourse but then—on to Paradise!” Or, as Herr Doktor quipped “I’m worried that by the time I get to Intercourse, I’ll be too tired to enjoy it.”

Tired as we were, we made a requisite stop at the tiny and rather unremarkable town of Blue Ball for a photo op, passing “Pleasure Road” as well, and then on to the Hershey Farm Inn, our lodging for the next few nights.

On the way we passed a number of Amish people driving buggies. I mean for real—this was not a gimmick! Real horses, real black closed buggies with day-glo safety triangles on the back. There were rolling hills and old farmhouses and the smell of manure in the air and bearded guys harvesting hay with horses. Indeed, the Amish world is not just an idyllic fancy or a scene from Witness. The past really does live on here, proudly enduring our curious gazes from the future.

Now the Hershey Farm Inn cost about as much as the Courtyard by Marriott in Gettysburg, but it definitely had a down-home country feel to it—a close, musty smell, thin towels, plastic cups, a tiny bathroom. Basically just like the motels I used to stay in when I was growing up because my Depression childhood parents naturally chose budget accommodations. (The Holiday Inn was a real splurge for us). Amish Country is the home of the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant, with Miller’s being the acknowledged best of the buffets, but we were too cranky to drive anymore and opted for our motel’s restaurant. I’ll talk about that particular trip into the culinary past next time, but I will add we saved room for dessert and went into the charming little town of Strasburg (which is where Harrison Ford beats up the bullying “English” tourist in Witness while Viggo Mortensen looks on in his film debut) for some ice cream at the Strasburg Country Store and Creamery. I had a dish of black raspberry again, which had the same tangy intensity of flavor I’d enjoyed in Gettsyburg. They really know how to do raspberry ice cream in that part of the world! Butter brickle is another local specialty—it tastes like an ice cream version of butterscotch hard candy. I also eyed the toasted coconut fudge, but since I’d been eating dessert morning, noon and night every day, I decided not to indulge. This was a big mistake, it turned out, for I never had another chance and the idea of a piece of golden, toasted coconut fudge became more and more appealing with each passing moment.

I’m over it now, but next time, I will definitely take that leap to see if my fantasy is matched by reality.

Stay tuned next time for…a gallery of T-shirts from Intercourse and confessions from the most sensually self-indulgent day of the trip (oh, those Amish!)


Jeremy Edwards said...

"Not in front of the teddy bears!!" ; )

Craig Sorensen said...

Chamberlain is a fascinating character from the Civil War. Love the quote.

And I loved the voyage to the Shoe house!

I find your dream about wide bridges fascinating. It's so peculiar what can terrify us, how our minds can grab a hold of an image and become disturbed by it.

Driving through Amish country always sort of transports me, no matter how many times I've done it.

Lovely images and descriptions as always. Thanks for having me along for this ride!

Danielle said...

again: lovely...:-)

thats all event/things that you only can see in america...i love it! i wanna visit a shoehouse*

neve black said...

You make everything sound so fun and I really feel like I was there. I know of course that I wasn't, but what great trip notes, D! odd. Going over bridges gives me the willies too. It evokes fear regardless of the bridge, and I'm not sure. Maybe it's just a fear of heights, unless I'm coming down a mountain on a pair of skis, or in hiking boots.

The shoe house? How funny. I suppose I'd want to stop and see this too. Is this at all like Solvang in Calif?

I can't wait to get a glimpse of those tee-shirts too. How perfect is that?

Toasted, cocunut fudge? My friend Miles and I have talked about taking a day trip to Amish Country - maybe when the leaves really start to change - I'll see what I can do about finding that for you, okay?

Donna said...

Ha, Jeremy, I could see the teddy bears in a story for the next voyeurism anthology, lol!

And yes, thank you for coming along, Craig! Do you go to Amish country often? I'd probably pop over for some shoofly pie myself... I was thinking more about Chamberlain and I realized he's also one of the few Union officers who seemed to be creative with strategy. The word is the Confederates had the brilliant military minds, the Union just overwhelming material and bodies. So it's nice to have someone with some finesse in blue.

Hey Danielle, this is all very American, American whimsy at its best. But the area resonates with German culture, too. I recognized my grandmother's spirit when I visited "the Old Country."

So, Neve, there is an Amish Country in Ohio, too, right? They surely know how to do desserts and while I don't mean to put you out, if you do see some toasted coconut fudge, do have a taste for me and describe it in loving, pornographic detail on your blog. That would make me very happy!

As for bridges, for me it's not the height, although I don't love that, it's more the long, long spans that go on forever, the idea of a thin thread engulfed in endless water. Like the Key bridges in Florida--the idea just terrifies me. I don't think I could ever do that!

The Haines shoe is just an isolated little place truly in the middle of nowhere. I think Solvang is an entire town of charming fantasy buildings and such. But then Amish country itself is a vacation spot and it's about 15 miles from there, so it's a good combination.

Finally, thank you guys for reading. I know this was hella long! I think I'm probably doing this more as a journal for posterity :-).

Isabel Kerr said...

This is a fascinating look at America Donna. It is only now that I am away from it all that I really appreciate its uniqueness and vastness (and delightful quirkiness). Thanks for posting.

Donna said...

Distance does add perspective, Isabel, doesn't it? Those years in Japan definitely shaped my view of the USA today.