The faded autumn leaves reflected the sun’s dappled luminance as if the sun himself had sprinkled extra rays upon the rolling Pennsylvania forests. Each curve in the road brought a new glimmer of yellow, a visual scent of setting amber as I drove east in search of Lancaster.
I’ve driven this route once before but that time had been in early summer and the hills were bright green and wholly alive. That drive also was darkened by a consistent eight hour downpour and wracked nerves of crinkled MapQuest printouts, which never include construction re-routes.
This trip is faint, dry, and thankfully guided by my phone.
Ellie and I fashioned a tradition of yearly visit swaps after we lived as roommates during a semester spent in the Oregon Mountains. This year it’s my turn. I made a pit stop in Ann Arbor to snag my Dad’s car. By snag I mean beg because there is no prayer in heaven or hell that would give my ’99 Taurus the stamina to survive a drive to Pennsylvania.
As I drive, I prepare myself for the plunge into ineluctable kindness of Lancaster folk. Mennonites have a near-sickening habit of friendliness and ‘give-you-the-shirt-off-my-back-which,-incidentally,-I-hand-wove-yesterday’ style of hospitality. They welcome guests in with soft smiles and fresh food. Ellie’s family, the Shenks, entice me into their home with something baking in the oven.
Last visit it was peach cobbler. Delicious peach cobbler with bubbled juices of a neighbor’s backyard peaches and the perfect flakiness of a cobbler top. This year I can smell apple crisp as I pull into the driveway alongside their simple yellow farmhouse. The sweet aroma wafts through the air and my own nose practically drags me to the front door. Jedidiah, Ellie’s father, opens the door and welcomes me in with a hardy shake of his calloused carpenter’s hand.
Dinner consists of the apple crisp I smelled. The apples are hand-picked and the crisp hand mixed from Grandma Shenks’ special recipe. Seriously, that’s dinner, and it is fantastically tasty. As we munch hungrily on our crisps in the living room, whose broad wooden floor boards were crafted in place by the Shenks themselves, Mr. Shenk gifts us all with the surprise of cinnamon rolls for dessert. Hand mixed and rolled with the added blessings of fresh handmade icing of his own creation. I am not making this up.
As Ellie finishes up a scarf for her co-worker, Mrs. Shenk and I chat about family updates. She and I are very close. As we gab, I engage my personal tradition of testing the authenticity of the Shenks’ Mennoniteness.
“That’s a lovely chair. Is it new?”
“Oh no, that’s been in Jedidiah’s family since the Civil War. His great-great-great grandfather constructed it from an oak that had been struck by lightning.”
“This candle smells divine. Yankee Candle?”
“Oh no, I made that last week. I had a spare afternoon and whipped up a few dozen candles. I just love creating new scents.”
“Well, of course, who doesn’t!” I don’t. How the hell do you even create a new scent?
“Hmm. That wood-stove sure is keeping me toasty.”
“That old thing? Ah, Jedidiah threw that together on a whim during our honeymoon in his backyard forge.”
Mother of Pearl! Are you *#@%!^ serious!
“By the way Bekah, I love your hat. What size needles did you use?”
Classic Mennonite assumption that I knit my own hat.
“You know, actually, this particular hat was a gift.” A gift I bought myself from The Gap because I don’t have spare afternoons to knit myself outfits. “I’ll have to ask about needle size next time, completely slipped my mind.”
During the drive back to Michigan, warm and cozy in my new Shenk hand-woven cardigan, I reflected on the art of craftsmanship.
I have friends who brew their own beer. My dad brews his own blog. My mom’s garden rivals Adam and Eve’s. In his spare time, my brother constructs a composite four-seater retractable airplane in his friends’ garage.
Up until now my craftsmanship has been limited to drinking my friends’ beer, sipping my dad’s blog, and consuming my mom’s vegetables. I want to do something more than eat!
Incidentally, I am in the process of carving my own spoons.
Rebekah (’12) teaches English as a second language at Grand Rapids Community College. She does not drink coffee nor purchase Apple products.